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[Two Pronged] My girlfriend’s past haunts me

One man can't get over his girlfriend's sexual past with her ex. 'My problem is that I keep on unintentionally imagining pictures of her and her ex doing sexual deeds,' he says

Rappler’s Life and Style section runs an advice column by couple Jeremy Baer and clinical psychologist Dr Margarita Holmes.

Jeremy has a master’s degree in law from Oxford University. A banker of 37 years who worked in 3 continents, he has been training with Dr Holmes for the last 10 years as co-lecturer and, occasionally, as co-therapist, especially with clients whose financial concerns intrude into their daily lives.

Together, they have written two books: Love Triangles: Understanding the Macho-Mistress Mentality and Imported Love: Filipino-Foreign Liaisons.

Dear Dr Holmes and Mr Baer,

My girlfriend and I have been together for around 3 months now. We met at the hospital. 

I was her medical senior intern back then, while she was my junior intern. 

She was the typical girl next door and I was so fortunate that we had the same work schedule. As days passed by working with her, I eventually fell in love not just with her pretty face, but also with her attitude in general. I managed to date her several times, and I thought that I finally found my soulmate. To cut the story short, we finally became a couple last May. 

Everything was so perfect about us… until I found out about her past. I learned that she had an ex-boyfriend for 6 years with whom she admitted to having had several sexual encounters before. She told me that they did almost everything in the books. I am well aware that our current relationship has nothing to do with her past, and that I cannot do anything to change it. 

To be honest, I have no issues regarding her virginity. My problem is that I keep on unintentionally imagining pictures of her and her ex doing sexual deeds. Those pictures haunt me everyday and it hurts me. 

I told her about my problem and she apologized to me. She said that if she could just turn back time, she wouldn’t have done those. I promised to her that I would try not to think about them anymore… but 3 months have passed and I still haven’t managed to overcome it.

What should I do? I really love her but I think those “ghosts” are beginning to affect me and our relationship as well. Please help me.  

All the best,

Fernando

—————- 

Dear Fernando,

Thank you for your email.

This is a country where virgins are acclaimed for their supposed purity by the clergy and/or those who espouse traditional (Filipino) family values like politicians, especially around election. You are therefore at first sight to be congratulated on your open-mindedness on this subject.

However, on further consideration, perhaps you have not entirely achieved the open-mindedness that you claim if the ghosts of your girlfriend’s past are still haunting you.

Of course, one has to acknowledge that the definition of sexual history is actually a spectrum – there is a huge difference between a girl who has “entertained” the entire basketball team at one extreme and one who has sex once at the other, with myriad alternatives in between. 

The same goes for the degree of disclosure of sexual history. Some people just don’t want to know or tell, others offer a general idea and yet others want chapter and verse. And then there is the issue of who wants to know – are both partners happy with the degree of disclosure?

Yet another issue can arise: does the disclosure match up with actual performance? Sexual dexterity and virginity were not always easy to explain away in the past, but Internet-based “how to” videos etc. now offer some plausibility.

You do not tell us at whose instigation your girlfriend (let’s call her Anna) revealed her past. If you asked her, then it may seem unreasonable to Anna that you make an issue of her response. If however she initiated the disclosure, it may well be that she wanted an honest relationship with no sexual skeletons in the closet. She may also want to be sure you can handle her past.

So what are your options? You can be positive and view Anna’s past as just one of the many parts that make her so attractive to you now. She is after all exactly the same person as she was before you knew these details of her sexual history. Or you can be negative and continue to obsess over things that are in the past and that you cannot change. 

At the end of the day, a relationship is all about getting to know each other. However, keeping secrets is almost always a barrier to greater trust and intimacy.  The process of self-revelation can continue for years and years.

As the partners learn to trust each other more and more, so they begin to reveal deeper and deeper secrets – though it should be recognized that as time goes by, the cost of revelation can decrease e.g. admitting you stole something valuable from a friend 20 minutes ago is somewhat different from stealing it 20 years ago, if only because in the latter case you can claim to be reformed. 

