Baggage. We all have it.
We carry it with us from relationship to relationship, hoping other people will save us, hoping we’re long past the point where our confusing feelings caused problems with our partners.
We try to change our behavior countless times, we bang our head against the wall, picking our brain for a solution to all this mess, we cry and punish ourselves for punishing the ones we love. We want to change.
We want a healthy relationship, a peaceful home full of stability and kindness.
It’s Not the Baggage, It’s How You Handle It
I don’t know one single person who doesn’t have some emotional baggage that needs addressing and that causes conflicts, inner or outer, passive or active. Whatever these conflicts are, they hurt. Every single time.
Most of my friends have had problematic parents and traumatic childhoods, me included. When you discover intimacy with a romantic partner, you open yourself to being vulnerable for the first time since your parents cared for you – or didn’t – and your child-self can resurface with a strength you didn’t know it had.
Suddenly, all you want is attention. Validation. Kindness. However, according to the Attachment Theory, your brain also always holds onto what it knows – if your parents treated you bad, it’s likely you’ll self-sabotage relationships with wonderful partners or you’ll always go for people who subconsciously remind you of your parent because you desire what you know.
Stephen Chbosky puts it well in The Perks of Being a Wallflower:
“We accept the love we think we deserve.”
I’m speaking from personal experience when I say that navigating intimate relationships with emotional baggage can be extremely difficult. There are often quite obvious cures for wounds on your body – finding a cure for what’s going on in your mind when you have no clue what the core of the problem is in the first place, well… that’s a tough journey.
However, it’s how you handle your baggage rather than if you have it that counts. I’ve dated men who didn’t take any responsibility for how wretched their minds were because of subconscious insecurities, and it broke our relationships apart.
I’m now dating a man who knows how to deal with his feelings and imperfections. We’re both working on our issues (he has undeniably less of them than I do, I’m often the queen of an emotional mess), and even though we’re not completely perfect, we have a beautiful relationship.
Why Broken People Can Have a Beautiful Relationship
People often think that as long as you’re not absolutely 100% ready and mentally healthy to dive into a serious relationship, you shouldn’t do it. Instead, you need to take some time to yourself and work on your issues in the darkness of your own room.
I get it. You don’t want to affect someone you love by bothering them with baggage that you need to sort out yourself. You don’t want to hurt them and potentially lose them just because you weren’t completely ready for a relationship.
The thing is, though, self-improvement takes years. You’ll always have highs and lows, you’ll always change into someone a little new and different – and your partner is supposed to be there with you to change in the same direction. You’ll grow together, and you’ll support each other on this journey.
Being a human ultimately means accepting that you always change. Everything is fleeting and nothing is set in stone. You can be in the middle of working on yourself and still begin an intimate relationship.
Secondly, falling in love with someone is often what actually triggers the corners of your mind you didn’t even know were an issue. After my first serious break-up, I spent four years being single. It was great for the most part, and I would never change it. I learned a great deal about myself and I don’t think I’d be able to handle the problems that arise in my current relationship without having had those years to myself.
Did I think I was ready and 100% healthy when I decided to finally get into another serious relationship? Oh, absolutely. I thought I had it all together. Finally, I would be different. Finally, I wouldn’t have to deal with all that mess that I experienced with my ex.
Well, guess what. All those insecurities, those traumas, those confusing feelings and that urge to self-sabotage… it all came back. Because I fell in love. Because it was relevant again. And because I opened myself to being vulnerable.
It’s rare that your first ever relationship survives. It’s where you fail, where you don’t have the perfect grip on your emotions, where you hurt and then proceed to learn from your mistakes. It’s the trial period. The relationship that can last for decades comes later. There are always exceptions, of course.
You never truly are ready for anything. Experience is the only way to learn the real deal. Being in a relationship you care about is the best way to learn about your faults and unhealthy coping mechanisms – and with the help of a loving and caring partner, you can work on yourself.
You can beat it. You can have a beautiful relationship and be happy.
How to Tackle Your Baggage as a Team
Here are the key ways to make a relationship work even when you’re both a little broken:
You acknowledge that it’s okay to be imperfect. You’re only human, after all. You’re ready to embrace each other’s faults and baggage from past relationships.
You both take full responsibility for your own issues. You don’t blame your inner struggles on each other, and when you feel like your partner could help you out (for example give you more reassurance), communicate in calm and kind tones.
You have empathy for one another. You always try to look at the issue from your partner’s point of view, and when you feel like your partner needs your help, you do your best to offer it without compromising yourself in the process.
You have limits. You respect each other’s privacy – in my relationship, for example, we’d never read each other’s internet conversations with other people when the other person isn’t in the room. We wouldn’t read our journals or go through personal things. When you really want to know about something, ask. Ask in a nice way, though.
This brings me to another point – always avoid being passive-aggressive or simply aggressive. Violence doesn’t solve anything. Anger only drives people away from you. No mean comments, no judgmental remarks that cross the line of banter.
Always, always try to be kind to each other. If you fail, apologize. Showing your partner kindness and gentleness is one of the best ways you can express your love and get through hardships together.
You can be broken and have a beautiful relationship. If you apply the above strategies and you relentlessly work on yourself, you might come out of it as a mostly healed person with a relationship that survived such hardships and had so much effort put into it that it might last forever.
An author’s note: This advice does not apply to abusive relationships. The effort and understanding must come from both parties.