Did you drag a trunk full of junk into your marriage?
by Dr. Dave Currie
Communication? Money? Sex? For decades, these three famous challenges have been said to be the top three reasons why marriages fail. I disagree, the longer I have been speaking at marriage conferences and the more counselling I do, I am convinced there is one issue, more than any other, that is the primary cause of marriages falling apart today.
Today’s Number One marriage killer is Baggage.
It’s a person’s unresolved past issues that weigh them down in the present. Sure, communication is a problem but mostly because of low relational skills from poor modelling from our past. That’s called baggage. Money fights are common because of unwise patterns, bad debt decisions and selfishness of having to have what I want. Baggage again. And Sex? Being abused as a child, porn or sexual addiction, multiple sexual partners before marriage and a cavalier, flirtatious attitude after marriage are all life-style hurts and habits occurring prior to marriage that cripple it at its core. Baggage, baggage, baggage! Baggage comes in an array of styles and the effects are massive.
There is emotional baggage derived from belittling, harshness and rejection where fears, insecurities and anger now rule the day.
There’s existential baggage where what’s been said to us, or done to us, growing up causes a sense of unworthiness and unlovableness and a crippling core of self-doubt.
Relational baggage is caused by being rejected, neglected and controlled early and then manipulated, dumped, or cheated on as one branches out. These rob one of the ability to trust and commit.
Then there’s moral baggage that deprives a person of a governing value, where right and wrong are now blurred and lying and cheating are justified.
Physical baggage exists where people are afraid to get close to others, keeping their distance even in their marriage, and doubting if they are worthy of loving treatment.
Sexual baggage caused by early inappropriate sensuous exposure, sexual abuse, porn involvement and addiction completely vandalizes a person’s love map.
Spiritual baggage is that insidious brand of distortion that under the pretense of being “Christian”, many ungodly and unhealthy words and behaviours twist and manipulate God’s truth for selfish gain or control.
Never doubt this – dysfunction breeds dysfunction.
You have heard it said, “An apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”. It’s true and there is a lot of family of origin implication here. You are who you are largely because of the impact of your root system. Jesus made a similar claim by saying, “By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit” (Matthew 7:16,17).
Because baggage is camouflaged or denied, it may not seem to be what is behind the growing communication, financial, sexual or other marital or life problems. But the reality is, our baggage unaddressed is like a deadly, corrosive and toxic acid that slowly eats away at a marriage from the inside out.
Every one comes into marriage with a past – a personal history that impacts relationships in the present. It can be either good or bad. Wisdom is trying to discover how unhealthy and un-normal your ‘normal’ was in preteen years. Because you only grow up once and don’t know anything different, the unloving nuances and negative patterns of your family’s interaction shape you. Consistent love, unconditional acceptance and healthy boundaries also greatly influence you. Either way, it wasn’t your choice. You were just a kid. You didn’t know any different. Your family of origin hugely influenced how you view life, relationships and yourself. Children absorb a parent’s negative interaction, flawed decisions and moral obscurity. That’s the heart of one’s baggage. Our family of origin becomes our family of orientation. From them, we learn how to see and approach life.
Everyone, to some degree, comes with varying degrees of unhealthiness and unresolved issues. For some, it’s scars from physical, emotional or sexual abuse. For others, it’s regrets surrounding past questionable choices and behaviour. Increasingly, people enter marriage burdened by their parent’s marital discord, broken relationships, divorce, anger and tension, alcoholism or other significant problems in their family of origin. They also often live in denial of a collection of their own poor life choices, self-absorbed relationships, various addictions and a selfish life-style.
Some of the implications related to baggage seem on the surface to be more serious than others. But any of them, if left unresolved, can grow and fester. Eventually, that poison permeates the whole person, affecting their freedom and their ability to think clearly, feel healthy and respond positively. That’s when it really begins to do damage in the marriage relationship.
Sometimes we avoid dealing with these issues head-on, thinking, “Well, maybe it’ll just go away.” Rarely does that happen. Time does not heal all wounds, let alone the crippling affect they have had on us, unless we take deliberate steps to facilitate that healing. The health and welfare of your life, your marriage and your family depend on it. Here’s how to get started:
1. Start unpacking your baggage: Face your blind spots. As you begin to take stock of your daily interaction and choices to see how your past may be impacting your life today, it’s going to require complete honesty as you look in the mirror, a willingness to go deep and face your junk, and a trusted friend, beyond your spouse, to push you through it.
