April 21, 2014

Don’t Look Back

Gary Thomas — 

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A relationship from my teen years still makes me wince whenever the girl’s name comes to mind. One day I was praying about looking her up to tell her how sorry I felt for how I acted over 25 years ago.

One of my best friends adamantly opposed the idea.  In his experience from counseling, Steve has discovered that looking up someone after two decades can be dangerous; you don’t know what’s happening in their life. The potential for hurt is just as great as the potential for healing.

But the clincher came when he said, “Look, why don’t you take all the energy you’re using thinking about something from your distant past and instead spend it planning on how you can love your wife today?

That’s when it dawned on me that guilt attacks us by using a dead relationship to distract us from a living one.

Some things in our past can’t be “fixed.” You can repent, you can ask for forgiveness, but you can’t always go back—nor should you try. Some of us are more introspective and hold onto our guilt in such a way that we become blinded to our present obligations.  When guilt comes knocking on your door about a failed relationship from the past, start praying about how to love your spouse today. Don’t let a dead relationship pollute or weigh down a living one.

For others, the dead relationship isn’t about guilt, but fantasy. They allow a relationship that never worked out to steal the energy they should be pouring into their marriage. “If only I had married him instead!” they think, or, “I wonder what so-and-so is doing right now?” Instead of praying about how to love their spouse, they daydream about being married to this other person.

Few things are so destructive as giving way to such fantasies. They simply waste our time and steal our energy from making our real marriage more meaningful.  Besides, there’s a reason that dead relationship isn’t a living one! Our memories tend to be very selective. We forget the negative and fixate on the positive—and every such fantasy robs our spouse of energy and thought that should be expended on them.

Particularly if you’re a conscientious sort of person, one of your greatest traps will be the propensity to focus on fixing a relationship that was broken in the past rather than building a relationship that is currently alive. Don’t look back. You’re cheating your spouse—and ultimately yourself—when you do. Pour your energy into something current and real. And then say a prayer, something along the lines of, “God, thank you for your grace, your forgiveness, and your gift of the second chance. Help me to fully embrace this truth and live in it, loving my spouse today like he or she has never been loved and never will be loved. I have so many areas to grow in, I don’t want to cheat my current spouse out of a single moment of thought or effort. In Jesus’ Name, amen.”

This post is adapted from my book, Devotions for a Sacred Marriage. For more information, click here.

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7 responses to Don’t Look Back

  1. Great advice!

  2. My husband gave me way too much information regarding previous relationships. He had only wonderful things to say about these women. I did obsess about his former relationships. Now it is five years later and I realize I wasted a ton of energy. Now the truth comes out about those relationships and they were anything but wonderful.

  3. So true, Gary! Especially the part about having a selective memory when looking over our shoulder. We compare the best of the past relationship with the worst of our current one — a completely unfair comparison and one that dishonors our spouse, who is faithfully slogging through the trenches alongside of us. Thanks for another wonderful post!

  4. Thanks, Gary! Even applicable to unmarried folks regretting past relationships, instead of investing in current ones. Will be sharing this post with the Future Marriage University (FMU) community at https://www.facebook.com/FMUniversity.

    • You’re right, Michael. Better to focus on creating something good that we can build, rather than lose time fretting over something that was lost and is gone.

  5. Another angle to this thought is for one spouse not to obsess about the other spouse’s former relationships. The enemy comes to destroy and that is a real joy-destroyer in a relationship. Your advice applies well in both situations.
    Thank you for your insights.

    • You’re right, Sharon. Once somebody has made a choice to marry somebody with a “past,” they have to accept that past. And the best way to do that is to build such a great present that the past pales in comparison. That’s far more productive than trying to “erase” a past. Thanks for sharing.