Prior to marriage, we all have a number of loyalties and dependencies. But as soon as we take that wedding vow, our primary human relationship becomes our spouse. This brand-new relationship forever alters previous associations, even of the best sort. Problems emerge whenever individuals do not sever emotional ties to old boyfriends or girlfriends from their past. This is especially true of unbroken ties to the past.
This is especially true when there has been a heavy physical component in a prior relationship. The bonding that took place was premature and wrong.
Unless the individual works hard with God’s help to stop reliving the old dreams and schemes of the past, then both the person and his or her spouse will suffer.
Stop Pursuing Past Memories
I am not suggesting that a person won’t experience a sudden unexpected recollection that comes from nowhere to wound like a fiery dart. We can, however, stop pursuing the emotional memory of a previous love. We must root out those recollections from our memories to the best of our abilities.
When all we do is chop the heads off weeds [like in gardening], then all we enjoy is temporary relief from their presence. They will be back. This will often come in a more robust form than before.
I have seen the destructive weed of past ties wrap itself tightly around a husband or wife. Eventually divorce is the result. In many such cases, the individual then seeks out and marries his or her previous lover.
At the heart of these matters is a theological issue. It’s the difference between remorse and genuine repentance. A person may think he has repented of the sins of his past. He may think he has moved on with his life. But in reality, he’s very sorry that things didn’t work out.
Beware and Resist
If you need help determining the difference, you can be sure that repentance hates the memory of sin. It resists its return at every point. But if the sorrow you feel keeps you focused on the past, beware of remorse that may be preventing you from acknowledging the root of sin. If you do not find a previous sinful relationship unattractive, you must get beyond the remorse. That is what is needed to find the repentance you need.
If the husband and/or wife has been divorced, this problem is inevitably compounded, for the aftereffects of divorce are often more severe than the divorce itself. As the couple approaches marriage, one (or both) of them faces especially strong ties to the past that almost certainly will work their way into this brand-new relationship.
Let’s assume that Bill and Jane, both divorced, are planning to marry. Neither of them initiated their divorces. In fact, they did all they could to save their marriages. Bill’s wife left him for a fitness trainer at their club. Jane’s husband came home one evening and announced that he was strongly attracted to his secretary and wanted to be “amicably” released from his marriage. What can Bill and Jane expect in their new relationship?
Sin causes misery. Even though Bill and Jane could do little to avoid their divorces, they and their children are forced to live with the consequences of their former spouses’ sin. From now on, there will be occasional friction with the children of the previous marriage, who are forced to commute between divorced parents.
When the children graduate or get married, those events will become major stress points as Bill and Jane attempt to celebrate with their kids in the shadow of new stepparents. If Bill and Jane have children of their own, there will be a natural rivalry between those children and the children of the ex-spouses. Whether or not Bill and Jane choose to dwell on the ties of the past, those once vital relationships will assert themselves at regular occasions.
Old Association Traps
Couples do not need to feel trapped by these old associations. But moving on with their lives will require an extraordinary measure of emotional fortitude and prayerful dependence on God. It will also be a great help if they cultivate the kind of sensitive openness that will allow them to acknowledge their emotional struggles to each other. With honesty and patience, they can lean on each other. And together they can rest in the promise of God’s provision and protection.
This article comes from the book, Lasting Love Lasting Love: How to Avoid Marital Failure written by Alistair Begg. It is published by Moody Press. In this book Pastor Begg teaches “the art of a lasting relationship. He calls each partner to bury self-interests and diligently tend the fire of his own her own home hearth.”
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3 responses to “Unbroken Ties to the Past”
(UK) I cheated on my spouse nearly two years ago. The details of my affair were that I cheated twice over a period of a year with the same person. My spouse and I have since been working things out. He says he has forgiven me and has since been keen for us to get married in the next month or so.
