Baggage, wounds, issues … whatever you want to call them, there are times that these “things” can feel so major that it’s hard to know how to deal with them.
This can be especially true when the stuff that we are taking into a relationship with us is significant, such as a history of abuse, trauma, depression, or anxiety.
These things don’t have to stop you from finding or keeping love in your life, but they are something that you must make an effort to address.
You might be thinking: Won’t our love be enough? Won’t someone just love me baggage and all?
Yes, it should be. And, Yes, I hope so. But ultimately, baggage that you don’t deal with won’t just go away.Your baggage can wreak havoc on what otherwise might have been a happy and lasting relationship. It will find its way into your relationship in subtle or not so subtle ways.
So what can you do to prevent your baggage from hurting your love life? Here are a few steps you can take to help yourself heal, based on my experience with clients.
1. Own your issues.
When you have baggage or other barriers in your way, it can be really easy to play the victim. And it’s likely that in some ways you are a victim—a victim of your circumstances, your genetics, your health, etc. But if you want to find and keep love, you will have to take ownership of your issues. That means taking steps to learn about yourself and how to manage your wounds.
This may mean seeking counseling, learning coping skills, researching, or joining support groups. Any way you cut it, this point is the very first step. You must have insight into your issues and work on how to deal with them.
2. Pace Yourself
I work for Love Thinks, a company that develops relationship education programs to teach people how to have healthy relationships. One of the first programs that we created was called: How To Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk (also a book).
One of the main points of this program is that the pace of a developing relationship is important—very important. If you move too fast, your heart will likely overrule your head and you will likely find yourself heartbroken.
Part of pacing is learning how and when to share baggage in a relationship. Self-disclosure should be something that is reciprocal and not done too fast or too soon.
Make sure that you have spent time really getting to know enough about the person you are interested in before sharing your issues. Maybe you stayed up all night talking; that’s great, but not enough. Remember there is no substitute for time.
A good rule of thumb is that patterns will start to emerge after 90 days or so. It isn’t until then that you really see the true colors of a person. So give it time.
So, yes, disclosing baggage or issues or illnesses of any kind will need to be done at some point. But first take the time to get to know who you are dating or interested in before totally spilling your guts and issues all over the place.
3. Sharing is caring.
With all of that said, at some point if things are going well, you should share your stuff with your significant other. This will require some discretion on your end because it depends on what your issues are. If your problems are more serious, then you may want to share pieces rather than all of it at once. But if you are dealing with anxiety or depression, your significant other may have noticed already.
If the relationship is going to go anywhere, it is only fair to share what it is that you are dealing with at some point. This conversation will most likely be difficult, but it will also reveal a lot about the person you are dating. If you are at this point, take a deep breath, open up, and see what your partner does with it.
4. Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.
The reality is that some people can deal with some issues but not others. Not everyone is able to be there for you in the way you need. That doesn’t mean they are bad people. But it may mean that you aren’t a good fit for each other.
This can be a really hard one to stomach. If you’ve taken the plunge and disclosed your issues only to be rejected, it can be devastating. And I don’t want to sugarcoat things, so know this is a possibility.
The good news is that you have exited a relationship that ultimately would never have worked; so you’ve spared yourself future heartache.
It is also important to remember that the other person has the right to have limits and boundaries in terms of what types of relationships they want to be involved in. They may not be able to provide the support you need, but that doesn’t mean that no one will. So, as hard as it may be, try to accept their perspective—even if you can’t understand it.
5. Did I mention time?
I know that I talked about the importance of pacing your disclosure. I just want to reiterate the importance of first taking time to really get to know this person. Develop some trust in them and let them get to know you.
If you have taken the time to let trust and understanding develop and evolve, hopefully you will never be caught off guard by their reaction when you decide to share your issues with them. And hopefully they’ll be comfortable with sharing their own issues with you. So really, take your time.
Here’s the thing, we all have issues that we bring into relationships. Yes, some are more serious or more pervasive. Nevertheless, we all have stuff that we need to take ownership of and work on.
Do your best to see your issues as an opportunity to improve yourself and deal with road blocks that have been standing in your way. Feel inspired to dig deep and make lasting changes in yourself—your future relationship will thank you!
Here are a few resources I recommend checking out:
Love Thinks ‘My Plan for Personal Change’
For those who deal with depression: Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy
For those who deal with anxiety: Dare The New way to End Anxiety and Stop Panic Attacks
The Anxiety and Phobia workbook (I have used this sometimes in sessions, but it’s something people can also do on their own)
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