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Ghosts of Marriage Past

Facing the unseen hurts that haunt your relationship.
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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."

Haunting memories

"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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Related Topics:Hurts; Marriage; Pain; Past

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Displaying 1–2 of 2 comments

Amy Okorie

May 15, 2013  2:49pm

Mandi, it is not disrespectful at all. It happens. Its like a vicious circle for some people. If you dont work on it like Mr. Case said, it keeps repeating itself. You can experience the same thing whether in a marriage or friendship, even in a new job. Little things make people flip out and take them back to their old situation. You have to identify your trigger and work on it to get rid of it. It could be your fault or someone else's fault, you still have to identify it so you can be free, that is all I understand the writer to be saying and he makes good point for me especially if you were in a very difficult marriage, friendship or job.

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March 07, 2013  1:32am

I find this article so disrespectful. In addition to that, you are giving only your point of view. Quite possibly you had something to do with those "traumatic" moments in our first marriage. If you had a third marriage I am sure the third wife could trigger horrible emotions over what Sharon did to you. And on and on it could go. You sound like a young child.

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