Jennifer wanted to process what went wrong in her first marriage. During the last year of her marriage, she had an affair. “I was so angry at my husband for some of the ways he let me down that I didn’t care if he found out or if I hurt him,” she says. “I even hoped he’d find out, that he’d be shaken out of his marital neglect, and decide to fight for me. It totally backfired!”

Around the same time, her husband began to have an affair with Jennifer’s best friend. “I experienced how it felt to be cheated on, and that was the beginning of my repentance. When he found out about my affair and I saw the depth of the pain I caused him, I was struck with the horror of what I had done. I was so deeply remorseful and repentant, I felt as if I was dying inside. That was the most barren and desolate place imaginable.”

Getting specific and being honest isn’t always easy. But it’s worth the effort. Look at how many times Paul tells about his failures. He gives a listing of all the bad things he did—accomplice to murder, for one (Acts 22:4; 1 Corinthians 15:9). Yet, he learned from it, he was forgiven, he forgot what was past to move forward.

If you’ve dealt honestly with your past, you’re way ahead of the game. Great job!

If you haven’t dealt with your past, especially with your previous marriage, it’s never too late. Taking the time to heal may be the most important thing you do for your second marriage.

Where can you begin?

1. Get alone.

This will be time consuming, so be intentional. It’s important to get away from any interruptions such as children, work, the phone, the television, computer solitaire. Schedule a chunk of time when you can be alone to think, digest, and pray.

If you can afford it, go to a hotel for a day or two. Or try a church camp or consider KOA, which has cabins you can rent. I have a friend who goes to an abbey for a weekend every year to think and pray.

2. Get honest.

Promise yourself you won’t justify or rationalize your part of the problem. The point is to take an objective look at what happened so you don’t repeat the same problems in your current marriage. It’s important to remember this honesty isn’t about pointing the finger and calling ourselves “bad.” It isn’t about piling on guilt. It’s simply an exercise in recognizing mistakes and sins in order to learn from them, not repeat them, and become better individuals and spouses. So it’s important to avoid the “yes, but” syndrome. You know, “Yes, what I did was wrong, but my spouse made me do it. … He made me angry. . . She never gave me respect.” And the list goes on.

3. Pray.

This is an essential step. You may be digging deep into pain, so it’s important to ask God at the outset, and all the way through, to protect you. This is an opportune time for those nasty, pesky thoughts to intrude that can either put the guilt trip on you or really make you angry about your past.

Invite God to work with you through this period. Try praying, God, I don’t want my past to control my present. I don’t want to live under the chains of what happened in the past. I want to be free to live in a God-honoring marriage. Protect my thoughts, guide them, and help me stay focused on what you would have me learn.

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4. Play 20 Questions.

Take a piece of paper or a journal, and answer questions like the following. Make a point not to blame your ex. Deal strictly with your part in the marriage. If you’re struggling, ask God to open your mind, to highlight certain areas where you failed the marriage or where you played the part of accomplice. It’s important to answer the questions as honestly, objectively, and specifically as you can.

  • If my ex were to evaluate me as a spouse, what would he/she say? Why?
  • Whether or not I agree with the assessment, what can I learn about myself if I accept at face value his/her accusations?
  • Were there times during my marriage when I could have asked for forgiveness and didn’t?
  • Were there times when I could have made things right, but my pride kept me from doing it?
  • Whether my ex is right or wrong, what would he/she say about me in our marriage?
  • What would my ex say was the final straw to our marriage dissolution?
  • What am I feeling about that marriage? Why?
  • Why am I focusing that feeling toward my spouse?
  • Did I give up on the marriage too quickly?
  • Did I do everything in my power to save the marriage?

5. Journal.

One good way to work through these issues is to start a journal. Write about the root problems and issues and how you played a role. Again, the goal is not to rehash; it is to learn.

“Keeping a journal was a lifesaver for my remarriage,” says Linda. She “free formed,” a type of writing in which you basically “vomit” onto the page, writing everything that comes to mind. No rules, no worries about correct grammar or what anybody would think if they read it.

6. Seek professional Christian counseling.

There’s nothing that works as well as having an objective person help guide you through this process. A counselor can help you become honest and hold you accountable, and can aid in your healing.

“Anybody coming out of a marriage, regardless of whose ‘fault’ it is, should go to counseling,” says Carly, whose first husband committed adultery. “Even a few sessions just to sort out what went wrong and what you can learn can make an amazing difference in your remarriage.”

Once you’ve discovered your part in the dissolution of your marriage, you’ll be aware of those elements popping into your current marriage and will be able to handle them constructively.

Adapted from Surprised by Remarriage by Ginger Kolbaba. Used by permission of Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, copyright © 2006. All rights to this material are reserved. Materials are not to be distributed to other web locations for retrieval, published in other media, or mirrored at other sites without written permission from Baker Publishing Group.