I’ve been married for three years and very much love my wife; however I am struggling with memories of having sex with my previous girlfriend from before I became a Christian. These memories get triggered when my wife and I make love. I feel deceptive to be keeping this a secret from my wife, but she would be devastated if she knew. I don’t know how to stop the images coming and wish so much that I could. It’s been made worse because my ex has asked me to take her and her new boyfriend to Alpha as I am the only Christian she knows. I would love her to get saved and my wife is happy for us to take them together, but it is bringing up memories of good times she and I had together which is unsettling me. Now I am a Christian I know I am a new creation and that the old life should be gone, but it’s not working in my head. What should I do?We have to be real about our past, learn to accept it and come to terms with it. Being a ‘new creation’ spiritually wipes out the sins we repent of, but thankfully doesn’t wipe out memory or who we are. Your ex is a part of your life story and needs to be accepted as such, whilst logging her appropriately on the time line of your life. Your brain requires some training to sort your sexual memories and put clear boundaries around them. This will not be achieved through denial, though neither do you want to dwell on memories that you do not want to feed.
I think you are probably right in your instincts not to share these memories with your wife as it would be unnecessarily distressing for her and could create a problem for her sexually too, just to exacerbate things. I don’t think this is deceptive, so long as she knows that you had a sexual relationship in the past, she does not need to know details. However, you are going to have to find ways to separate out your memories with your ex girlfriend from your married sex life. When we become ‘one flesh’ with another person this creates a spiritual as well as physical bond that is hard to sever.
I suggest you find a trusted Christian friend or pastor to pray for you to cut this bond that was forged and release you from your union with your ex. Then imagine filing away your memories with her in a dated filing cabinet, putting them in the past and letting go of them. We can keep memories fresh by rehearsing them; instead, when they come, imagine letting them go. Don’t deny them; thank God for the good that there was, then acknowledge why this relationship ended and did not go to marriage, then ‘float’ the memory into your mental filing cabinet and see yourself shutting the drawer. Then actively focus your mind and visual imagination onto your wife. Think about all that you love about her physically as well as relationally. On a very practical note, try keeping your eyes open rather than shut when you get these intrusive memories. You will find it harder to think about them when looking at your wife and just being in the here and now of what you see around you. On an emotional note, don’t beat yourself up about them. It is a natural part of your journey and is something that you will process as you give it time. You are forgiven for the past, it’s now a case of learning the mental discipline of moving on from there.
It sounds to me like you would be better off withdrawing contact from your old girlfriend so that you are not keeping memories fresh but allowing them to diminish into the past. Don’t be hooked by the emotiveness of ‘wanting to get her saved’. God is plenty big enough to find someone else to take her to Alpha; they are also adults who could be perfectly capable of going by themselves without you holding their hands. She does have her boyfriend to go with. Maybe she too needs help to break free from you and Alpha could also be a soul-tie hook for her, rather than a genuine God-searching motivation. By taking her, you might be coming between her and her search for God rather than genuinely helping her. You need a break from each other and to give each other space to move on. As you do this and put some work into sorting your mental filing cabinet of memories and images, you will find that gradually the intrusive memories will fade.