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by Ron L. Deal, President, Smart Stepfamilies

Having a ghost from marriage (or childhood) past is not uncommon. We have a little emotional residue left over from previous relationships (even ones that were mostly happy). It’s part of our nature to carry some bruises from the past. Because I discuss marital ghosts in great detail in The Smart Stepfamily I won’t take the time to review the concept here. But I have identified a few specific ghosts that seem common in my counseling experience (from divorced and widowed partners). I’m wondering if you can relate to any of them mentioned here. I’m also wondering if you’ve uncovered the whispers of your ghost(s). Review those below and if none of them match your ghost, share its whispers with us (see below).

Common Ghost Whispers:

  • Protect the Kids – this ghost seems to have the children’s best interests at heart. In reality, it is protecting you. It says, “What does he/she know? They’re just a stepparent to your kids. You better watch out or your kids will experience even more pain. Protect them when you can.”

  • Keep Your Eye on the Money – especially after experiencing a tremendous loss in income, this ghost urges you to watch every dime. It says, “you better keep a little money stashed away just in case. You don’t want to get stuck holding the bag again. Besides, you have children to provide for; make sure they get their share first.”

  • Who’s in Our Bed? This ghost is concerned that sex this time around might pale in comparison to previous sexual relationships. It urges couples to “check for compatibility” before marriage and plants seeds of fear within marriage. It says, “I wonder if he/she is thinking of someone else right now; I wonder how our love- making compares. Maybe I need to act sexier to keep their attention. Whatever you do, don’t relax, there’s too much at stake.”

Whispers of the Divorce Ghost:

  • Trust Not, Want Not – this ghost says “Avoid vulnerability and the dangers of ‘wanting’. Being in a position of wanting or pursuing the other person puts you in a vulnerable place—like walking on the edge of a cliff. Better to make sure they want you more than you want them.” Careful calculated guardedness is this ghost’s friend.

  • Fear Factor – this ghost says, “You better watch your back. You never know what’s really going on with your spouse or when the other shoe will drop. I advise you to check cell phone bills, read his/her emails, and check to see if their stories are true. Remember, marriage is not forever.” A thick emotional shield is this ghost’s best protection from further harm.

  • You Know What That Means – this ghost is quick to interpret the meaning of words and actions in a negative light. It says, “Did you hear that? That sounds just like what old so-and-so used to say and you know what that means. You better beat them to the punch / watch your back / argue your case before it’s too late.” Defensiveness and judgment are this ghost’s friends.

Whispers of the Widow Ghost:

  • You’ll Never Find Another Just Like Him/Her – many widowed persons enjoyed their partner and didn’t want to live without them. While divorced persons often look for someone different than their previous partner, widows and widowers often find themselves looking for someone much the same. This ghost says, “He/she was one of a kind. This person just can’t live up to what you had… You see? Did you see that right there. That’s just what I was talking about. Good luck trying to make this work. Things just can’t be the same.” Don’t look for a replacement partner. Release that every relationship is entirely new because it’s the combination of two people’s interactions that make-up the marital dance. They’re not the same – and neither are you. Judge this relationship on it’s own merits.

  • What Would He/She Say About This Person? Trying to evaluate a new dating partner or spouse through the eyes of your deceased spouse is ultimately an issue of permission. Some widows don’t feel they can fully embrace a new relationship without the “permission” of a former spouse. This ghost says, “I know he/she told you before they died that they’re okay with you getting remarried, but you don’t know if they would approve of this specific person. You just can’t be sure.” Of course, that is true. You can’t be sure. But then, that’s not the point. If your former mate approved of you and found you to be competent, their trust in any future mate for you would be based on their belief in you, not the person. You have their approval.

So what’s your ghost saying to you?

Ron L. Deal is one of the most widely read and viewed experts on blended families in the country. He is founder of Smart Stepfamilies™, Director of FamilyLife Blended® for FamilyLife®, the author of over a dozen books and video resources on stepfamily living including the bestselling books Building Love Together in Blended Families with Dr. Gary Chapman and The Smart Stepfamily, and he is Consulting Editor of the Smart Stepfamily Series of books for Bethany House Publishers. His podcast FamilyLife Blended with Ron Deal and his one-minute radio feature are heard around the world and his work has been quoted/referenced by multiple news outlets such as the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal,, and USA Today. Ron is a licensed marriage and family therapist who frequently appears in the national media and conducts marriage and family seminars around the country.