We all have a tendency to minimize our own faults and problems. We downplay the importance of things that we don’t like, and in doing so we develop blind spots. Unpacking your baggage depends upon your readiness to admit, “I have a problem here, and I’m willing to look at it.” You need to listen to others especially those closest to you. Bravely take the first step to healing in admitting that there’s a problem.
We have to be courageous enough to go below the surface. Maybe you’ve got a temper problem, and it’s very obvious. You’re kicking in doors, you’re yelling and screaming and you’re seeing people cower and avoid you. Face it; it’s significantly affecting the climate of your home. Well, the temper definitely needs to be dealt with. But just as importantly, you need to work to discover what lies behind the temper. Why do you so easily lose it? What brings you to the boiling point? What would it take to change your whole demeanor? Seeking God in prayer for perspective and healing and finding a good friend with strength to say it straight is part of what is needed. Let God help you sort out your junk. You may be wise to consider taking Freedom Session, that will help work through baggage and unhealthy self-perceptions (www.freedomsession.com) or work things through with a trusted counsellor.
This is where the importance of a real friend comes in. A friend who is courageous enough and secure enough in our friendship to tell the truth: “You know what, Dave, the anger that you have – do you realize that you’re pretty selfish, you’re pretty preoccupied with your agenda?”
Sometimes we all need a kick to get us going in the right direction, just as we need encouragement when we are growing. Usually, this kind of accountability is best given by someone other than our spouse. It should be a longtime, same-sex friend who has our best interests at heart.
I know there are issues in my life that I just don’t see, and sometimes my wife is not the best person to help me see those things. I value the friends who play that critical role in my life. As Proverbs 27:6 says, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” Don’t go for flattery. Get a friend who loves you enough to confront you.
2. Unload as much weight as you can: You cannot unpack your baggage without first owning and embracing it. Stop blaming others. It may not be your fault but it is your responsibility to face and recover from. No one else can resolve your dysfunction. We naturally prefer to blame others. So many people spend their lives saying, “If only my Dad or my Mom had done this or that…if only this situation hadn’t happened.
At some point, you’ve have to take responsibility for your behaviour and attitudes. Yes, other people have let you down, and you aren’t responsible for their actions. But you have a choice as to how you react to it – and grow stronger.
We’ve got to get past the blame game because that doesn’t change things. Many marriages are messed up because they’re stuck in the past – stuck on something someone did to them. Seek God for His wisdom and courage to face what you’re carrying that’s unhealthy. Face Him on your hurtful reactions and treatment of others. No excuses here. Take the initiative in making choices that will improve your life situation going forward. Get the help you need. Don’t let yourself be weighed down any longer by other people’s influence or choices.
3. Lighten your load through forgiveness: To let it go and truly forgive others will not be easy. But that’s when freedom comes to you. The person may not deserve it and may not even have asked for it, but bitterness will destroy so many relationships.
Forgiveness is the critical final step towards gaining freedom from the hurts of your past. You need to come to a place where you let go of hurt that’s been caused. No matter how violent it was, how deep it was, how prolonged it was, no matter how much affect there’s been on your life, understand that if you do not extend forgiveness, you are the person stuck with the bitterness and need for revenge. The person who hurt you will not likely be affected much by your unwillingness to forgive them. But your resentment will rob you of the freedom to love your spouse and kids freely. A bitter person cannot effectively love others.
Forgive yourself for poor choices and hurting others. Make amends. You need to extend forgiveness because of what it will do for you. A huge weight will be lifted off your back. A marriage is only as healthy as the two people in it. How are you doing today? Unpack your bags. Sort out and unload any unhealthy weight you are carrying. Deal with your past hurts and harmful choices. Forgive as fully and as freely as you can. Walk with God every step of the way through this journey.
Take Jesus up on His promise: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened (who carry heavy burdens), and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt. 11: 28-30).
I would love to hear from you. Make your comments on our website. Remember, we have ten caring therapists at the DFR Care Centre who are available to help you sort out your baggage online or in person. www.doingfamilyright.com.
Unpack your baggage sooner than later.