Shadows From the Past

wife and husband in dark forest
Luke Flowers

More than an hour had passed since my car died. Sitting there with the alternator light glowing in the darkness, I couldn't stop the tears.

I knew I had to call Harvey, my husband of just a few months, but was afraid of how he'd respond. After mustering the courage to call, I blurted out the story of my car breakdown and then braced myself for the backlash — but there was none. Harvey's voice was filled with compassion: "Are you all right? Why didn't you call sooner? I'd have been right there to help you!"

That night, Harvey and I discussed my anxiety about calling him. Apparently, I had carried expectations, fears and disappointments from my previous marriage into my new one. I had to learn my new husband, and my new husband had to learn me. But recognizing the shadows from the past can be challenging because it's hard to see our own vulnerabilities.

Consider the following indicators and applications to help you and your spouse relinquish those old expectations.

Identify the shadows. When a situation makes you feel unreasonably angry, nervous or anxious, or causes you to clam up or become defensive, it might indicate that similar situations have caused stress in the past.

Find the source. Step back from the situation and ask yourself why you feel the way you do. For example, if you become angry when your new spouse withdraws $50 from your joint checking account, consider how past experiences might be contributing to your reaction. Perhaps your ex made frequent withdrawals without explaining how he or she used the money.

Shine light on the issue. Share your history with your spouse and explain how it fosters your insecurities. Then, work together to build mutual trust. Just as it would be unfair for your spouse to assume negative responses from you, it puts your spouse at a disadvantage in your relationship if you expect bad motives from him or her. It's best to trust your new spouse unless there's a proven weakness.

Everyone brings baggage from past relationships, but you can pull from the strengths you've gained from your past — maturity, patience, wisdom, godliness — to build a new marriage and family.

Terri Clark is president and founder of Terri Clark Ministries, which provides practical help for stepfamilies.

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This article first appeared in the January/February 2014 issue of Focus on the Family's Thriving Family magazine.
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Copyright © 2013 by Terri Clark. Used by permission. From the Focus on the Family website at

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