Relationship Advice: When The Past Doesn’t Stay In The Past

By Jackie Pilossoph, Editor-in-chief, Divorced Girl Smiling, Love Essentially columnist and author

An email I got from a woman seeking relationship advice and even thinking of separating because her husband cannot handle what happened in her past:



I have been with my husband since the age of 18 and we have been married for almost 30 years and have three kids. The first 20 years were pretty wonderful. Unfortunately, that all changed about 5 years ago.


Sometime early in our marriage, information slipped out during a drinking evening about my sexual past before I met him. He became very upset. He seemed to let it go and I thought that he had dealt with it and that we had moved on.  But five years ago, after watching a movie which mirrored our situation, he lost it and went out walking in the rain for hours.  He came back and broke down emotionally and said that I had broken him and our marriage.  He told me he had no respect for me and that I had deceived him into marrying me thinking I was a certain kind of person, when I was actually a lying manipulative slut.


We have gone for counseling, but that has not worked.  I don’t know whether to stay or to go.  We have no sex life or any physical touching and he watches porn on a regular basis, despite the fact he knows it hurts me.  But, in every other way, he is supportive of me.  He supports my career, he is a partner at home in chores and we are comfortable financially.  We also have a lot in common and have a lot of fun together.   


Am I deluding myself. I am also terrified of being alone. 



Three words come to my mind after reading this: This. Poor. Woman.


I cannot express how badly I feel about this situation, and how much I just don’t understand what is going through her husband’s head.


In my opinion, when a couple begins dating exclusively—when they have the conversation that they are not going to see other people anymore, that is when things really start to count.


The couple should accept each other for who they are, which means that if they truly love each other, they shouldn’t concern themselves with what happened to each of them in the past, before they knew each other (or even before they became exclusive, for that matter) For example, if one of them slept with 100 people, they can choose to disclose that, (which I would recommend-I don’t think anyone should go into a marriage without being an open book) but if he has been tested for STD’s and is now committed to being monogamous, does it really matter? I really don’t think it does.


If you started dating exclusively on April 8th, then anything that happened pre-April 8 shouldn’t matter. There are exceptions. But I’d say for the most part, why does it really matter?


So, my point is, it sounds like this woman was a little bit sexually promiscuous. As long as she stopped the behavior when the two were exclusive, and as long as she didn’t hurt anyone, and as long as she was sexually responsible—getting tested for STD’s, etc. then why does her past matter to him so much? When people are young and stupid (myself included) they do things they realize later were risky and dumb and outrageous, and they thank God for protecting their idiot selves.



Furthermore, this man and woman were married for almost 30 years! Doesn’t three decades of a great marriage override what she did in the past?


Here’s the key in all of this. The fact that the guy watches porn speaks volumes. I believe he hates himself for his porn addiction, and is transferring his own self-hatred onto his wife. After all, if he was truly disgusted by what she did, then why would he want to watch porn?


The bottom line is, this woman has been mentally abused by her husband for years for crimes she didn’t commit and it sickens me.


If my husband called me a manipulative slut and other names, and was berating me for doing all the stupid things most teens and people in their twenties do, I wouldn’t want to “have a lot of fun together” like she says they do.


Katz and Stefani Family Law Attorneys


It sounds like the only reason she is staying in the marriage is because she is afraid to be alone, and I respect that. It’s scary to get divorced. But I wonder how long she is going to let her husband punish her for his purpose of sweeping his own demons under the rug.


It’s her decision. All I can do is tell her that she did nothing wrong and she didn’t hurt anyone if she slept with a few too many guys when she was young. It sounds like she has been a great wife for 30 years, so the question becomes, Does she feel she can keep living with this abuse and with a porn addict? Or does she feel like she might deserve to be in a less judgmental situation? I hate to sound trite, but life is short. My prayers are with her.

Like this post? Check out my blog, “The One Thing You Can’t Give Your Spouse.”


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Jackie Pilossoph

Editor-in-chief: Jackie Pilossoph

Divorce is a journey. Live it with grace, courage and gratitude. Peace and joy are on the way! Jackie Pilossoph is the creator and Editor-In-Chief of Divorced Girl Smiling. The author of the novels, Divorced Girl Smiling and Free Gift With Purchase, Pilossoph also writes the weekly dating and relationships advice column, “Love Essentially”, published in the Chicago Tribune Pioneer Press and the Chicago Tribune online. Additionally, she is a Huffington Post contributor. Pilossoph holds a Masters degree in journalism from Boston University.

10 Responses to “Relationship Advice: When The Past Doesn’t Stay In The Past”

  1. Miserable but feeling guilty

    I am the one who wrote the letter above to you. I am finally ready to leave my marriage, but I am feeling a lot of guilt and I don’t know how to cope with it. I have been my husband’s whole world for a very long time and he has absolutely no one else in his life. He is a homebody and does not have any friends. He also is not close to his family. I feel horrible about leaving him all alone with no support system, but we are both unhappy in our marriage and the only thing that has been keeping it going has been a very unhealthy lifestyle of drinking together to create false intimacy. I have been using the alcohol to keep myself content and now that I have stopped, my true feelings have emerged stronger than ever and I want to pull away and be alone. How do I deal with the reality that my husband will have no one if I leave?

    • Jackie Pilossoph

      First of all, great job on recognizing the drinking and stopping!! I hope you are in a program that will offer you the support to stick to it. As far as your husband, talk to him. Tell him how you feel. You can’t be responsible for yourself and for him, right? He needs to find his way. You should consider counseling together–even if you are splitting up.

