I have been blessed to attend dozens and dozens of marriage ceremonies through the years. Never does the beauty of a blushing and glowing bride or the look on her soon-to-be husband’s face, when she appears, get old. I get butterflies as I think of the exciting journey they are about to embark upon. The joy of marriage is not talked about often enough! In fact, I might venture to say that because I work in single parenting ministry, the marriage beauty can be overshadowed by the hardships that I often see in divorce or failed relationships. Yet, the reality is, there is something wonderful about having a partner to do life with, to share experiences with, or to bounce ideas off of.
However, the twists and turns of life can often leave wounds. Our life experiences can help us to grow in wisdom and maturity, which are beautiful attributes that will enhance a future relationship. But life experiences can also cause gaps in our emotional bank that create danger zones for any future spouse. It’s important to recognize what those things are. We all have a past that we bring into a new relationship. Recognize the baggage we and learning how to fix it can result in a one-day beautiful happy marriage journey. It is possible.
If you are single now and not on the dating scene, this is a perfect time for you to evaluate your baggage! (The same is true if you are already in a relationship! It’s never too late to grow!) Baggage we bring into relationships can include:
- Abuse. Every year, Child Protective Services works with approximately 6.6 million children with allegations of abuse in the home, including physical, sexual, mental, and emotional. 1 in 5 women in the United States have been raped. 1 in 71 men. 1 in 3 women have been victim of violence by a partner. The list goes on and on. Abuse is everywhere. Whether it stems from a dangerous or unhealthy childhood or a recent relationship that went terribly wrong, both men and women can bring the baggage of abuse into the relationship, leaving a wound that can last a lifetime, if not addressed.
- Finances. College credit cards, previous divorce, medical bills, or simple mismanagement of money can all result in a financial baggage that is heavy. It takes only a matter of moments to ruin a credit history through obtaining too much debt load, applying for too many accounts, or over-utilizing credit cards, just to name a few. It can take months and years to rectify poor credit. Financial history usually isn’t a deal-breaker, when honest. Poor spending habits or inability to learn better money management can be weighty in a marriage.
- Past Relationships. Rarely today does someone enter into marriage that has not been involved in a previous relationship of some sort, even if a jr. high sweetheart or puppy love, of some sort. Many of us have experience deep wounds from a relationship that we were deeply involved in (or marriage) that failed. We felt like failures. We were hurt and angry. And if we aren’t careful, we get the idea that someone must pay! We don’t do so consciously, but subconsciously our spouse must prove to us that he/she isn’t willing to do the same things to us that a past partner did. We make them prove that truth repeatedly. We compare. If there is a marriage set back through a disagreement, we sometimes drudge up the past of the old relationship and how the previous partner “did the exact same thing.” We must be careful with the past.
- Childhood. Whether we had a childhood that was bustling with laughter and joy, family devotionals and regular vacations, or whether we were riddled with the pain of abuse, death of a close family member, or other trauma, our childhoods shape us. And those experiences can bring baggage into the marriage. The traumatic experiences of our childhood (when applicable) can bring obvious pain and wounds. Perhaps less obvious is a positive childhood. If we were blessed with fantastic parents who created a healthy home environment, that is an awesome gift we’ve received. However, we have to be careful that we don’t make a habit of comparing our childhood experiences with the performance of our spouses. Our husbands may not mow the lawn as faithfully as dad once did or make the money that afforded a more comfortable lifestyle. Your wives may not be the dynamic cook or seamstress your mom once was. Let’s be careful that we allow our childhoods to shape who we are without exerting baggage they may have created.
Now that we’ve uncovered some of the pitfalls of baggage we can bring into the relationship, let’s consider how we can find wholeness from the baggage. Here are some helpful tips:
- Communicate. Our partners don’t know the whole story. They don’t know about the intricate details of our relationships, pasts, or childhoods. Even when we explain some of the trauma we’ve experienced, it’s still hard for our spouses to fully comprehend what that may have done to us emotionally. We must talk. Do not ignore the elephant in the room that is causing disagreements, rage, lack of sexual empathy, depression, or even more. Tell your partner how you are feeling. Tell them that nightmares have suddenly surfaced from a decades-old wound. Talk about how a certain behavior triggers a reminder for you of a past hurt. Don’t assume that your spouse already knows what you are feeling. The more you talk about that dark thing, the more light of healing is shed on it.
- Seek help from outsiders. There are wounds that, sometimes, we are simply not equipped to handle. Trusted pastors, licensed counselors, or sexual therapists are not only a good idea, they are often necessary to begin the healing process. Not only are all meetings private, but they have been trained with skills (and anointed for the task) that you can implement into your day-to-day life. I’ve also found that just being able to talk through baggage offers great release from the burden it brings with it. There is no shame in recognizing you need help beyond your own expertise.
- Be patient. Healing takes time. We are an impatient people, aren’t we? We want an instant everything, but the human spirit isn’t a switch we can turn to a higher level of performance. It takes time and the presence of the Holy Spirit daily working on the wound to bring healing. Healing will come. In the meantime, it may mean that you have to have more discussions about a topic than you think or necessary. It may mean that the healing you thought would take weeks take years, but issue grace and be patient in the process (for both you and your future spouse).
- Forgive. Forgive your past offender, if you have suffered a wound. Forgive yourself for a past failure that has haunted you in your marriage. Forgive a parent that wasn’t around. Forgive God, if you are carrying bitterness about the death of a loved one or a failed marriage. Forgive today, and forgive every day. Forgiveness is a daily choice we make. The more we practice it, the more freely we can give it. There’s great freedom, when you master the art of forgiveness on a regular basis. Satan no longer has a hold on you, creating a burden that you carry day-to-day.
- Take classes together. The explosion of technology, coupled with the cognizance of many churches to address the practical needs of its congregations, there has never been more access to life skills classes to grow. Whether you are carrying a financial burden due to lack of money management techniques or the wound of a sexual assault, there are classes both online and in person in many communities around the United States. Many are low-cost or no-cost, but even if they aren’t, it’s worth the sacrifice of saving money or hosting a garage sale to invest in your future marriage. Grow with your partner. (And if he isn’t willing to grow with you, that should be a huge red flag for you).
Article first appeared at iBelieve.com.