Baggage: Dealing With the Past on Your Way to a Stronger
by Don Frank & Jan Frank
What is the difference between our history & baggage?
history consists of the events and experiences that shape
our lives-our baggage is our emotional response to our
can be claimed or unclaimed
baggage- recognized, dealt with straightforwardly
baggage- ignored, minimized, or denied
How did your different histories impact your marriage?
a myriad of ways-simple things like dinnertime to more
complex things like how we handled conflict.
Early in marriage, noticed a pattern. I would fix a nice
dinner-we'd gather around the table to eat. Daughters
very young at the time talking a mile a minute asking
questions trying to interact with us. Don and I were eating
our food at a rapid pace-with barely a nod or response
to our girls. We were eating so fast-we were done with
our meal in 5 minutes flat. So focused on eating we were
neglecting to enjoy our time around the table as a family.
observing this one evening-I commented to Don that we
were not utilizing this important time. I asked, "I
wonder why we do this? Where does this come from?"
Don replied, "I know where it comes from-in my family
there were 7 kids-you had to eat fast to get your fair
share." Don now calls this defensive eating.
hearing Don talk about his history, I realized something
about my own. We ate promptly at 5:30 every evening, but
dinner was less than pleasant. Even though my mother prepared
lovely meals, my st. father's demeanor at the table was
harsh and critical-he would pick on us kids and speak
in a derogatory tone to my mother. I ate fast to get away
from the table so as not to be targeted.
is just one example of history we brought in.
How did God transform your marriage? Was it a process
or an instant change?
a process over time-first part was to recognize that changes
in some areas were needed.
a simple formula when talking about our history: we need
to FACE, TRACE, ERASE, & REPLACE.
in the previous example about dinnertime, we first had
to FACE the pattern, we TRACED it back to its roots, and
we ERASED the pattern, and then REPLACED it with a healthier
one. In this case, after we figured out where it came
from we decided as a couple we didn't want to continue
this pattern of "fast eating." We wanted dinnertime
to be a fun family time, so change was needed. We talked
about ways in which we could make our dinnertimes pleasant
as a family. Don initiated a plan involving our daughter,
Heather who was 4 yrs. old at the time. Don got out a
shoebox and he and Heather decorated it with pictures
from magazines and drawings and cut a slit in the lid.
We called it the question box. Anyone in the family could
place a question in the box during the week (children
were assisted by parents' writing skills) after eating
dinner we would pass around the box and pick a question
and answer it. Because of their age, the girl's questions
were things like: why is the sky blue or what is your
favorite Sesame Street character? Don and I used it as
a communication tool: if you could go anywhere on a vacation
where would you want to go? Or, if you had an ideal date
night what would you want to do?
the girls got older we changed from the question box to
other things that fostered communication-we bought placemats
with a map of the United States and Don would quiz the
girls about their knowledge and we'd talk about places
we'd been or dream of going. Our daughters who are now
grown talk about times around the table. We examined a
pattern from our history, faced it, traced it, took steps
to erase it and replace it with a healthier pattern for
GGBC: Why is understanding our history/baggage important?
You carry your history with you. It plays itself out
in your daily life, affecting your thoughts, feelings,
behaviors, relationships. Awareness opens the door for
history is a rich source for understanding your mate
and yourself. Much conflict can be resolved with greater
history is the baseline from which God transforms you.
God views spiritual transformation as a tremendous benefit.
encourages you to "remember the days of old, consider
the generations long past" (Deut. 32:7) Remembering
is a means of reflecting on God's faithfulness in your
life, as well as a source of adoration to God for His
work of transformation.
Doesn't Bible teach not to dwell in past?
To "dwell" in past is not the same as "looking
into past." Isaiah 51:1says, "Look to the rock
from which you were hewn."
wrote the verse in Philippians 3 that is often quoted-"forgetting
what lies behind and pressing on" but most people
don't realize that throughout Paul's ministry, he constantly
referred to his past. He talked about his history repeatedly-not
because he was "dwelling" on it, but because
he was free to share about it. Paul's point was that our
past should not "define us." It doesn't mean
we annihilate it or never speak of it again.
past is our history, which is the baseline from which
change occurs-it becomes the basis of our testimony of
God's grace at work in our lives.
How does God use our pasts to transform us?
takes the very things that seem to be of no value, uses
them to bring about redemption for us and to glorify Himself.
God redeems us from the consequences our history invokes
and transforms us in the process for His glory.
God used Don's history of a back injury and chronic pain
to help him understand the emotional pain I suffered as
a sexual abuse survivor. He used our reservoir of pain
to help us develop a deep empathy and compassion for one
another. It is what Paul talks about in 2 Corinthians
1 where he writes that God gives us comfort in our troubles
so that we might extend that comfort to others. It is
often through our greatest pain and life struggles that
God brings about His redemptive purposes.
