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Ghost Whispers


 by Ron L. Deal

(Does your spouse have a ghost?  Go here.)


So what does your ghost say? 


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? Sharing the whispers of your ghost can help others who are struggling with the same voice in their heart. Share in the Comment section below.


Want help from your spouse to help you bust that ghost?  This article is for them!


Ron L. Deal is President of Smart Stepfamilies and author/coauthor of a series of books for stepfamilies.



Comments ( 12 )
Add your Comment
#12: by Ron Deal on 12.01.2016 @ 03:07pm CST


Clearly you want things to be different, but your voice isn't heard. I hate to say it, but since you're not married you have some leverage...but cohabiting takes some of it away. If you were "dating" and living in separate residences you could say, "Look, I want things to be better; if we are going to continue dating you need to go to counseling with me." Maybe you can say that now, not sure. Going by yourself probably won't bring the change you're looking for. You need to go together.

God bless.
#11: by Nikki on 12.01.2016 @ 10:51am CST

Ex-husband and I married 1.5 months after we met. My 1st marriage, his 2nd. He has 3 kids from his 1st marriage. Fast forward a divorce, one son of our own and 6.5 years later, we decided to try to work things out. Step kids wanted us back together, ex-husband wanted me home & I had prayed for so long, I felt God was giving us another chance & we had both learned a lot. 5 months in and I just feel like a maid, step-kids don't have chores, there's little to no communication between him and I, and I just feel like a door mat. I find it very difficult to talk to him when I do have a problem with something, because he always says I'm taking things personal or makes me feel I'm being too sensitive. I feel like, as a parent in the home, I deserve to be respected. I work a full time job, keep up with the home as best I can- laundry, dishes, vacuum, sweep, mop, bathroom. All of it. I'm only one person! I'm in counseling now- but he isn't. I've discussed him going in the past and there's been resistance. I'm just lost. Also feel unstable not being married anymore. He still says I'm his wife-- but we are divorced. So what am I? His live-in girlfriend and mother to our son. Ugh.
#10: by Bobby McRae on 03.13.2015 @ 04:40pm CDT

Yes, this is me all the way. I am a over protective father. I hadn't always been this way until the collapse of my first marriage. I am now remarried with a child on the way. The "ghost whispers " have gotten louder. It's almost like the walls are talking. I'm always on edge. I push everyone away. I have a fear of people getting too close to me, and at the same time I draw my kids closer. When I feel my children are attacked my protectiveness kicks in over drive. I feel mostly distracted and disconnected all the time. My new wife has a son. When he tries to engage with me I find myself pushing him away like I feel guilty spending time with another child other then my kids. Any suggestions would be appreciated
#9: by Ron Deal on 10.06.2014 @ 01:13pm CDT

To Steve--

You are stuck between a rock and a hard place. May I suggest you politely back out of being the "disciplinarian"; that might reduce the number of times you feel caught. Support your wife, but ask her to deal with the kids, especially when it comes to things they won't like (e.g., punishment or a "no" to their requests). Read this article series with your wife: http://www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/parenting_roles/blended_families/smart_stepparenting.aspx
#8: by Steve Stahmer on 10.06.2014 @ 01:02pm CDT

I have no kids and my wife has three. I am told I need to be the Dad and discipline them but when I do they go to Mom and Mom says I did the wrong thing!! So, I'm pretty much the mean stepdad.
#7: by Dallas on 07.22.2014 @ 05:22pm CDT

Pretty much waiting for passive/aggressive behavior and then be blamed for decision being made. This would not only relate to marriage, but with family matters as well.
#6: by Ron Deal on 02.07.2014 @ 09:13am CST


What you are going through is very tough. Obviously you can't control the grandparents (and shouldn't try). Pray that God will change their heart and work through people or circumstances to soften their agenda. In the meantime, you have to find a way to survive and cope. Find a few couples you can confide in (and complain to) and find support. If your church doesn't have a small group, start one. Find tips and tools here http://www.familylife.com/blended#.UvT2K2JdXh5.

May God sustain you.
#5: by Kmom on 02.05.2014 @ 10:34pm CST

What do you do in my situation? My husband and I were married and pregnant before he ever knew he had another child...fast forward to our lives now and "MOM" had dropped out of the equation, I am now fully responsible for step daughter,,who I love, but her maternal grandparents are dragging us through court to fight for custody, even though we are great parents. How do I cope? We have two children of our own...this has been hell on earth
#4: by Dee on 01.26.2014 @ 08:53pm CST

The sad thing is that my daughter's second husband did go behind her back and told his ex wife he loved her more than my daughter. He couldn't stop thinking of her the whole time he was mowing the grass. (See he was on his way to Greenland due to his military orders.) Last September, they moved by the ex wife so he could be by his three daughters. All the while, he was mowing the grass my daughter was inside having the kids write love notes to him so she could stick them in his suitcase along with her's. The ex sent him naked photos of herself. This was last September. He is not remorseful and thinks that my daughter should just get over it. Forgiveness and accepting to live with someone who is unfaithful is miles apart in the decision making process. He now blames her for telling her family and this is all her fault. Very sad, that the ghost was real! Also, his ex wife is begging everyone not to tell her husband because she will loose him. Be sure your sin will find you out!
#3: by Irene on 09.13.2013 @ 11:42pm CDT

Jealousy of my husbands deceased wife. He loved her so much! He'll never love me that way.
#2: by RaeP on 06.25.2013 @ 11:42am CDT

I have several but the one that sticks out the most is abandonment. The most logical reason I can come up with is that not having my father be apart of my life leaves me with pain and disappointment. Because I don't want to feel this I am usually the one that ends the relationship before my mate can have the opportunity to do so. It is a constant struggle for me and I have to be mindful not to self sabotage my current relationship. I have to talk myself out of the need to run when things are not going my way. I usually tell my self that I need to be still. Feel what I am feeling and let go.
#1: by Jessica on 01.08.2013 @ 06:45pm CST

since I came out of an abusive relationship (physically, verbally, and mentally) My ghost says, " Is he going to snap one day and become the angry man? I need to keep my gaurd up and be ready to run.." I still live with the fear from the past. It really haunts me eventhough current relationship is very peaceful. I keep waiting for the other shoe to fall.

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