My trouble is that just last night he had a flashback out of no where and fell into deep pain. I tried my best to go over the details he has asked me a few times over, and answer any question about why I was unfaithful. I told him that I since have repented to God and would never do such a thing again. There was no excuse for my actions and I’m to blame for the pain that I caused. But he said that he has feelings of vengegance and that it would not be his fault if he cheated on me in light of what I did to him. He then wanted me to show him exactly how the sexual acts took place by demonstrating on him. I mean I’m all for being open even if it hurts me but am I wrong in thinking that this is a bit to extreme?!? What do I do?
I’ve asked him to take some of his feeling to God in prayer and I have actually demonstrated the sexual act and details of my affair several times before. Do I have too keep doing this for the rest of my life? Its been two years. I don’t know if I’m being unreasonable to his feelings. I’m stuck and need advice, help please!! I’m in pain and have no one to talk to.
I have told him that it there is no point in dragging the past up and that he is right when he say the world not end if we broke up. He is so very double-minded. One minute we are great and he is telling me he will never leave and we will get married and be ok, the next he asking me what and why I did what I did. These Low point are few and far between but he still brings up the affair in arguments.
At the moment I have been praying and think that we need professional counselling with a married Christian couple soon, because once we make those vows, there is no going back.
I have recently lost my mother to AIDS two months ago. This why I was so shocked at his outburst the other night. I will continue to pray that when we do get some counselling the Holy Spirit convicts him because as much as I have also tried new ways of doing this sexually and enhancing other areas of our life and supporting his own personal and career interests it always comes back to me not doing enough. He is always saying that I’m never doing enough or not doing things the right way.
He also went and bought a car disregarding that I told him not to because we are in financial debt. He went to Miami a few weeks ago after I said he shouldn’t. Even his family has said that he has no respect for me and that he is selfish. I mean he is young (28) and we got committed at a young age. He was 18 I was 16, so I understand why he is selfish. But even an uncle said that he wants to have his cake and eat it. Is there anyone out there that has experienced the same problems with their husband? I love him and want to share my life with him but I am not willing to spend my life with someone who has what he calls ‘near enough hate’ for me because of what I did.
(UK) Hello..I am in the position your partner is in, only in that I cannot prove or disprove anything physical has happened. I cannot begin to explain how much pain deep inside that mistrust causes. We are not naturally insecure, but my husband has made me very much so and blames me for it. He will never realise just how much crying my heart has done.
I have heard it a million times, but trust really is the be all and end all of any kind of relationship. When the trust is broken, it is very difficult to mend it. I had found texts on my husbands phone and all I can say is that it felt as though my heart was breaking, and it feels like it has. When I confronted him, he blamed me and like your partner, I have pushed him for every text message, phone call and every detail. It is almost as if I want to hurt him by making him tell me, knowing how much it will hopefully hurt him to see me so distressed. Does that make sense? I feel I can’t ever trust him and the fact that he has chosen to take that away from our marriage makes me increasingly angry towards him. I too am almost on the verge of hating him. In fact I do love him, but I hate what he has done to us. He has made me feel worthless. He asks me how he can fix it, and deep down I really don’t know. I want to wipe it all away. I need his devotion, love, tenderness and care. I need him to prove to me that he is bothered that our relationship almost vanished. I need to know that he is scared of losing me.
I can understand that your partner wants you to show him what you did with the third party, but this will only make things worse. His imagination will work overtime, and 3 and 3 will end up making 7. You need to rebuild your relationship slowly and maybe with some counseling, patience and understanding. He has to know you are totally sorry for your actions, but he can’t make you pay for ever. That will only lead to misery and resentment. If you want to make your marriage work, pray together, write down your hopes, dreams and what you would like in the future and how you can achieve that together. Rekindle the love you felt when you first got together. Tell him how you feel but make it clear you dont want to go over the past anymore, but look to the future with him as a big part of it. However do not marry unless you are both 100%. Marriage will not fix things and will only make it worse if you do it for the wrong reason.
I hope that things work out for you. It is always sad when things go wrong, but ask yourself why you strayed in the first place? It may help you to deal with any of your own issues, and you may be a better person for it. It may also make your marriage stronger. Good luck.
