Ghosts of Marriage Past
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It was a playful moment of laughter and light hearted fun. My wife, Sharon, teasingly said, "Who do you think you are, anyway?" Suddenly, I felt anything but playful. I felt hurt and angry, and I didn't know why.
I knew Sharon wasn't being critical or trying to hurt me. I knew I should have been laughing and giving her a smart-guy answer, but I felt like exploding. It was totally irrational.
Sharon could tell something was wrong, but I wasn't ready to talk about it—I didn't understand why I was feeling these strong negative emotions, so I certainly couldn't explain them. Instead, there was a sudden uncomfortable silence, an unexpected chasm between us.
Does this story sound familiar? Every remarried couple (and many in first marriages) have similar moments. Depending on your history, the result could range from an unexplained hurt that's never verbalized to an all-out, bitter confrontation. Through our 16 years of remarriage, Sharon and I have learned a lot about these situations and how to handle them. We call them" ghosts."
"Ghosts" are irrational emotional reactions that are rooted in our past heartaches and painful memories. Ghosts can be triggered by words, situations, or sensory recall, and usually attack without notice or warning. They have the potential to destroy relationships—even healthy ones—if we don't learn to identify, understand, and resolve them. Managing your ghosts isn't just a good idea—it can be the difference between the success or failure of your marriage.
A few hours after my wife's comment, I was finally ready to talk. I'd realized that Sharon had unknowingly triggered a ghost from my first marriage, the memory of a painful and confusing day when I told my first wife I felt God calling me to pursue vocational ministry. She laughed and mocked me, and made it clear she wanted no part of such a call. It was an extremely hurtful day for me. One of the things she said repeatedly that day was," Who do you think you are, anyway?"
When I faced the truth of my past, I discovered that my reaction was actually a response to my ex and not to Sharon, and I was able to call that memory what it was.
That memory hurt—and it was something I didn't want to face. But I needed to grieve for the calling I wasn't able to pursue, and even though that grieving experience wasn't fun, it enabled me to toss that mental trigger and keep it from ever sneaking up on me again. If I hadn't gone through the momentary pain of facing the memory, it would have been like in viting my ex to move in with us and be part of our blended family. Not a good thing.
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