The Ghost of the Past

The Ghost of the Past

Consider two very different approaches to the same problem.

Mrs Smith discovered her husband was committing adultery, she had had her suspicions for several months, but her husband always denied her allegations. He even swore on the life of their child that he was faithful. When the truth finally emerged Mrs Smith was devastated, Mr Smith dropped his mistress like a hot potato and promised he would never go back to her. From that point they had to slowly rebuilt their shattered marriage, which both of them wanted to work.

Even though she was hurt more than she thought possible, even though her husband had totally betrayed her, once it became apparent that he was indeed a repentant and changed character, Mrs Smith did not mention the affair. At first she stopped shouting about it in their arguments, then she didn’t raise the topic with her husband at all and she didn’t talk to her friends and family about it. Finally she stopped dwelling on it in her internal dialogue. This was hard, it took lots of self control – especially as she was the injured party. I met her daughter, now in middle age herself, and she recalled how she has never once heard her mother talk about it. She hasn’t heard a “look at what you did! See how you treated me! How would you feel if I did that to you? Well I felt like dirt!” conversation in over 30 years. She did say her mother went for counselling and both her parents went for marriage guidance, but once some sort of resolution had been reached the topic was killed.

Maybe this is denial, maybe it is unhealthy, but the point is that the marriage lasted for over 3 decades (and still counting) after Mr Smith had made a sincere repentance and changed his behaviour. His wife gave him the space to start again.

In contrast Mrs Jones, whose husband also ended his affair when found out, refused to have sex with her husband – FOR FIVE YEARS! She told me all about his adultery, even though we had only met four times. She told me of the time he said “it’s your fault I haven’t had sex for five years!” “No it isn’t! Look at what you did you ********! How can I sleep with you after that? How can I trust you ever again after you slept with HER!” she retorted. Their marriage didn’t survive another year because he went back to his mistress “you see, he betrayed me again!” she lamented to me.

I do not condone adultery and it would be sufficient grounds for me to seek a divorce, but if a man does repent and does change and a couple decide to work things out, it seems only fair to leave the past in the past rather than regurgitate it let it destroy the present. I know that in my own marriage there are a handful of incidents that I have made a huge effort not to discuss ever again and when I feel myself thinking about them, I stop. It is so tempting though, especially when I am vexed, to say “do remember what you said! What was going through your mind when you did it? Why would you possibly treat me like that?” But I don’t want the ghosts of the past to ruin my marriage or drain my happiness.

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