Have you ever heard the story about the newlywed husband who invited his ex-girlfriend over when his wife was out?
It’s a funny story. Or at least it is now, but when it actually happened to me, I did not find much humor in it at all.
Less than six months into our marriage, my husband received a phone call from his ex while I was out at Bible study. She was in the area and wanted to stop by.
“Ummm…” He panicked, not wanting to offend her. Being certain of his own integrity, he figured it was better to appease her and let her quickly stop by; he would simply meet her out by the car and call it a night after a quick hello.
But she really wanted to come in and see the place and watch our wedding DVD (since we did not allow ex’s to come to the wedding). So, he panicked again. He figured, nothing is going to happen. The whole time will be focused on how great my marriage and my wife is, and then she will be gone. No harm done.
And that’s what happened.
I came home late that evening to a note on the floor.
Before I explain what happened, I want you to know that nothing happened, I honored you in the conversation, and I will make different decisions in the future. But my ex came over and watched our wedding DVD. Please forgive me for hanging out with her in our home without your knowing.
I love you!
Honestly, at that moment, I felt violated. I myself had never even met this ex, yet she had been into my home (which I don’t think I had cleaned) and had watched my wedding with my husband. It was not a comfortable scenario for me to play back in my mind.
Fast forward six years after that, it’s all pretty hilarious and makes for a good lesson in boundaries.
Lest you think my husband is the only one with awkward ex stories, I have my own archive. To be honest, mine are much worse. My relationships were much more toxic than his and brought more tangible baggage into our marriage.
While my husband has always been forgiving and gracious to accept me for all of me, including my past relationships and past mistakes, the topic of ex’s has been a mostly sensitive one. As one who had some stereotypically rebellious college years, my ex’s have shared very intimate encounters with me that I will never be able to undo nor will my husband ever be able to forget. It became easier for him and me to let me deal with my baggage on my own and try our best to avoid acknowledging my ex’s when we were together.
One day, my husband came to a most chivalrous realization—one that hadn’t dawned on me as being possible.
“Lindsay,” he said. “While I don’t enjoy talking about your ex’s, I am realizing how asking you not to talk about them limits how I know you and support you and love you. If you can’t talk about them with me, then whom can you talk to about them? I want to be the one who embraces you no matter what. So, if you are struggling with anything from your past, I am inviting you to share that with me.”
It was like a locked door flung open. I had no idea how important it would be for me to receive an invitation to share the difficult or shameful parts of my past with my husband, but it truly changed me.
Ex’s are a reality in most marriages. Even if those relationships weren’t as sinful as mine, they can be equally as intimate. Being able to process past relationships in the safety of marriage is extremely important. Total transparency is ultimately the best way to have unity between husband and wife because with it comes rooted trust and freely-given grace.
Total transparency, however, is not overnight; it is a result of many tested and proven smaller steps. Initially, our marriage would have faltered under full disclosure of weighty details. My husband and I did not yet have a trust that was firmly rooted. We didn’t have strategies in place for keeping healthy boundaries with our ex’s. We hadn’t yet settled into the confidence of each other’s love for us. Honestly, it didn’t take much to tear each other down in those early years.
But with each day came new opportunities to be a team, to offer grace in communication, and to experience wins and losses together. Probably the most influential change between our honeymoon love and our rooted love has been the opportunities every day for humility. At pivotal moments in our relationship, each of us was caught in the undesirable epiphany that we needed healing. There was no one we desired to have support us in that journey more than each other. And thus developed a trust that has proven worthy.
Be patient when it comes to dealing with the “ghosts” of your past relationships. Boundaries are important to set early on in the marriage, but those will adjust as your trust with each other grows. Claiming a fresh start for the present and future warrants reflection on your past and evaluation of what was good and what was harmful, so pray for the Lord to open your hearts and prepare you for conversations about your past relationships.
You and your spouse are a great team. It might take some patience, some tweaking, and a lot of courage, humility, and grace to find the rhythm of your unity, but with God’s help, you will find it. Somewhere down the line, your ex stories will become just that . . . stories that you hopefully find some humor in, but that you can certainly learn from.