It’s near impossible to be in a relationship without being affected by baggage from previous experiences. Everyone brings something into the relational space, either from past relationships with family and friends or with past partners. And, every time something happened in the past, we take on some form of wounding.
Sometimes it’s small and easy to be aware of and deal with, but often it’s deep and well covered, to ourselves as well as to others. The result is some challenging behaviours – you may find yourself behaving in ways that you don’t understand, and your new partner may be difficult or create difficulties which create doubts in your mind.
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It’s essential that you hang on in there. New relationships are important to help you heal the wounds of the past, and you are exactly the person to help your partner heal their own wounds.
How to overcome emotional baggage? Your partnership needs to evolve in what I term as ‘Conscious Relationship’. This is a relationship where you are both aware of the underlying wounds in yourself and your partner, so that you behave towards each other with compassion and empathy rather than reacting and over-reacting in situations which require delicacy and tact.
There are three main areas where emotional baggage may originate:
1. Major problems with the family of origin
Many people carry dysfunction stemming from the family he or she was born into, almost always their parents, but sometimes he or she will have a sibling that brings major stress or emotional tumult into their lives.
How to spot it: There is extreme anger toward one or both parents; fairly frequent blowouts with family members at family dinners, reunions or other events; has a parent or sibling who is an active addict whom the family is always worried about; or there was emotional, physical or verbal abuse by one or both parents.
2. Depression or Anxiety
Both women and men can carry the baggage of depression, anxiety or other emotional health issues into a relationship.
How to spot it: moodiness, they don’t feel like being social with others, they have a low self-esteem and are overly critical of themselves, they’ve lost interest in activities that used to make them happy, they complain a lot and have a pessimistic view of the future, they get irritated easily and excel at starting arguments, they may cry for no particular reason, they are inexplicably fearful of events or situations and they can be volatile and unpredictable.
3. The ex factor
When you first start dating someone, ask yourself the following questions: Is this person still in contact with his or ex? Has the person you’re dating fully closed the romantic/need-for-attention door with the ex, or has that door been left slightly ajar? If you breathe even the slightest whiff of unfinished business with your partner’s ex, you will make your life easier by heading toward the nearest exit sign. I tell my clients to give themselves a good six months or longer before even considering starting a new relationship. The reality is that if the last relationship ended in a nasty or messy way, a person needs a year or longer to heal before being able to start a healthy relationship – which means not carrying baggage into the next one. Learning to be a single for a while helps strengthen you in your next relationship.
How to spot it: In the first month or two of dating, there is mention of the ex at least once a week, they keep pictures around or other mementos of the ex, you hear mention of the ex’s name when talking to friends, they try to get together with the ex for coffee or a meal soon soon after the breakup, or they compare you in any way to her ex.
The solution is by creating boundaries and having discussions about these issues at certain times when you know you can be calm and it will be safe – that may be in a couples counsellors room. Take the time to really hear what your partner is saying, and mirror back what you hear so that your partner knows they’ve been heard, and understood.
None of this baggage should be a deal-breaker for your relationship. They are all issues that you should be able to discuss, so you can both understand the underlying wounds and whats going on. You can learn about what’s driving your partner, what they want and need from the relationship and how you can go about giving it to them. You can avoid being triggered by small irritations, and learn to move into a conscious relationship.
After all, its not about making your partner the person you think you want them to be, it’s about being the best version of yourself for them.