Sometimes I wonder what it would be like if I could enter into a relationship and not have to eventually open up about my abusive father and what an unstable home environment I grew up in. But it’s there, it’s part of my story, and it’s unavoidable.
If I’m being honest, that baggage has affected every relationship in some way. I wasn’t vocal about how often I was comparing my boyfriend to my father or how often I struggled to trust him because of my past and my conditioned responses to men. I think I did this because I assumed every man must be like my dad. So even if the person I was dating seemed fine on the surface, I assumed he had a breaking point when he too would start mistreating me.
My boyfriend was not an alcoholic and wasn’t verbally abusive, but I was stuck in a pattern of comparison.
When I was frustrated with him, I would say things like “It just reminds me of my dad when you…” Or “I’m sorry, my dad used to do that, which is why I reacted like I did.”
One day, my boyfriend looked at me and said very firmly, “Morgan, I am not your dad!”
It took me by surprise.
Cognitively, I knew that. But emotionally, I realized I had been responding to him as if he was my father. Which wasn’t fair to either of us. It made him feel like he was always doing something wrong, and I was in a state of constant irritability and frustration.
We had a long talk about the situation. First, I apologized. I told him I didn’t realize how much my dad had been coming up in conversation and how much it had been hurting his feelings. But I also made sure to explain just how deep some of my wounds are. Instead of getting angry or giving him the cold shoulder, I calmly elaborated on exactly why certain things he did had been upsetting me, which helped him to see better where I was coming from.
By the end of our conversation, we agreed to meet in the middle—I realized I had been comparing everything my boyfriend did to my dad, so I promised to start being more aware of how often I was bringing up my dad. I was still honest with him about what was on my mind and bothering me. I just wanted to treat my dad and my boyfriend like two completely different people. That meant no longer looking for hidden meanings and intentions in everything my boyfriend said. And my boyfriend vowed to try and be more careful with his words and more understanding in situations that he knew could be tough for me, considering my past.
Even though I didn’t end up with this boyfriend, I remember that day being one that really helped our relationship to grow and allowed me to trust him more. We both learned that we needed to voice our thoughts and opinions in healthier ways. And it reminded us that open communication at all times is always the best route.
Having baggage isn’t fun. The truth is that most of us bring some sort of baggage into our relationship. What matters is how we handle it, learn from it, and grow.