As I was traveling this past weekend, I was amazed that despite my best efforts to “pack smart” I still took stuff that I never used or needed. I don’t notice my extra stuff as much when it’s in the closets and drawers at home, but when I’m actually responsible for taking it with me from point A-B-and-C, I start to have different feelings about that cute pair of extra shoes taking up space and weight that I’m lugging around.
It’s no surprise that in our culture we also have this concept of “relationship baggage”—the emotional stuff we carry with us even after the relationship is over. Some of us carry baggage from our childhoods; some of us from a series of unfortunate relationships. We carry the weight of “what I wish I (or he or she) had said or done differently”. We carry the weight of how things could have gone better “if only…” We carry the weight of the good memories that weren’t enough or are over now.
Even in the long-term relationships we currently have, things happen—misunderstanding, betrayal, insults, disconnection. We may try to work through it and get over it but what do we do with the lingering fear, broken trust, and bruised hearts? We carry it all. Stuff it in a bag. Throw it on our backs and move on—at least that’s what we’re told to do.
Here’s a not-so-secret secret: It doesn’t work. I am continually amazed at the resiliency of the human spirit—I see it all the time as I enter into the stories of the clients I work with. They have endured neglect, abuse, abandonment. They have felt minimized, dismissed, and alone. Yet, the heart keeps longing for something more and something better. I see people carry emotional baggage and make it look as effortless as women in other countries who carry baskets of bricks on their heads. But it’s not easy; it takes a lot of energy, and over time it will affect our health and our relationships.
Here is a list of some things you may experience if you are carrying relationship baggage:
Why bother trying/risking/dating/investing?
Hesitant to trust
Hard to enjoy the moment
Difficulty having or enjoying sex
Able to have sex but not deeper connection
Find yourself dating the same type of person hoping for different results
Notice yourself acting the same way in new relationships
Reactive when old wounds get poked
In a variety of ways we are either stuck in the past or worried about the future…and unable to live fully in the present.
When a relationship ends we often hear things like “you deserve better” or “there are plenty of fish in the sea” but these things aren’t helpful. You may do your best to move on and start over, but if you are carrying the leftover residue from the past it will impact your future—whether it’s with a new person or trying to make things work with the fish you’ve already caught. Even if you manage it really, really well, it still takes away your energy from living freely with an open heart.
Imagine Velcro. Have you ever had a Velcro strap that gets all gunked up with lint and hair and crap? It stops sticking very well. Bonding in relationships is kind of like that. You want to be able to bond securely with your partner, a friend, or a family member…but if your heart is all gunked up from the past then unwanted stuff is going to get in the way even if you don’t mean for it to.
How do you clean out the Velcro? How do you “Move On” and “dump your relationship baggage and make room for the love of your life?” How do you get to a “fresh start” with your partner and press the reset button?
Well, you don’t ignore it. What’s happening here is actually grief. You need to have the space, permission, and tools to grieve
the end/loss of the relationship (whether you wanted it to end or not)
the change in what was familiar
the picture you had of that person/relationship which is not what actually played out
There are even loose ends to grief in the best relationships that end too soon due to sickness, death, or moves.
Whatever the loose ends might be, there are things that need to be said and heard about what you wished had been different, better, and more…as well as the unmet hopes, dreams, and expectations for the future. WARNING: this does not mean call up your ex- to dish things out! In the Grief Recovery program there is a way to safely, constructively, and effectively move past the pain from relationships. Fortunately it doesn’t require anyone else’s participation except your own, and it’s actually better that way.
Journaling can be a good start but it’s not quite the same as having someone who is not judging, criticizing, defending deeply hear your truth.
Check out the book mentioned above, “Moving On”
If you are not in the Asheville area you may Find a Grief Recovery Specialist here.
The next Grief Recovery Group starts February 25th. Spots still open until March 10th. Several folks are attending to look at their relationships.
Only once we have cleared out the relationship leftovers can we make room for the new good stuff—picking better partners, learning how to be a better partner, and loving without fear.
This is my last blog with Porch Light as I am expanding the ways I hope to reach the community on the topics of Love & Loss. If you would like to continue receiving my blogs, please send me your email address to email@example.com . You can read more about the relationship services as well as Grief Recovery services at www.loveandlosscounseling.com