Marriage as God intended it to be is about learning to love well. We don’t learn that automatically. What you learned before you knew you were learning it – about life, yourself, relationships, marriage, God – notably impacts your relationships today. You can’t leave your past behind until and unless you deal with it. What you don’t know about marriage really CAN hurt you.

We undergo more preparation for a temporary job than for a marriage covenant that’s intended to be “’til death do us part.” Even the standard Christian pre-marriage counseling is limited to a bit of advice along the lines of “make sure you’re both saved, then pray together, talk together, and have sex together.” I don’t believe that was ever enough, but it’s certainly not enough in our complicated society today.

Marriage rips off the bandages you’ve used to plaster over your ugly wounds. It demonstrates the beliefs you embraced, the skills you didn’t learn, the lies you believed, the selfishness and evil that’s buried in your soul. And that’s just for starters.

Marriage also provides a powerful laboratory in which to deal with those wounds, learn things you need to learn, and find real healing. But it doesn’t happen automatically.

The Past Into the Present

While a wedding is a spiritual and magical moment, God doesn’t “zap” you with what you need to know when the preacher says, “I now pronounce you husband and wife.” Building a life where two sinners become one is a process. And it doesn’t start from scratch on your honeymoon.

You cannot come to marriageable age without baggage. And if you are in or are contemplating a second marriage, that baggage is even greater. You are still the same person, with the same hurts, habits, and hang-ups. And you will choose a partner and create the kind of relationship that validates who you are and what you believe – not consciously, but under the surface.

You developed expectations about communication, conflict, sex, male/female roles, and a whole lot more long before you knew you were developing them. You learned things through “osmosis” in the home you grew up in. The bruises you’ve experienced in life have colored your personality and expectations. Those things never go away simply by wishing.

How your family dealt with feelings is how you will deal with feelings. The pornography you’ve seen alters what you expect out of sex. Being rejected means you will expect to be rejected again. If you saw people trying to meet their needs through manipulation and control, you’ll do the same.

Until and unless.

Until and unless you look honestly at your past and deal with it.

Defining the Baggage

Whether you’re married right now or not, getting below the surface can change everything. Think of whatever metaphor you like; taking the scab off the wound to let the infection out, digging down to the roots of the weeds in your soul, addressing the majority of the iceberg that’s hidden under the water.

This is not a one-hour project. It’s something to address thoughtfully, carefully, and prayerfully. You will need to come back to it periodically. I strongly suggest you journal through this process.

The important point is coming to understand who you are now. When Jesus said to the woman at the well, “You’ve had five husbands,” it wasn’t a judgmental statement. Jesus was saying, “I see you. This is who you are.” Jesus already sees you; now it’s time to see yourself.

Here are some questions to contemplate.

  • What did you learn about love as a child? How do you go about getting love?
  • How were feelings handled, especially anger? What do you do with feelings now?
  • What did you see modeled about communication? How have you learned to communicate?
  • How did you learn about sex? What color does that give to what you expect from sex now?
  • How was conflict handled in your family? What happens when you face conflict now?
  • What did you learn about setting boundaries? Can you set healthy boundaries now?
  • What did intimacy mean in your family? What do you expect from intimacy now?
  • Was it OK for people to admit “failure” in your family? What do you do with “failure” now?

Elements such as violence, hiding feelings, codependency, addictions, high conflict, infidelity, significant loss, and more become part of you.

But what’s most important is what you do about it next.

What Kind of Relationship Do You Want?

You probably learned some very helpful things growing up. That’s good. Honoring and embracing the positive elements you brought with you from your past is important.

But whatever is not good will not get better by simply hoping for it to be so. If you have a legacy of financial debt, divorce or infidelity, violence or abuse, sexual addiction, or any other brokenness, you will need to take action to change your family tree.

Now you’ve looked at what is.

But know that your relationship status is not hopeless! If you’re not presently married, dealing with your stuff now will dramatically change the kind of relationship that becomes possible for you. And if you are presently married, if you change and deal with your stuff, your marriage will not remain the same!

Take some time to journal about the relationship legacy you received. And in a follow-up post we’ll talk more about the path you need to take in dealing with it.

Your Turn: Which of these aspects of your relationship history was the most difficult for you to consider? Can you see how that is impacting your relationship now? Leave a comment below.

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