Identifying the emotional wounds we bring into marriageWritten by Elsa Kok Colopy and Dr. Louis McBurney
What's inside this article
I couldn’t tear my eyes from the glowing numbers on my bedside clock – 1:23, 1:24, 2:08, 3:12. I grabbed my cell phone, hit two on my speed dial and listened. Again, my husband’s voicemail, "Hello, this is Brian. Leave a message, and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible."
I left another message. "Please call me. Where are you?" My messages had become increasingly more frantic as the night wore on. I’d gone from trying to cover my fear to expressing irritation to outright panic. Where was he? Unbidden, thoughts and images began to flood my mind. He’s with another woman. I knew this marriage was too good to be true. I thought I could trust him, but can I really trust anyone?
Fearing the worst
Brian and I had been married only a year when I came apart late that night. He travelled regularly, and up until that evening, I’d never worried. We always talked and prayed over the phone before we went to sleep. That night had been no different. On this occasion, however, I called back a half hour later to share something I’d forgotten to tell him – and he didn’t pick up. Instead of assuming the best – that he turned off his phone, fell asleep or simply didn’t hear it – I jumped to the worst possible conclusion.
In the morning, when Brian received my messages and called, he was genuinely baffled. His phone had been charging in another room. He’d been sleeping. Why was I so upset?
I had to ask myself the same question, and it was then that I realized how much of my old emotional baggage I’d carried into my marriage.
Wounds from a previous relationship
The baggage of betrayal: I’d been hurt before. In a relationship prior to my marriage, I’d been devastated when I was discarded for someone else. I’d never dealt with that pain. It took willpower to set that baggage down, to reaffirm over and over that Brian was not the man who had hurt me. I picked up and applied truth: Brian is a godly spouse who will stand true to me. I repeated that reality when worry swept in.
The baggage of control: I wanted to ensure that I would never hurt again. Somewhere inside, I believed that if I anticipated the bad things that could happen, I could protect my heart in advance of the pain. I imagined the worst, then envisioned myself handling it. But these scary thoughts became a prison that tormented my mind.
Looking to God
This baggage was tough to set down, but in its place I picked up more faith in a sovereign God. I could look at my past and see how God had cared for me through every hardship. He’d brought joy and unexpected gifts, one of those being my loyal husband. I had to replace control with faith. Yes, at some point in my marriage, I would hurt. At some point, Brian would mess up. I would mess up. But by leaning on faith, both of us would find correction and comfort in God.
The baggage of fear: "Love . . . always trusts" (1 Corinthians 13:6-7). "Perfect love drives out fear" (1 John 4:18). These verses rang in my ears. If I truly loved my husband, I had to set down my baggage of fear and replace it with trust. My choice; my decision. Even when anxiety caused my heart to pound, I would literally talk myself into embracing the truth. I love Brian. I’m called to trust him. The rest is up to God.
Today I find that trust comes much easier. I rest in Brian’s faithfulness and God’s work in our marriage. I’m glad that I have set down the baggage of betrayal, control and fear and replaced them with truth, faith and love – it makes the marital journey that much lighter and my sleep that much sweeter.
- Elsa Kok Colopy
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Dealing with your baggage
It’s safe to say that everybody has a footlocker filled with a collection of "baggage." These emotionally tinged memories are stored away all through your life. Some are positive notions that form much of your self-image. Others represent painful experiences that contribute to your personal defense system. They tend to form filters through which life events are interpreted (or, unfortunately, misinterpreted).
The process of unloading the locker may be a challenge and uncomfortable. After all, the stuff inside you has been formed over a lifetime.
Identify your baggage
First, identify your baggage. Are there situations or personalities that you feel yourself overreacting to? Perhaps you explode at your mate when you feel criticized or rejected. If your reaction is more intense than the situation calls for, it is likely a response to past hurts.
Do you have memories of unforgiven insults that resurface from time to time when your spouse says certain things? Many couples find themselves repeating a damaging pattern of accusations and counterattacks related to some ancient event. Language laced with "you always" or "you never" should tip you off to baggage that is hindering conflict resolution.
You may also have some baggage given to you by your family. Chances are, you married someone who has a few annoying characteristics of one of your parents. The thought you’re just like my mother is probably not referring to some welcomed trait.
Talk with your spouse
Once you’ve identified the baggage, then you must let your spouse in on the scoop. Create a timeline of painful events in your marriage that were linked to your baggage and talk them over with your mate. The goal is to hear each other’s perception of an event. You may never agree about what happened, but understanding the other’s interpretation may free you from the negative impact.
It’s much easier to unload your baggage early than to carry it around for days, months or years, letting it weigh down your marriage.
- Dr. Louis McBurney
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