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Unclaimed Baggage: Dealing With the Past on Your Way to a Stronger Marriage
by Don Frank & Jan Frank

GGBC: What is the difference between our history & baggage?

Our history consists of the events and experiences that shape our lives-our baggage is our emotional response to our history.

  • Baggage can be claimed or unclaimed
  • Claimed baggage- recognized, dealt with straightforwardly
  • Unclaimed baggage- ignored, minimized, or denied

GGBC: How did your different histories impact your marriage?

In a myriad of ways-simple things like dinnertime to more complex things like how we handled conflict.

Ex. 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.

After 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.

After 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.

This is just one example of history we brought in.

GGBC: How did God transform your marriage? Was it a process or an instant change?

Transformation a process over time-first part was to recognize that changes in some areas were needed.

Use a simple formula when talking about our history: we need to FACE, TRACE, ERASE, & REPLACE.

As 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?

As 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 our family.

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 future change.
  • Your history is a rich source for understanding your mate and yourself. Much conflict can be resolved with greater understanding.
  • Your history is the baseline from which God transforms you. God views spiritual transformation as a tremendous benefit.
  • God 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.

GGBC: 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."

Paul 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.

Our 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.

GGBC: How does God use our pasts to transform us?

He 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.

Ex. 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.

GGBC: We all carry some baggage. In your book you say history is doomed to repeat itself unless we change it. Why?

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)

GGBC: What are some common patterns from our parents or past relationships we take into our marriages?

  • Communication patterns-mind-reading, sarcasm, limited emotional connection
  • Conflict 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)
  • Attitudes about sex which influence our behaviors
  • Parenting differences (lenient vs. strict)

GGBC: Is there more to leaving our family behind than living somewhere else?

Yes. 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.

GGBC: How do we claim our baggage and go about building intimacy?

Claimed 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.

We 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.

GGBC: What are some possible indicators that will help a couple distinguish whose baggage is who's in the relationship?

Recurring 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 from mother.

Common 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)

Reactive 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.

GGBC: How does a couple begin to create a new, shared history that will be healthy, long-lasting, and glorifying to God?

It 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.

Our 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.

GGBC: Should engaged couples wait until after they are married to confront their histories?

No. 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.

GGBC: What one piece of advice would you give couples?

Give 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 it!

GGBC: 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?

Yes. 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)



Review: Emma Dash

Emma Dash


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