Daily Archives: March 28, 2016

Q&A with J: Getting Over Your Spouse’s Old Flames

I’m back from The Great Hard Drive Replacement of 2016 that sapped my work productivity for about a week. But I got everything back up and running with no loss of data!

In the meantime, the world did not stop turning, and readers did not stop sending questions. So let’s tackle another reader question today.

My wife and I have a wonderful marriage (10 yrs) and greatly enjoy each other intimately. My wonderful wife’s history is similar to yours and we have grown together through our baggage of sexual history and are still cultivating a beautiful marriage. We are blessed with a wonderful family and a spirit filled life.

The one hang up I still have is when I run into her old flames. I still get the there’s the “old dog in my territory feel.” Is there any advice you and your husband would share on how you moved past the “past” rearing its ugly head bringing old memories and hurt feelings back to the surface?

Q&A with J: Getting Over Your Spouse's Old Flames

I think jealousy gets a bad rap. Most believe that jealousy is a wrong emotional reaction that displays a lack of trust. Not always, my friends. First look at the four definitions of jealous from the Oxford Dictionaries:

  1. Feeling or showing envy of someone or their achievements and advantages.
  2. Feeling or showing suspicion of someone’s unfaithfulness in a relationship.
  3. Fiercely protective or vigilant of one’s rights or possessions.
  4. (Of God) demanding faithfulness and exclusive worship.

We tend to think of definitions #1 or #2, but maybe #3 is more the case in marriage. I know the words rights and possessions makes some of you comfortable, but don’t we have some rights to one another in marriage (1 Corinthians 7:3-5) and a deep belonging expressed as “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24)? Consider Song of Songs 8:6: “Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame.” Jealousy in this context seems inevitable and good.

In fact, there are more positive uses of the word jealous than negative in the Bible — mostly speaking of God’s rightful claim on His people. For example, “Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Exodus 34:14). Yes, of course, there are negative references — e.g., “When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy. They began to contradict what Paul was saying and heaped abuse on him” (Acts 13:45) — but those relate to coveting what belongs to someone else.

All of this to say that I’m not one bit surprised that you, hubby, have that “old dog in my territory” feel whenever one of your wife’s exes comes around. Hey, that’s your wife and your love for her is “stronger than death” and its jealousy “unyielding as the grave.”

Of course, there’s a difference between a twinge of jealousy for your spouse and the compulsion of jealousy against those exes. Jealousy can certainly rise to the level of distrust of your spouse, unreasonable demands, and obsessive rumination about the past. None of that is positive for your marriage.

So let’s talk about keeping jealousy in check, at the level of unyielding, not sabotaging.

As for me and my husband, we’ve run to an old flame from each other’s past once. I suppose that’s a benefit of moving to a city where neither of us had lived before. Plus, our area is well-populated (Houston’s the 4th largest city in the U.S.), so you don’t typically bump into people willy-nilly.

I have written about the one time I ran into my ex in a store. That interaction consisted of him saying, “Hi, J__.” And me responding with a very shaky, “Hi.” My husband was standing beside me. When my ex walked away, I let hubby know who that was. He didn’t overreact, though I don’t know what was going on inside him. But I suspect him seeing that my response was entirely shock and not at all interest or nostalgia helped him feel secure.

Yet we have taken steps through the years to prevent jealousy of old flames.

Don’t hang out with your exes. If you have a choice, don’t hang out with old flames. That means not having lunch with previous lovers, befriending exes on Facebook, or emailing to “catch up” more than, say, once — if that. You’ve moved on from that old relationship, so move on. The explanation, “But we’re still friends,” really holds no sway with me. There’s a plethora of people you can be friends with, and it’s common courtesy not to remain unnecessary linked to an ex who makes your mate profoundly uncomfortable.

Of course, this isn’t possible for some — for instance, if you have children with an ex or live in an area where rubbing elbows happens no matter what you do. Even then, you don’t have to socialize with an ex. You can be courteous, personable, and gracious without “hanging out.”

Talk to your spouse about what you need. It’s perfectly fine to express how being around your wife’s exes makes you feel. But keep the focus on how you wish there had never been any others because you want to belong entirely to her and her to you. Do not cast doubt on her and her faithfulness simply because her exes come around sometimes. Rather, tell her what you need in those instances.

Would a quick squeeze of your hand reassure you? Would you prefer to be arm-in-arm when she’s chatting with an ex? Do you need her to express outright, more than once, that she chose and loves only you? It can feel a little silly to ask for these extra reassurances, but if that’s what would help, why not ask for what you need? I suspect you won’t need those for the course of your marriage. Over time, I’ve found myself more and more secure that my husband wants only me, so I feel way less uncertain when he’s around other women (some of whom, I’m sure, have flirted with him).

Be in the business of reassuring yourself. Our self-talk can make or break us. If you let your mind wander and dwell in her past, you’ll find yourself feeling more and more jealous — to the point of damaging your self-confidence and your relationship. Instead, when a stray thought pops up, remind yourself how much she loves you and you love her. Make it a habit to reassure yourself mentally that her past is a done deal. It’s forgiven and doesn’t define her, you, or your marriage in any way. God is in the business of redemption, and we can be in the business of reassuring ourselves that we are new creations (see 2 Corinthians 5:17).

I always find comfort in reciting theologian Reinhold Niebuhr’s “Serenity Prayer”:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

Pray for serenity about the past. You can’t change it. But you can courageously change your present and future to God’s glory.

As with much of what I advise on my blog, things improve with practice. If you can practice setting appropriate boundaries with exes, asking for what you need, and reassuring yourself, I think that can go a long way to easing your mind.

I almost never think about mine or my husband’s exes. After 20+ years and learning to have a happy marriage, I’m simply more secure in my marriage than I used to be.

That’s not to say that I think jealousy ever goes away entirely. My husband recently told me a story about a girl who planted a kiss on him when they were 13 years old. My claws came out, and I thought, How dare she touch my man! Silly, I know. But I laughed off my reaction and said something that reassured him and me of our one-flesh love — which sure beats anything either of us had before.