Tips for Not Getting Caught in the Past*
Ron L. Deal & David H. Olson
When asked about the previous sexual relationships of their partner, 90% of healthy couples agree in our national study of stepcouples reported that there is nothing to be worried about. However, in 42% of the lowest quality couples at least one partner showed concern about their partnerís previous sexual experiences. When we looked more closely, the differences between strong and unhealthy couples regarding this aspect of sex were even more apparent. Unhappy couples were twice as likely as couples with an average marriage (19% of all 50,575 couples) and four times as likely as happy couples to report feeling concerned about the previous sexual experiences of their partner. What seems to be in question is how previous experiences compare to the current coupleís sexual relationship or how they might be limiting their sexual fulfillment.
Itís vitally important that couples move through this concern so that it doesnít hide below the surface like a malignant cancer eroding a partnerís perceived significance in the relationship or their ability to fully enjoy sex within the marriage. Couples would do well to carefully discuss their concerns being careful not to compare the current sexual relationship with the past, but to express their desires for how they would like to see the relationship or their confidence in their partnerís satisfaction improve. Donít let your fears related to the past go unaddressed or they will limit your intimacy today.
Tips for Reducing Problems:
1. Donít make comparisons in your mind...or out loud! ďWhy canít you touch me the way John did,Ē isnít going to breed confidence in your partner. Keep your comparisons to yourself! Nor should you linger on comparisons in your own mind. Doing so keeps you looking back instead of connecting to the moment at hand.
2. Stay open to new preferences. Your new spouseís sexual preferences may vary from a previous partner. Donít think that what ďworkedĒ with a previous partner will work again. Listen to verbal and nonverbal messages telling you your partnerís preferences.
3. Calm your insecurities. If you were sexually rejected or traumatized in the past, be careful not to let your insecurities or anxiety run ahead of you.
4. Give yourself time to develop a couple groove. Learning how to read one another, when to respond with a specific touch, or your couple sexual style will take time. Learn as you go; share what you learn.
5. Confront your sexual ghosts. Donít be quick to make negative assumptions about your partnerís motivations or behavior. When fearful, try to take small risks to increase your willingness to trust.
6. Donít ignore sexual problems and donít overreact. Itís normal for couples to have a sexual complaint of some kind. Donít panic if you encounter difficulty, especially if you are aware that your spouse had a good sex life with their former partner. Remember, itís only a comparison if you make it one. Talk it through and if necessary, find a sex therapist that can help.
7. If you are stuck worrying about your spouseís former sexual experiences, strive to accept being ďsecondĒ. In my experience, people who get stuck really are struggling with not being their mates ďfirst and onlyĒ sexual partner. Accepting that they have had other sexual experiences does not mean your sex life canít be wonderful. If you are ďexclusive in their heartĒ now, then strive to rest in that assurance.
Ron L. Deal is President of Smart Stepfamilies, author of The Smart Stepfamily: Seven Steps to a Healthy Family, and a licensed marriage and family therapist. He and David Olson have conducted the largest study on remarital relationships ever conducted and have coauthored The Remarriage Checkup. David H. Olson is President of Life Innovations and developer of the internationally recognized Couple Checkup relationship profile.
* Taken from The Remarriage Checkup by Ron L. Deal and David H. Olson, Bethany House, 2010.