A friend of ours grew up with a mother who could never admit that she was wrong. By watching her mom, our friend learned that she should never acknowledge that something is her fault, even if it’s obvious. And so she brought this mindset and behaviour into her marriage, which of course became a huge problem in her relationship.
Our suitcases are never empty when we enter into marriage. We all carry baggage with us from our families of origin and our life experiences. So much of it can be good, like our sense of responsibility or adventure, humour or strong work ethic. But many times it isn’t so great, like having difficulty identifying and handling our emotions, struggling with authority or having poor money management skills. And that’s not even getting to the level of baggage that comes with growing up in a household with abuse, addiction or other types of trauma.
So how do two people — with very different luggage sets — begin to deal with the issues they bring into their marriage?
The first step is to acknowledge the problem. Name the issue for what it is and what it has become.
Then ask yourself: “What has happened to make me think and act this way?” Or if there is something going on with your spouse, ask yourself this: “What happened in their life to make him/her think and act this way?”
These questions help us to evaluate behaviour and be intentional about it instead of going on with the flow of life. (By the way, this isn’t a free pass to play the blame-game on our parents or life experiences — we need to take full responsibility for the choices that we make. But it can be incredibly helpful in understanding the reasons behind our behaviour so we can grow in learning healthier patterns.)
This can be a hard process — we might not like what we dig up. It can be overwhelming, paralyzing even. But once we understand what the issue is and why it’s there, we are in the position to be intentional about making some changes to the way we think and behave.
In the midst of this, we probably will have to admit that we have some faults! Which brings us to the final step: forgiveness. We may have to seek forgiveness for our own actions, as well as grant forgiveness to the past. To clarify, forgiveness isn’t saying that something didn’t happen or that something didn’t affect us negatively. Rather, it’s a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance towards a person or group of people who have harmed us. We are so thankful that is how God approaches us — he is always ready to offer forgiveness, even though we don’t deserve it.
We can do all the work of finding the root of our issues, of processing and learning, but if we hold onto unforgiveness and bitterness, we can be stuck living in the past. Learning how to forgive is the key to freedom from our baggage, which enables us to live a joy-filled life.
Forgiveness brings closure and healing. It can bring peace and can help us to more fully experience the kind of wholeness and the kind of oneness that we desire in our marriage.
For more on dealing with the issues you bring into marriage, listen to the Baggage Claim episode of the Marriage Talk Podcast.