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.1