Guest blog by Rob Maroney, Co-author of Hope After Hurt
I don’t know if I was in denial, or just oblivious to it, but it was an “Aha” moment when I began to understand the impact of my past on my present relationships. We met in November, got engaged the next February, and married in June. We were young and it all happened so fast. After the wedding a short reception followed, and with hope-filled hearts (and probably rose-colored glasses), we drove off waving goodbye to our friends and family. Without a doubt this was a significant event, but it was just the preface to the story that was about to be written. As we launched our newly-wed journey we didn’t notice what was following us. We were towing two invisible trailers … trailers filled with all the stuff from our past … the things we had seen, heard and experienced … belief systems we had formed … expectations about love and intimacy … all neatly packed and stored away.
They say, “love is blind,” and most couples don’t see the baggage they carry into their relationships from the past. As a young Christian couple we were all too familiar with the warnings about the trials and challenges that lie ahead in marriage, but we also knew the Apostle Paul said “forget what lies behind and press on to what lies ahead”, so ready or not … we drove on … hanging onto the old familiar mantra, “the past is the past”. It didn’t occur to me at the time that Paul was never married, or that maybe he meant something entirely different!
As in any marriage, the road typically gets a little rougher. The “invisible” trailers become more visible, they began to collide, sometimes there’s a flat tire, stuff shakes loose and falls out, we didn’t understand why it’s there, where it comes from, or what it means.
I believe we both honestly wanted to show love, joy, peace, patience, kindness … (you know, the fruit of the Spirit) … but something inside would erupt causing a mini internal explosion, and we would respond with irritation, hurt or withdrawal. When you think your reactions are justified you often play the blame game, comparing whose actions are worse, or bringing up something entirely unrelated to the current situation, and it gets you nowhere.
The Inside Doesn’t Match the Outside
When couples are pulling these invisible trailers, they can still look surprisingly good on the outside. They might have a few kids, good jobs, a reasonable income, a house, a mortgage, a mini-van, all the while leading lives of quiet discontent. When we are unaware of what’s going on inside us, or we just work really hard to hide it, we struggle to experience the connection we want and need. One partner hopes for more emotional connection, while the other wrestles to try and figure out what to do. It leaves both missing each other in the process.
This was our dance. We lived in the shadow of our histories, influenced by the cultural messages around us. We were victims of our own broken thinking. The beliefs, scars and habits we had allowed to take root were slowly eroding the foundation of our marriage and although we wanted our relationship to be different, it felt like we were fighting an invisible enemy. And in the process, we missed each other.
When expectations, hurt and disappointment take up residence in your heart, it’s worth looking back to see where it might have come from. Most likely, what you are towing into your present relationships started long ago. They just show up in real time and feed your unhealthy dance pattern. I knew I had areas of growth, and needed to rewrite some false beliefs, but I was also hoping my spouse would treat me with such unconditional love and care that my insecurities and buried pain from the past would evaporate. That way, I wouldn’t have to deal with it. The problem is, this is a heavy burden to place on another person.
We all have to be honest about the trailers we are towing. And it can’t be someone else’s responsibility to unpack your trailer. All it takes is a few speed bumps, pot holes, hair-pin turns, or break-downs along the way for everything to start tumbling out. Take a courageous step today and open your trailer. Unpack those past relationships, expectations and beliefs from your history and then honestly ask how much of this shows up in what you experience today.