I am so concerned about what this bodes for our future marriage. Does this mean we will have problems remaining faithful to each other? At this point, I just don’t know what to do. Are we bad for each other? Do we just give up and find other people? Is our relationship doomed? What are we supposed to do from here?
Aghh! I strive for excellence in all aspects of my life, but in this one area where I have no willpower or strength. I don’t know what to make of this.
Because you are now struggling with chastity does not mean you have failed. It simply means you have been handed a new challenge. God gave us our sexual desires to lead us to each other, to bond us together in marriage and for building families. And being engaged likely made your attraction even stronger. This is great news! It’s exactly how love and responsibility are meant to work. But to meet this new challenge, you are going to need some new strategies.
First, the blame and shame cycle is not going to help you. In fact, it’s going to make things worse. You can stop blaming yourself, and your fiancé. This does not mean you will have problems remaining faithful to each other. There are people who marry as virgins and cheat, and there are people who marry after having multiple sexual partners and remain faithful. Remaining dedicated to your spouse over a lifetime comes down to character. Yes, chastity is a good training ground for faithfulness, and you can use your previous experience with it to help you practice chastity now, and in the future within your marriage. Everything you learned up to this point is valuable. You haven’t “undone” all your hard work.
Struggling to remain chaste does not mean you are bad for each other or that your relationship is doomed. In fact, your relationship can be strengthened during this time. A good principle we use in counseling is that you can’t change something that you haven’t accepted. You have to accept that you and your fiancé have crossed a boundary that you desired to maintain. You may even need to grieve the loss of your virginity since it didn’t happen within your marriage. And, you may need to recognize that the part of you that has been waiting for a long time to have sex just wants to have sex. It’s OK, it’s normal and natural, and it’s what scripture calls “the flesh.” Your body is not bad, it just has desires that must be managed in a way that grows us closer to each other and to God, not away from our values.
What can you do from here? Start by having an open conversation with your fiancé. You are going to need his re-commitment to chastity to make this work. If one person is the “gatekeeper,” it can move the relationship towards power struggles and resentment rather than growth and unity. Then, bring your fears and disappointments into the light. Consider going to reconciliation and adoration. This doesn’t mean, “Jesus I’m sorry, please fix me.” It means, pour out your heart to him, every aspect of how you are feeling, and allow the great Healer to work within you. You are going to need his supernatural strength to help you in times of temptation, because as you’ve noticed, your willpower is not enough.
Next, focus on the logistics. Start by avoiding the near occasion of sin. Sound old-fashioned? It is. But if you don’t want to go to Neverland, don’t get on the train that goes to Neverland. This likely means no sleepovers. It may mean setting physical boundaries on any act that will arouse you or your fiancé to the point that it is extremely difficult to stop (although you can stop at any time, why make it worse?). Be mindful of the movies you watch and the sexual conversations you have.
What do you do with your sexual desires? I’m not a fan of denial or repression; both eventually fail. Rather, be aware of when your desires demand attention. Meditate on lifting them up to God. I used the vision of a rope coming out of my heart and up to him. Find one that works for you. When you start to become tempted, call out to God. Use a phrase or a mantra that will help refocus your mind and body to your greater desire, the desire to uphold the virtue of chastity. Give this struggle over to God. Daily. Hourly. Whatever it takes. Instead of saying “no” to your desires, say “yes” to the opportunity to reach out for God’s strength.
Finally, through this process remain mindful of how you and your fiancé are handling it. This will not be the first challenge you face together! Is it growing you closer, or continuing to cause more pain? Are you supporting each other, or tempting each other? I don’t think failing to remain chaste is a sign that he is the wrong person, but I don’t have all the details. Are there other reasons you may be questioning if he is the right person for you? Do you get along? Can you be yourself around him? Have your friends or family expressed concerns? Before this issue, did you have peace about getting engaged? Don’t feel pressured to marry just because you are engaged or because you had sex. Make sure that by the time the wedding comes, you have worked out this issue to the best of your ability as a couple. It won’t doom your marriage, but if the two of you don’t come to a good place about it, it will contribute to stress and conflict.
Your heart is in the right place. Chastity is very difficult and is frequently a struggle for the most faithful Catholics. Thank you for your question and God bless you in your journey.