To Commie; It sounds like you’re in a situation that is difficult and complex and represents several concerns. First let me say that I’ve been where you are. I made unwise decisions that amounted to preferring to focus on what I wanted the relationship to be, ie, that lovely pink and gilt edged dream of a wonderful Christian marriage, instead of facing what was actually true in the relationship. In addition, I compromised my moral/biblical values to bond with this man out of fear of losing him because I was so determined to have him, being so crazy about him and having many intense hopes pinned on him and I being together. I’m going to try and respond truthfully as I can to all that you’ve said so I ask that you would not hit the eject button immediately even if some of what I have to say is hard to hear. Scripture says “faithful are the wounds of a friend but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful. By speaking truth I’m trying to be a friend in the truest sense possible. I respect your right to reject my thoughts on this and in no way want to hurt you; rather I ask that you would bear with me and prayerfully consider my thoughts before accepting or rejecting them and of course getting your Bible out and seeing for yourself what is true.
In your post, you refer to yourself as a spouse but at the same time refer to worrying about taking those vows. If I read you right, you’re saying that you’re living together without being married and that you’re having sex together outside of marriage. I realize that today some folks rationalize that because the government says that common law marriage is the same thing, that it is. In fact, the gov’t has merely capitulated to social morals as it has moved away from God’s word having anything to do with how it makes policies. In the Bible, when Jesus was talking to the woman at the well, he said to her that she had five husbands and the man she “now had” was NOT her husband. He was speaking to her about the fact that she was living with a man without being married and made it clear that He didn’t recognize this as a marriage. He was speaking to her about her sin. If the man were merely someone she had feelings for or knew within the bounds of cultural propriety, he would not have needed to mention it to her in the context that He did. I don’t say this in any kind of shaming judgement at all; I’ve been equally sinful in my own life and I’ve paid for it dearly. I don’t want you to get under condemnation about it but rather to consider taking steps to align your life with what’s biblical and remove yourself from moral and spiritual compromise.
Jesus did not condemn the woman at the well for her sin though He was serious about confronting it, because He was there to save her. God did not send His son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world. Sexual sin messes with our heads and our hearts. Sexual bonding is like super glue; it’s meant to create a lifetime, one flesh bond. This is why, when we have been wrongly sexual with someone, and attempted to circumvent God’s ways, it can be so devastating when the relationship ends. When we’re willing to sin in order to have something, we have an idol. When we give ourselves to an idol, that idol then has us. It robs us of the strength and fortitude we need to make decisions that are right and makes us instead a slave to our emotions. For you repentance may involve moving out and insisting that you both see a godly and biblically solid counselor/pastor and cutting off all sexual relationship until after your wedding if you do decide to go through with it. Not only is this man failing to honor you or protect you from the destructive consequences of sin, yours and his, but he is not showing much concern for what is right or loving at all. He is also not showing that he cherishes you and values you more than he values concerns about how your sin affects his sense of himself. That is not a righteous concern over sin but a self idolatrous one, if that makes sense. It’s about him, not about wanting to see you put God first in your life.
In some cases, people who’ve realized that by living together they’ve stepped outside of God’s boundaries and who want to repent but who have had children, demonstrate repentance by refraining from intercourse and having separate rooms to facilitate this and setting the wedding date as soon as possible, assuming that there is no abuse or drug use going on or other seriously pressing problems. I know of one couple who took purity and obedience so seriously that they had someone move in their home with them to provide some accountability and protection from temptation until they got married. It spared their little children the distress of having one parent suddenly move out.
