“The past should be left in the past.” I’m sure many of us have heard this at some point in our marriage. And, I’m sure many of us have said this ourselves at some point.
But the question is: is it ever possible to talk about the past and the hurts from our past? And if it is, when is it okay to talk about it and when is it not okay and how do you know the difference?
We have had this discussion many times with couples in our marriage class. And it is from our own experience that we give some very simple advise on the subject. Because for years when our own marriage was suffering, I was always the one who said the past should be left in the past. I never wanted to talk about the past because I felt it would stir things up and cause a huge argument. And it was because I had already asked for forgiveness for what I did and I didn’t like having my past held against me.
But along the way I learned a very valuable lesson. It was after the fourth and final time our marriage had reached its breaking point. We were in a state of limbo. We were still living as husband and wife, but our marriage was in trouble and it looked hopeless as I tried to convince Janet to not give up. She said she wanted out of our marriage and so we were planning to break up in a way that would not hurt our children. And as it turned out, our trying to plan for the right timing actually bought us time to fix what was wrong.
We went on to spend a year and a half in that limbo state. There were times it looked like we would stay together and there were times we lost all hope. I even moved out twice during that time, to only move back in a day later. It was a crazy and extremely difficult time. But the blessing of that time was, we began talking in a way we had never talked before. We weren’t arguing and fighting anymore. Instead, we became very open and honest with each other. And we kept finding ourselves talking about the past. Only, this time when we really talked about the past it was like we were unraveling a mystery, the mystery of what had went wrong with our marriage.
We now thank God for that year and a half we spent talking like that. We know it was His grace working in our lives that helped us recover from our past hurts and rebuild a solid foundation for our marriage. And so it is from that experience I know there is a place where couples need to talk about their past and any unresolved hurts from the past.
So, when is it okay to talk about past hurts?
I have two simple rules I give to couples on this issue.
1) You have to walk in forgiveness at all times.
- Forgiveness is a choice. You choose to forgive what you already know about the past and you choose to forgive ahead of time anything you learn about the past once you start talking about it.
- Forgiveness is also a gift. You have to be willing to freely give forgiveness without expecting your spouse to somehow earn your forgiveness.
- Forgiveness opens the door. If you want a really deep intimate relationship with your spouse, you will find that talking about your past hurts can bring healing and closeness in a way you have never had before, but you have to walk in forgiveness to get there.
- Ask for forgiveness. In the places where you are the one that has hurt your spouse, don’t demand that they forgive. Humble yourself and ask for their forgiveness.
2) Are you using the past as a weapon or a tool?
Never use the past as weapon.
This is what happens so many times during conflicts when out of hurt or anger, the past gets brought into the conflict so one spouse can get the advantage over the other. Also, it is used as a weapon to hold the other spouse in permanent punishment for what they did, which also goes back to the forgiveness issue. And sometimes this weapon will show up as a dagger when it is used to give little jabs at the other person just so they never forget what they did.
You can use the past as a tool.
A tool is something that will help you build a better marriage. Anytime you are able to sit down and have an in-depth conversation about one another’s feelings you are working in a positive manner to build a strong marriage, even if those feelings are about something from the past.
Just because something from the past has been forgiven it does not mean the hurt from it has been completely healed and often when the pain is deep there is a struggle to forgive. That is why it is so important to be open to discuss the past. Our goal should be to help our spouse heal and if that means being vulnerable enough to discuss the past, then that is what we must do. We should never be so eager to move on from the past that we neglect to help our spouse through their own journey of healing.
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