We all carry some baggage. In your book you
say history is doomed to repeat itself unless we change
We end up replaying or re-enacting certain things by default
without purposeful implementation-in essence we do what
comes natural or what is familiar. We do what we've seen
done unless we make an effort to change with God's help.
Ex. Samuel/ Eli (see pg. 18-19 Unclaimed Baggage)
What are some common patterns from our parents or past
relationships we take into our marriages?
patterns-mind-reading, sarcasm, limited emotional connection
resolution patterns-what your parents did in a disagreement
(Ignoring problem, yell, pout, discuss calmly, storm
out, never resolve)
Money management-how you handle finances (saver/spender)
about sex which influence our behaviors
differences (lenient vs. strict)
GGBC: Is there
more to leaving our family behind than living somewhere
We look at leaving as a three-dimensional process. Body,
soul, & spirit. We often look at leaving as just a
physical thing-moving out of our parent's house and moving
in with our mate. We must also "move out" from
our families emotionally and spiritually. In practical
terms this means we do not depend on our parents for our
primary emotional support. And in the spiritual realm
we must make our faith our own.
How do we claim our baggage and go about building intimacy?
baggage is what you recognize is yours and deal with forthrightly.
But this recognition goes deeper than a surface admission.
Claiming our baggage means we don't make excuses, we have
no disclaimers, and no self-justification. It is a straight-forward
confession of owning what is ours and a genuine commitment
to cooperate with God toward change. It always involves
action not just words.
build intimacy by sharing ourselves with our mates-to
know and be known at a deep level. Practically it means
we are willing to be honest about what has happened in
our lives and how that may have affected us. It is providing
a safe place within our marriage to be vulnerable, to
grieve through losses, and be supportive with one another
in the process of change.
What are some possible indicators that will help a couple
distinguish whose baggage is who's in the relationship?
themes- issues that seem to crop up repeatedly. Often
have underlying themes that stem from your history. (i.e.
as a child your decisions often criticized or questioned-you
may have difficulty being definitive. This may come up
in money management, overly cautious about future; in
parenting might tend to second guess your decisions, in
communicating with mate, may not feel your opinion is
worth sharing. Internalized messages: Don, "efforts
not good enough"-message from father; Jan, feel "uncared
for", "abandoned and unprotected"-message
triggers- comments, attitudes, or behaviors that evoke
from us an automatic response. Can trigger anger, depression,
fear, or hopelessness. (i.e. Ketchup at the dinner table)
tendencies- intense reactions to situations have historical
roots. Gauge in car-what is within normal range. Current
stimulus activates something residing beneath the surface.
Response is bigger than the situation warrants-time to
explore historical roots.
How does a couple begin to create a new, shared history
that will be healthy, long-lasting, and glorifying to
doesn't matter what your past has been. God wants to offer
you a fresh start. That fresh start means that you must
face your history squarely, it involves claiming your
baggage, and it requires that you come to grips with losses
and patterns that have developed over time. It necessitates
a priority and commitment to your marriage; it calls for
reconciliation through forgiveness in all relationships-past,
present and future. It demands personal ownership and
confession, as well as growth through suffering. It promises
deeper intimacy and ushers you into a depth of oneness
that God desires you to have with Him and your mate. It
provides understanding, help, and encouragement in your
growth in godliness.
marriages are glorifying to God when we reflect a "oneness" that is beyond our ability to manufacture. When we exemplify
a love that honors God and is reflective of His love for
His bride the church. Our marriages can be the sanctuary
in which God dwells.
Should engaged couples wait until after they are married
to confront their histories?
Recognizing and dealing with some of these patterns within
the courtship can be helpful in developing intimacy in
the relationship and jump-start the couple on their way
to a fulfilling marriage. The more these issues are addressed
prior to marriage the better the couple will be equipped
to deal with the normal stressors that all marriages face.
Dealing with the history can also expose some potential
hazards that could be avoided.
What one piece of advice would you give couples?
God access to your history as we've described in the book
and allow Him to transform it for your good and His glory.
God is bigger than your history and He is able to redeem
If I'm willing to unload my baggage and start fresh, but
my spouse isn't, can I help my marriage by taking care
of my own baggage?
Change in any marriage begins with one person. Take responsibility
for yourself and your part in the marriage. Take your
eyes off what your spouse is doing and pay more attention
to how you're living and relating. "Little changes
in you can lead to huge changes in the relationship. The
breakthrough comes when we realize that by making even
small changes in ourselves, we can effect big, positive
changes that make us more optimistic and open to our partners." We Can Work It Out (Notarius, Markman)