Evil exes. Dysfunctional families. Toxic friendships. Hostile co-workers. Past trauma. These are all examples of emotional baggage that we might bring into our romantic relationships like a backpack full of heavy high school textbooks we don’t want to read.
I mention those textbooks because you can look at emotional baggage as unresolved traumas and stresses, or that homework you’re avoiding. It’s like the pain and torture of organic chemistry or history that you’re not ready to face head-on like going down a water slide.
Put another way, it’s like that big suitcase you left in the middle of the room after returning from a trip because the thought of unpacking it seems overwhelming. You’d rather put it off, even though your partner keeps bumping into it during night trips to the refrigerator or bathroom, even though your partner keeps asking you to address the issue.
Okay, I have one more metaphor: one can liken emotional baggage to one of my favorite movies, Scott Pilgrim vs the World, which is about a dude who has to defeat his love interest’s seven evil exes so he can date her. Why would anyone want to deal with a potential partner’s dysfunctional exes? It’s an awesome movie concept, but talk about baggage!
Anyway, the baggage you bring into a relationship can affect your partner too.
With that said, a new study from the University of Alberta found that bringing old baggage into a new relationship won’t necessarily provide emotional relief. Those new relationships might start blissfully, but people who introduce their old problems to them will likely find themselves dissatisfied again, at their “pre-breakup” well-being levels of their former relationship.
The researchers also found that between study subjects who found new relationships and those who stayed in their current relationships, “participants who stayed with their original partners indeed showed higher levels of well-being … than those who left theirs behind and found someone new.”
To me, this means that those who stayed in their current relationships were able to work through their conflict and put emotional baggage to rest. Conversely, those who left one relationship for another might have been escaping themselves.
I imagine this person being lost in a room of mirrors that she cannot escape until she takes a hard look at herself. (I say “she” because the study noted that women were more likely to experience emotional ups and downs than men when leaving one partner for another.)
Once she confronts her demons, she can begin to unpack the non-essentials from her backpack or suitcase that were weighing her down. She can pick her battles and not sweat the small stuff. She can make healthier lifestyle changes like a champ. (This study found that emotional baggage can be a major barrier to behavioral changes.)
I’m a certified relationship coach specializing in helping women trade in their relationship anxiety and insecurity for peace of mind. So, if you find yourself dealing with emotional baggage that could be putting your love life in jeopardy, sounding off alarms like someone attempting to burglarize your house, then here are four mental roadblocks to tackle first (source: one of my alma maters, the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching, or iPEC):
- Gremlins: that inner critic; that “I’m not good enough” message you tell yourself that’s keeping you from being your best self
Example: being co-dependent because you had abusive parents, making you think you need a relationship to feel whole and “good enough” for love
- Assumptions: expecting a certain result because it happened that way in the past
Example: expecting a new partner to disappear because the last one did, so you don’t bother dating or being vulnerable
- Interpretations: taking an event, situation, experience, or someone’s behavior to mean something, even if it might not be true, like a fictional tale
Example: your partner forgets to call you back, so you interpret his behavior to mean he doesn’t care about you, when he might have simply forgotten (we’re all imperfect)
- Limiting beliefs: something you accept about life, yourself, your world, or the people in it that limits you in some way
Example: believing all men are pigs who want only sex, so you give up on dating or play “hard to get”
These are your “GAILs.” Examining these four issues will often (if not always) help you get to the root of the issue like solving a medical problem, and it’s exactly the kind of work I do with my clients. Close your eyes and imagine life without all of that unnecessary baggage. I’m guessing you already feel lighter and more empowered to live the (love) life you deserve!