Most people carry some kind of wound from their past. “Baggage” is a part of life—the natural reaction to heartbreak, loss, trauma, and abuse. But baggage doesn’t necessarily mean a relationship is destined for catastrophe—if you deal with it in a healthy way.
It’s not a bad thing to take a chance on someone who has “issues.” Don’t we all have something we need to work through? But sometimes it can be anxiety-provoking to be with someone who we sense has emotional baggage. As tempting as it is to get him to tell you what’s up, it is important to remember that each person is different and unique in how they deal with their emotions. For people to feel comfortable sharing their past, they need to feel safe, and this can take some time.
So, how do you deal with emotional baggage when it’s not your own? It’s most helpful to deal with your own feelings first and check your motivation in wanting to draw out your partner’s past.
Deal with your own feelings first.
- Am I feeling anxious in my relationship? If so, why?
- Is this bringing up familiar feelings from my past?
- Is my partner’s behavior frightening me?
- What feels so scary about not knowing the details of their past?
- What do I need to feel more grounded?
By asking yourself these questions first, you can become more attuned to what is happening for you before trying to elicit information from your partner. Furthermore, asking yourself these questions will help you determine whether you should even be dating your partner in the first place. Dating relationships don’t always have to be fun all the time, but you should feel as though there is mutual support. You are his girlfriend, not his therapist.
Be careful not to force disclosure.
If and when your partner does begin to reveal information about his past, consider this list of dos and don’ts when dealing with the disclosures:
- Pay attention to their feelings and be empathic. This means listening closely and connecting with their feelings rather than bringing in your own. For example, say something like “That must have been hard for you” instead of “I feel so sorry for you!”
- Stay connected with your community. It can be helpful to express worry and frustrations to trusted people.
- Respect your partner’s internal struggle. They have learned their own unique ways to protect themselves in order to feel safe in a relationship. This has little, if anything, to do with you.
- Be tactful and honest about your own fears and how their behavior affects you.
- Be honest with yourself about what you are able to tolerate.
- Try to solve their inner conflicts for them.
- Take it personally.
- Criticize or shame them.
- Isolate yourself in worry and fear.
- Withhold your feelings.
- Expect them to change on your timeline.
By employing these practices, you can begin to look at and unpack what you need for yourself and from your partner. You may realize that once you manage your own anxiety and understand its root cause, the need to draw out your partner’s emotional baggage decreases. You may also realize that being with a partner who is not able and willing to talk about their past simply does not work for you, and that’s OK, too.
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