Let’s Talk Baggage
by Evie Shafner, LMFT
Let’s talk baggage. Not the cute leather kind that every girl needs, but the emotional baggage that we all carry with us from relationship to relationship. Typically, when we talk about baggage, we think of red flags and deal breakers. But every human being carries "baggage," and healthy relationships can allow people to open up about their complexities and pasts, and learn how to drop some of that baggage at the door for good.
What kind of "baggage" is healthy and important to talk about in a relationship? What is the difference between "good" baggage and "bad" baggage? Well, let’s start first with what NOT to do with said baggage:
- Do not allow your baggage to become a shield or a wall that you live behind that causes you to hold back on giving of yourself with vulnerability while you wait for your partner to “prove themselves” to you.
- When you feel like the past hurts "entitle" you to act in certain ways - you were cheated on before, so that gives you the right to act in paranoid ways, accuse, or check phone or emails etc.
- Maybe most importantly, you “act out of your baggage” - meaning that you allow no space between your being triggered and you responding - in a hurtful, acting out, overly dramatic kind of way- there is no awareness of how you act when you are upset or old wounds get stirred up so you withdraw or lash out.
As an Imago relationship therapist, I believe that learning to open up and share our baggage in a safe way with our partners is actually how we build a beautiful foundation that keeps us connected. Once the honeymoon phase is over and all the romantic stars in our eyes begin to fade, it is the ability to become the good caretaker to our partner’s wounds that we must perfect. For example, if my partner grew up not feeling listened to, it motivates me, in a desire not to rewound him, to become the compassionate listener he always needed.
In order for healing to begin, it is equally important to become conscious of our old wounds and learn what exactly our baggage is, to take ownership of it, so that we may share it with our partners in a healthy, productive way. The issue is not that we have emotional damage, as it is almost unavoidable, but when all is said and done, it is how we deal with it that pulls us apart or brings us closer together in our romantic relationships. With loving attention and good communication, it can be the latter!