Focus on the Family

Ghost Whispers

Ghosts from the past can create intimacy wedges in remarriage. Learning to recognize your ghosts and manage them is one path to increase your marital confidence and intimacy.

by Ron Deal

A cat that sits on a hot stove won't ever sit on a hot stove again; neither will it sit on a cold stove. --Mark Twain

Keeping the Past Out of Your Present

Gary once sat on a hot stove. His wife, Shirley, complained that he wouldn't let her take any parental initiative with his children. Upon reflection, Gary was aware that he struggled to release control of his kids, but he didn't know why. After exploring his relational history with a counselor, he realized that his first wife's abandonment left him afraid to "get back up on the stove."

Gary knew he had been holding on to his children to protect them from further pain, but he didn't realize he was also protecting himself. Holding on to them meant he didn't have to give as much of himself to Shirley. He feared making himself vulnerable to hurt and worried that she might not be fully committed to the marriage. He discovered that he had been intentionally making his wife jealous of his children so he could be assured of her desire for him. Ironically, this inadvertently built resentment in Shirley's heart toward both him and his children over time.

Confidence in marriage is important. It nurtures a positive attitude toward your spouse and a high motivation to find positive ways of relating. Fear and concern, however, erode how we receive our mate's words and actions. In my book The Smart Stepfamily: Seven Steps to a Healthy Family, I refer to these fears as the "ghosts of marriage past." These ghosts can lead you to live as if negative things are happening when they're not and to interpret benign behaviors, attitudes or words as if they are malignant. Couples who are intent on developing a long-lasting relationship must manage their inner concerns and fears. You must become a ghost buster!

Who You Gonna Call?

Learning to manage your fears and how they affect you is an important task to protecting your marriage from erosion. Consider these ghost busting strategies:

Confronting your ghosts is never easy. Strive to love as Jesus would have you — without fear. Then, and only then, will your confidence and sense of security in this marriage grow. Remember, "perfect love casts out all fear" (1 John 4:18b, NIV).