“The past has very little substance, but it stays close to your heels.” (Unknown) It is human nature to view new relationships in light of previous ones. It’s like putting on sunglasses that are tinted yellow or black. Everything you see has a yellow or black hue. We often view our current relationship through a marriage past marital lens (and family-of-origin lens) that sometimes leads to negative assumptions and expectations.
Sometimes the meaning we ascribe to specific behaviors is also interpreted negatively. If these assumptions are not examined or the lens isn’t taken off, a new marriage can easily be colored by the experiences of the first (or second). That’s why it’s critical that divorced persons take time to resolve the ending of their marriage before jumping into another relationship.
The “Ghost” of Your Marriage Past
I recommend individuals wait at least 3 years before beginning a serious relationship. All too often, however, people rebound from one failed marriage into another. And then they take their tinted glasses with them. When circumstances in the new marriage remind someone of negative events in a previous marriage, the person becomes frightened and reactive. This second barrier to marital oneness in the step family is what I call being haunted by [what can seem to be] the ghost of marriage past.
Terri’s first husband had an affair. She came home one day to discover he had packed his stuff. He then moved in with a woman half his age. The fallout from this rejection was almost more than she could handle. But with the help of a supportive church family, she and her eight-year-old son survived.
Bill made her feel good again. They met through a mutual friend and hit it off right from the start. He listened to her anger, supported her through the custody battle. Plus, he helped her son with his homework. Terri found herself trusting him with more and more of her life.
Changes After Marriage
After the wedding, though, Terri would ask questions if Bill didn’t come home on time. When they talked she shared her thoughts, but not quite everything. She often felt it wise to watch her step and not become too transparent. After all, look what happened last time. When they made love, Terri offered her body to Bill, but not her passion. In other words, she was willing to meet his basic sexual need, but guarding her heart meant never fully joining her soul to his.
A year into the marriage she decided it wise to put money in a secret bank account, just in case anything ever went wrong. Finally, Terri invested much of her time in her son, “because his father hurt him so much.” Terri was haunted, and her marriage was slowly being sabotaged.
Don’s second wife misused money. She continually forgot to record checks in the ledger, charged out the maximum amount on their credit cards, and bounced numerous checks. Even before the divorce, Don’s credit was ruined; he had to borrow money from his parents to buy a car for his third wife, Judy.
Haunted from Past
The first time Judy forgot to record a check in the ledger, Don started sweating. Emotionally he withdrew, and financially he demanded control over the checkbook. Judy was granted an allowance, and all expenditures beyond that had to be pre-approved by him. Taking control seemed to be the only way to prevent another bad situation. But Judy’s resentment over Don’s controlling behavior created a new bad situation.
What’s truly ironic about being haunted by [what may seem to appear to be] the ghost of marriage past and responding out of fear is that you can systematically bring about a self-fulling prophecy. If you treat someone as untrustworthy long enough, he or she may give up trying to win your trust and begin to act untrustworthy. After all, you’re going to respond as if he or she is anyway. What does the person have to lose?
I have a cartoon of a man shouting at his wife as she drives off with her luggage: “Marie, don’t leave me. My ex-wife will think she’s right when she says no one can live with me.” That’s a man who is married to one woman, but emotionally tied to another. In fact, his divided attention has left him unable to meet his current wife’s needs and resulted in a self-fulfilling prophecy. No one can live with him.
Becoming a “Ghost” Buster:
For most remarried partners, treating a current spouse fairly requires becoming a “ghost” buster. You must examine how you have been influenced by your previous relationships and strive to adjust your responses to similar circumstances. Recognizing your negative interpretations of the other’s behavior is sometimes difficult. Often a husband or wife will say, “Why are you overreacting to this?” or “Wait a minute. I am not you ex!” When that happens, take some time to reflect.
Examine whether your past is still part of your present. Then replace your reactive behavior with more appropriate responses. You may also have to struggle with matters of forgiveness as difficult emotions and memories come to the surface. Work to take your “ghosts” to the throne of God and lay them down. You’ll never regret leaving them behind.
In addition, admit your “ghosts” to your spouse and enlist help as you fight to change your behavior. Ask your partner to pray for you and compassionately point out when he or she thinks you are being “haunted.” Talk to friends, grieve your past, and grow into your new marriage.
“But I don’t know what else to do,” someone might say. Then ask yourself, “If I had never been hurt before, how would I respond in this situation? If I were to treat you as if you are trustworthy, how would I act?” The answers to these questions are a great start toward how you should act and what you are trying to become.
Marriage is tough under any circumstance. Remarriages all too frequently fall prey to the common issues of escalating conflict over money, sex, and in-laws just like all other marriages. Yet some unique and unforeseen barriers do exist. That’s why step family couples must make their relationship a priority and must work harder—and smarter—at their marriage than anyone else.
The above barriers can quickly or subtly destroy a marriage, especially when they work in concert with one another and compound their impact. For example, why would a wife want to make her husband a priority and risk alienating her children when she is mistrusting? If she’s not sure her husband will be there in two years, why not stick closer to her kids? After all, they’re not going anywhere. Truly, the risk of marriage is vast. But so are the rewards for those who give it all they’ve got.
The challenges to remarriage are real. Gather all your resources, invest in marital enrichment programs, talk with other step family couples, and keep God at the center of your relationship. Your step family is depending on you.
The above article can be found in the book, Smart Stepfamily, The: Seven Steps to a Healthy Family. It is written by Ron L. Deal, and is published by Bethany House. This is a really good book that we highly recommend! This book is written on the “information is power” premise. It weaves together a review of biblical materials, practical insights, and anecdotal stories to educate and support stepfamilies and the clergy who serve them. Ron Deal explodes the myth of the “blended” family as he provides practical, realistic solutions to the issues that stepfamilies face. You can also visit Ron Deal’s web site at Smartstepfamilies.com. This web site has so much helpful information and help for those who are dealing with this area of marriage.
— ALSO —
There are many unseen hurts that can haunt your relationship. The following is an article that discusses these hurts. It then offers ways to combat them. I encourage you to read:
— ALSO —
From Elevateyourmarriage.com, the following is another article to read. It explains steps you can take to break free from these “ghosts”:
— AND —
A few articles written by Paul Byerly of The-Generous-Husband.com ministry, could also be helpful in dealing with this issue:
More from Marriage Missions
Filed under: Remarriage