Honouring Past Relationships
– Navigating our Partner’s Past, Honouring our Own
Many years ago when a couple came to me for some counselling it unfolded that the wife in this second marriage felt very challenged by the lack of respect being shown her by her husband’s teenage children. In this day and age, this story can be told and hear frequently, it is a part of modern living in which many are experiencing their second or even third major relationship of marriage.
My client was rather horrified when I suggested that the father pick up the children after school and together with his ex-wife, the family went out for an early dinner. She felt threatened by this scenario but after re-assurance that the children’s needs needed to be considered first in order to create the peace, she relaxed into the idea. Two weeks later she reported back to me how wonderful the children were being with her and that all was resolved. It continued to be resolved for a long time afterwards as more frequent updates were shared with me.
In this scenario all that was needed was that the first relationship became acknowledged, accepted and encouraged. Children need two parents and no matter the current relationship status of the parents, as long as both are respected as parents by the other, and that the original relationship of Father- Mother – Child, our own personal ‘Holy Trinity’, is honoured, then the child is happy.
As a distorted defence mechanism many of us try to deny the validity of our prior major relationships – instead of facing the deep pain of loss, regret or even guilt, we can get caught in the trap of only allowing hostility and disdain to be present. However, through my many years of working with thousands of people worldwide what I have observed is that any relationship that is not ended with respect will shadow us and likely be repeated.
In entering a second or third committed relationship it behoves us to take stock of all who came before us – previous partners, children, family, cultural heritage. An uncomfortable truth for many to hear is that no matter how hard or how much we want to be ‘number one’ the reality is that we are not and cannot be number one. Your partner’s child came before you, your partner’s ex came before you. When we honour this reality and bow with respect to all those who made space for us, then peace in the relationship will be experienced.
For example, if your partner has adult children and one of them enters into marriage, with whom should they stand, with you or with the other parent of the child? What does the child need? When we insist on being number one, there will be no peace.
If your partner’s former love died, is there a place of honour in the home for this person? Is there a photograph? You would not want this photograph in the bedroom, but are you comfortable with it being placed respectfully in the office or living room? How important is it for the children of your partner to see their mother or father honoured in this way?
One fatal error that many second spouses can make is to try and compete with the first partner, to be the better one. If let’s say that the first partner was abusive we may feel justified I our position, however, we must also realise that the first relationship played a defining role in bringing our new partner to us – to argue against the path they have trodden is foolhardy. We take a unique journey with each of our partners in life and one that cannot be taken with another. It is especially important that when our new partner arrives in our lives with children that their path, and the path that ultimately lead to our door, is honoured and respected, along with all those who were important on their path.
Rules for Navigating Past Relationships
– Honour and Respect your partner’s path, no matter how unsuitable their former partners may seem
– Do not be jealous of an ex-partner
– Do not compete with an ex-partner
– Submit to being ‘only number 2’ – really, submit to it.
– Honour the children’s other parent, see that parent through the eyes of a child, not your own eyes. Fatal mistake if you do insist on your view!
– Inwardly give thanks to the other for making space for you
– Weddings, Christmas, Chanukah, Birthdays belong to the children, not you.
We each have a history that needs to be respected and what is required is that we submit to what it instead of arguing with what is.