But opening up to one’s partner does not happen in a vacuum and the partner’s reaction is also of vital importance. In your instance, your negative reaction to Anna’s past can scarcely be considered supportive and may even suggest to her that there are some things you would rather not hear, secrets therefore that she should keep. This is unlikely to help your relationship prosper. 

Of course, as relationships develop, traits may begin to appear that were not so obvious at the start and lead one or both partners to re-evaluate the health of their joint endeavor. Unexpected issues can become breakup matters. Not every relationship is destined for success and in your case, Fernando, your obsession will sour your chances unless you get it sorted out. Dr Holmes will have more to say on this.

All the best,

JAF Baer

 

Dear Fernando:

Thank you very much for your letter. To me, yours is a dilemma that many men go through. I realize that may make me come across as sexist, limiting my observation only to men.

I also realize that a smattering – or maybe even millions – of women go through the pain and confusion you have upon learning that their significant others had sexual partners before them, but in my clinical experience, I have met only men that respond the way you do.

Whether a function of nature and/or nurture, men seem to value virginity/being unused” so much more than women. In fact, the very concept of being unused” when referring to a person seems alien to women. In an ideal world, it would be an alien concept to men as well, but this is a column based on reality, not on fantasy.

So, let us accept that the more Neanderthal” part of you feels gutted because of your girlfriends previous sexual experiences. However, the modern, more rational – hopefully more sensitive – male in you scolds yourself for your inconsistency and tells you are wrong: wrong not because you feel this way (who, after all, can truly control ones feelings), but because you have indulged in these unfair thoughts and allowed it to affect your relationship. 

And yet even judging you as allowing your thoughts to affect your relationship is unfair because it is not as if you want to think this way. You, in fact, want to stop punishing yourself and, consequently, punishing your girlfriend for no other reason other than telling you the truth.  

Well, I have good news for you, and that is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a short-term, goal-oriented psychotherapy treatment that takes a hands-on, practical approach to problem-solving. Its goal is to change patterns of thinking (or behavior) that are behind peoples difficulties, and so change the way they feel.  (Read this for more).  

One of the common ways they do this is through thought stopping” (TS), also known as thought blocking. TS is intended to help you reduce or eliminate any self-defeating thinking which, in your case, Fernando, is being haunted by  pictures of her and her ex doing sexual deeds

TS techniques are designed to help people who are consumed by thinking the same thoughts over and over on a daily schedule.

There are even CBT worksheets to make it easier to try this on your own. 

Just keep in mind that the basis of TS is to consciously issue the command Stop!when you experience repeated negative, unnecessary or distorted thoughts. You then replace the negative thought (like preferring sex with her former partner to sex with you) with something more positive and realistic.  

There is even an incredibly easy exercise shared by Sheryl Ankrom, a Panic Disorder Expert, to help you attain this goal – view more here.

I describe the above exercise as easy because I have recommended it to many, none of whom have complained that the exercise was too difficult to do. The reason TS works is neuroplasticity which you can either google or read more about in the 25th anniversary edition of my book  Life Love Lust: Straightforward Answers to Provocative Questions (Anvil Publishing, 2015). I would, of course, prefer you do the latter as thiswill increase my royalties  

I know, I know, there are some who believe TS doesnt work (read here and here),  but in my clinical experience it does, and that is why I have shared it with you.

Should you try it?  I think there is nothing to lose and everything to gain in doing so.  Just remember that you need to do it everyday for as long as needed. 

Surely the reward of keeping your relationship with your girlfriend is important enough to try and stop these unwelcome and undeserved thoughts intruding upon the happiness you otherwise have with her. 

All the best,

MG Holmes

Need advice from our Two Pronged duo? Email twopronged@rappler.com with subject heading TWO PRONGED.Unfortunately the volume of correspondence precludes a personal response.

When leaving a message on this page, please be sensitive to the fact that you are responding to a real person in the grip of a real-life dilemma, who wrote to Two Pronged asking for help, and may well view your comments here. Please consider especially how your words or the tone of your message could be perceived by someone in this situation, and be aware that comments which appear to be disruptive or disrespectful to the individual concerned will be removed.

 

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