      • Miserable but feeling guilty

        Thanks for your response, Jackie. Unfortunately, my husband has never really believed in counseling and this was solidified when he felt they were blaming him – the hurt one – and trying to change him instead of me.

        I am going back to counseling on my own to help deal with the guilt and the drinking, though. Thanks again! I feel like I am moving towards a better life, albeit very slowly.

  2. Max

    Thank you for being so honest with your story. I am in a similar situation however i am the guy who feels very much like your husband. My wife and i have been married for 3 years with two kids. I found about her sexual past and feelings of incredible jealousy and hurt came. I know what your husband is going through and yes he needs to get over it but at the same time there is a place for you to help and support. I remember feeling depressed and less of a man for being with my wife as horrible as it sounds. Please talk to him and reassure him that in some way or another he was special. He is hurt more than anything. Hope this helps

  3. Wayne

    I learned the truth about my wife’s promiscuous past twenty-five years after we married. She slept around and was very open about sleeping with anyone regardless as to whether she even liked the guy. I cannot get the visions out if my head. She lied for 25 years and tricked me into marrying a sl**. I feel I have no choice but to leave her.

  4. Alan Dawson

    You don’t understand the first thing about men, Jackie. Like most women advice columnists, you never take so much as one second to understand the male psyche and arbitrarily assume that we should think like women.

    Right or wrong, most all men want a woman who they feel is (and wasn’t) accessible to other men. To have a woman that stripped naked and gave out the best physical part of herself to man after man after man is hurtful, demoralizing and most importantly, emasculating. (See Wayne’s comment above). Just because you don’t want to accept this and want to have your cake and eat it too, doesn’t change this fact.

    This girl knew that. It is why she clearly concealed that info from her husband. She was lying to him to reel him in. She manipulated him by passing herself off as one kind of woman (the kind he would want), when she was clearly another kind of woman.

    No Jackie, women can’t just flippantly say, “Those 20-30 other men are now in my past… now I am ready to settle down with you, where you will cherish me and love me unconditionally and we’ll live happily ever after!” There’s not a man out there (except for swingers and men with low grade Asperger’s) that can just mindlessly think that a promiscuous past is no big deal.

    I challenge you to Google, some variation of, “I don’t care about my wife’s past… it makes her the woman she is today!” You won’t have hardly any hits. Then Google something like, “I can’t get over my wife’s past” and see how many thousands of hits come up.

    • Jackie Pilossoph

      While I respect your opinion, I think you don’t understand the first thing about yourself, which is that that you are very angry with women, in general. My 4 year boyfriend doesn’t have Asperger’s (which is really a dig for people who are on the spectrum) and he isn’t a swinger, and we always say “What happened before we started dating stays in the past.” Now, neither of us were particularly promiscuous, but like everyone else on the planet, we did some stupid things, dated the wrong people, made relationship mistakes, and did things we regret. That said, we are dating each other as who we are NOW, not who we were when we were in our twenties, thirties or even our 40’s. The point is, we all grow (hopefully) and we learn from the past and we try to be the best people we can be TODAY. We don’t judge each other for what we did in the past. And lastly, I don’t think I am like “most women advice columnists.” I speak from my heart with honesty, love and a deep passion for helping people.

    • Donald

      I too was lied to and now find myself married to a former slut. Sex to her is no big deal, although it is incredibly important emotionally for me. I found out after 20 years of marriage. We will probably divorce.

  5. William

    The past is only the past when it comes to past sexual relationships. Take for instance your credit score, which takes into account your PAST payment history. A resume which takes into account your PAST job performance. A criminal background check which is your PAST behavior. People are the sum of their past. Why are political candidates vetted? Their Past indicates who they are today.
    It seems the past is past when it comes to sexual history is to justify behavior.

  6. James Anderson

    I stumbled on this thread. Again, you need to look at all the responses. They are from men who are all saying the exact thing that Alan said. There’s not one man stating (what you want to believe), which is that it is okay for a woman to be as promiscuous as she wants and then still have the God-given entitlement and right to pick any high-status, high-quality man she chooses.

    Most modern women have this complete entitlement mentality about sex, dating and relationships, which leads them to eventual ruin. It is constantly buttressed by their fellow women who use their positions as relationship “experts”, therapists and advice columnists. They NEVER challenge them on their behavior or look at the man’s point of view. They just use their platforms to say, “You go, girl!”

    Be honest. If you had two equal men to pick from and one had only a few partners and the other was pushing a high double digit body count with a lot of one night stands, which one would you pick? The same goes for men.

    I hate to be the bearer of harsh news, but just like women, men have the exact same right to pick a high quality woman to settle down with. Women who get naked and randomly give themselves completely to several men, are not high quality women and most of the time, will not make a good spouse. The true high quality “knights in shining armor” are going to bypass those types and pick the women who did not randomly give themselves out.

    Why, because women who don’t screw around show that they possess greater maturity level and moral integrity. Feminists try to use the modern phrases like “sex positive”, but it really is just a euphemism for age-old phrase, “skank”. In reality, they are not experimental, adventurous or liberated, they are immature, insecure and immoral.

    Read this thread and what the overwhelming majority of other men online say. Simply circling today’s date on a calendar and then condescendingly shrugging your shoulders and saying, “it’s in my past, so get over it”, does not make it all go away.

    Also, none of these common viewpoints are fueled by some deep rooted anger at women. It’s fueled by a desire to pick a good life partner that you can be proud of.


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