In my case, I was so determined to have this relationship that it became the center of my heart rather than God being there anymore. The moment we’ve done such a thing, its almost impossible to make decisions in the light of truth because we are no longer walking in truth. Delusion is always the result of compromise, because compromise involves lying to ourselves and to God. The result for me was that I ignored some serious red flags. I just didn’t want to see them, having my eye on the prize of being loved by this man I so desired and with whom I shared some life dreams and desires. One of the red flags was verbal abuse. The verbal abuse indicated that he had some long standing bitterness and unforgiveness towards significant women in his life and that he also had a problem taking responsibility for his issues. Though divorced, he had not honestly faced himself or his own sin issues and wounds. And I think for me, that I would rather have had this relationship than try to understand the how and why of how I’d married someone prior who was abusive and controlling. It also demonstrated that his understanding of relationship dynamics was that of seeing one’s partner as a threat to be subdued via the use of degrading verbal abuse and rage. In addition, he professed Christian faith but continually made choices that sided with sinful and selfish behaviours and picked fights with me in an attempt to force me to agree with his desire to choose unhealthy things, ie, that something bad was in fact, good. He was in quite a battle with his flesh but only demonstrated repentance when I would refuse to back down and would instead hit him hard with confrontational truths. He would then apologize and be truly sorry, not wanting to lose me. It seemed to me that his thinking was cloudy but would become clear when truth was spoken. But I mistakenly thought the fact that he would admit truth when clobbered with it was the same thing as ardently and passionately seeking truth, which it was not. Up until the clobbering variety of truth speaking occurred, I had spoken many times in a quiet, submissive and respectful fashion and he would just ignore it or nod assent but not really change his thinking, or sometimes be quite ignorant and sarcastic. He was quite comfortable letting me manage the righteousness quotient aspect of things but didn’t see himself at all responsible to lead in this area. Instead his focus was on wanting a godly woman because then it would benefit him. His desire to be a godly man was often eclipsed by his desire to continue doing the things that were familiar and comfortable to him. If you have to always drag someone back home whether spiritually or emotionally, it often indicates that whatever the reason for their reluctance to be there, they aren’t too serious about dealing with it at that point. Had I actually obeyed God and stuck within His boundaries, one of two things would have happened.
One, by refusing to compromise and not joining him when he was going places or doing things that led to sin, it would have made it clear that he needed to make a choice. Two, the end result would have been that if his choice turned out to be to get serious about Christ and about me, what I would have ended up with, would have been what I actually wanted and would have been real, no pleading and hoping required. If the choice was something along the lines of “Oh, you mean you are actually serious about this God and obedience thing? You mean I actually have to live it and not merely say the right things or just show up at church and enjoy the parts of it that are in line with my natural interests anyway? You expect me to have been serious when I said I wanted Christ too? I am so out of here!! In that scenario, I would have lost something that wasn’t real and would have meant I was in fact, married to someone who might not even be saved. Don’t pick unripened fruit :) It would have been very painful to say goodbye to him but it would have been for the best if was outside of God’s ways and timing. When there’s pain in the offering, blessed be the name.
The thing is, there’s a good chance that had I followed God’s ways and obeyed Him, and taken the time to lay a real and sure foundation, then we could have gotten married in joy and confidence, instead of being compromised all over the place and dealing with sin issues that have hardened over and are far more difficult to put down now, than they would have had we done things properly in the first place. It’s always far more expensive, messy, painful and grievous to have to tear down an entire house because the foundation was laid poorly and is now sinking, than it would have been to lay a right foundation in the first place.
So to sum up, my suggestion is that first, pull the plug on sin and moral compromise. You can’t repent, heal or make clear truth based decisions when sin is polluting the waters. Find someone who is a godly and biblical counselor to walk with you through this and also for you to make yourself accountable. It’s hard, painfully hard to remove sin patterns from our lives without the help of others, esp. persistent ones. Don’t marry this man as long as he shows a tendency towards justifying contempt, revenge or hatred, or you stand a very good chance of becoming an abused wife. Most certainly do not marry him unless it becomes obvious that he has experienced a genuine conversion to Jesus and Jesus is in fact his Lord. The fact that his own family has warned you is a huge red flag to take into consideration. You need to see serious evidence that the Holy Spirit is doing a work in his heart and be able to hold back and not jump the gun at the slightest sign of hope. If you rush ahead of God, you’ll undermine what needs to be done in his life, and yours too. His desire to obsess about what you did sexually with the other party is not healthy and has gone beyond legitimate need to know. It sounds more like it’s about control and revenge. I pray that God will grant you extraordinary courage and grace to obey Him and to make some very difficult and challenging decisions for long term gain.