Knowing how to deal with the past in your marriage isn’t easy. I could just see the look of fatigue on her face when McKenzie came to her counseling appointment that day. Her tired eyes were framed by her polite, yet depleted smile. She felt empty and didn’t know where to begin. She felt discontent and didn’t know how to get her joy back. She had been giving and giving—caring for everything and everyone around her–ailing parents, struggling brother, her lonely family members…but now she felt like had nothing left to give.
She was struggling with burnout, overwhelm, and depression. Her life felt stressful at every turn from her job, to her family, to her ministry. I asked her to tell me when she had fallen into the “caregiver role,” she replied, “I guess I’ve been this way my whole life—probably ever since I was a little girl. As the oldest of five, with parents who divorced, I’ve just learned to take care of everyone else…but I don’t think I ever learned how to care for myself.” With those words, McKenzie had just taken a few steps forward without even realizing it. Because she had started making connections that would lead us to confront the insecurity, pain, and rejection from her past that were still holding her back right here and right now.
But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus. —Philippians 3:13
Going Back to Go Forward
I don’t believe that most people have a proper understanding of how much our past influences our present. So much of how we do life in the present is impacted by how we experienced life in the past. Who you were then, impacts who you are today. What you experienced then, influences who you are today. The way you interacted with your parents, your friends, and your family; your childhood personality, experiences, and memories–for good and for bad– have all come together to shape you into the person you have become.
The story of your past shapes the story of your present. Many of our stories come with joy, fond memories and positive experiences. But other stories are laced with rejection, abandonment, fear, abuse, addictions and more. But no matter what story we come from, if we’re not aware of the past, and how it’s shaped us, just like McKenzie we’ll find ourselves stuck in some of those very same patterns again, and again, and again.
Let’s pretend we’re in a counseling session together right now. Go ahead and grab your laptop, a journal, or a piece of paper and a pen, and write out your own timeline. Think through the experiences that have really impacted you, or even changed the course of your life from childhood until today. Think of the significant highs and lows in your life that have influenced who you are today.
- Maybe you dealt with some childhood anxieties.
- Maybe you experienced the pain of watching your parents go through a difficult divorce.
- What about the day you came to know Jesus, that incredible life-changing experience at summer church camp, or some bad friendships you endured in high school?
- It could have been the death of a loved one, or even the death of a dream.
- Maybe it was the sting of a toxic relationship, experiences in your marriage, or dealing with infertility.
There are so many things that shape your life, moving you to become the person you are today. Take some time to think through all of those things and jot them down in the form of a timeline starting with your earliest significant memories.
I find it helpful to draw a line going up for the positive experiences along the timeline, and a line going down for the harmful ones. If you’re my client, this is the timeline we start in our first session together, talking through each significant event, making connections, and extracting the impact and meaning it’s had on your life and development. Because whether or not you want to believe it, each portion matters.
The average person doesn’t truly understand how significant their past is in shaping their emotional health. But I truly believe that the majority of the issues we’re facing in the present, have their roots in the experiences of our past. When we focus too much on the present, without ever looking at the past, we’re like a gardener who is pulling the tops of the weeds without getting to the root. It’s only going to give us short-term relief. Those weeds are going to keep coming back, until we can get to the bottom of them.
In Philippians 3:13, Paul reminds us of the importance of “forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead.” Our problem as human beings is that we can’t simply “forget” unless we first acknowledge, understand, and learn from our past. In order for the past to lose its power over us, we have to go back before we can move forward. We have to deal with the past, in order to be freed from the past.
Facing or Fixating?
Too often, we’re stuck fixating on the past instead of facing it. We ruminate, dwell, and obsess on the things we should have done, or would have done, or could have done differently if we had another chance.
Facing your past is not the same as fixating on your past… the first moves you forward, the second keeps you stuck.
One moves us to understand how our past has shaped us and pushes us to find freedom in God’s truth – the other keeps us paralyzed in shame and regret.
One is intentionally looking back in order to heal, the other becomes obsessive rumination and causes more hurt and pain.
My question to you is this: have you ever taken the time to face your past, or have you just fixated on your past?
The answer to this question changes everything. Because going backward might be the very thing you need to do in order to move forward.
Grace Marriage Mission: How to Deal with the Past in Your Marriage
Take the next step: If there are things in your past that are keeping you stuck, consider booking a session with a counselor from the Debra Fileta Counselors Network. Learn to use foundational principles from God’s Word, as well as life-changing methods from counseling and psychology, her team is dedicated to help you get unstuck in any personal or relational issue you might be facing. Learn more or book a Session Today!
DEBRA FILETA is a Licensed Professional Counselor, national speaker, relationship expert, and bestselling author of five books including Are You Really OK?, Choosing Marriage, True Love Dates, Love In Every Season, and Married Sex. She’s the host of the hotline style Love + Relationships Podcast where she candidly answers caller questions about love, sex, dating, and mental and emotional health. She’s also the creator of the popular relationship advice blog, TrueLoveDates.com. Together, her blog and podcast reaches millions of people each year with the message that healthy people make healthy relationships. She’s had the privilege of speaking at churches and ministries all over the country including FreshLife Church, Saddleback Church, Focus on the Family, 700 Club, and Better Together on TBN. Connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, or book an online session with her today at DebraFileta.com