A relationship from my teen years still makes me wince whenever the girl’s name comes to mind. One day, I prayed about looking her up to tell her how sorry I felt for how I acted over 25 years ago.

One of my best friends adamantly opposed the idea. In his experience from counselling, Steve has discovered that looking up someone after two decades can be dangerous; you don’t know what’s happening in their life. The potential for hurt is just as great as the potential for healing.

But the clincher came when he said, "Look, why don’t you take all the energy you’re using thinking about this and spend it planning on how you can love your wife today?"

That’s when it dawned on me that guilt attacks us by using a dead relationship to distract us from a living one.

You can’t always go back and fix something

Some things in our past can’t be fixed. You can repent, you can ask for forgiveness, but you can’t always go back – nor should you try. Some of us are more introspective and hold onto our guilt in such a way that we become blinded to our present obligations. When guilt comes knocking on your door about a failed relationship from the past, start praying about how to love your spouse today. Don’t let a dead relationship pollute or weigh down a living one.

For others, the dead relationship isn’t about guilt, but fantasy. They allow a relationship that never worked out to steal the energy they should be pouring into their marriage. "If only I had married him instead!" they think, or, "I wonder what so-and-so is doing right now?" Instead of praying about how to love their spouse, they daydream about being married to this other person.

Looking back steals from your present

Few things are so destructive as giving way to such fantasies. They simply waste our time and steal our energy from making our real marriage more meaningful. Besides, there’s a reason that dead relationship isn’t a living one! Our memories tend to be very selective. We forget the negative and fixate on the positive – and every such fantasy robs our spouse of energy and thought that should be expended on them.

Don’t look back. You’re cheating your spouse – and ultimately yourself – when you do. Pour all your energy into something current and real.

© 2008 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.

Gary Thomas

Gary Thomas is the founder and director of the Center for Evangelical Spirituality, a writing and speaking ministry that integrates Scripture, church history and the Christian classics. He is the author of many books, including Sacred Marriage, Sacred Parenting, Cherish, The Sacred Search and A Lifelong Love, and co-author of Married Sex: A Christian Couple’s Guide to Reimagining Your Love Life.

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