When two people come together and form a relationship, it can often feel magical. You seem to "click" together like pieces of a puzzle. For an amount of time, you do everything together. You bask in each other's attention and find everything they do endearing. You wonder where this person was all your life who seems to fit you so perfectly. You want to spend every moment with them—talking with them, looking at them, hearing their voice, even smelling them. Then gradually that intenseness fades and irritations creep up. Gradually, you find certain things less endearing. You start to wonder how you ever ended up with this person in the first place because you can't understand how someone could think like that, behave like that, talk like that. So what changed? Is it just the inevitability of relationships? Is it just time taking the passion out of things?
Have you ever had an experience with your partner and found yourself saying, "You're acting just like my mother, or father, or step parent, or sibling." Do you feel like sometimes they just push the wrong buttons and get under your skin? Have you ever stopped to wonder where those buttons came from in the first place?
In a relationship, each person comes with a past. Each person has a history that includes accomplishments and failures, happy times and sadness, laughter and tears. It's what people commonly refer to as "baggage" and each person's baggage contains memories and experiences that made them who they are today. For some, that baggage represents experiences that, if you were to just add a little more weight, would cause the bag to explode. Our intense feelings are often signals that an eruption is possible if things don't let up.
People and events often trigger certain emotions in each of us. Think about it. Think about your family, your co-workers, your boss, your friends. Think about the situations where they have you feeling frustrated or angry. Think about times when you felt inadequate or unworthy. When you think of them now, how do you behave? What goes through your mind? What things do you tell yourself? Do you feel tense in the stomach or chest or neck and shoulders? These people and events send your mind back in time, most often to your childhood, when you experienced something unpleasant and were not equipped to cope. For some, these might represent big traumatic experiences like being abused, being shamed, feeling unsafe. For others, they may represent smaller negative experiences like being made fun of, being put down, being embarrassed. Either way, the events added weight to your baggage. Weight that you still carry around today.
Now think about your partner. Think about the baggage they may carry. That's a lot of stuff to bring into a relationship. Those are a lot of invisible buttons that could potentially be pushed, whether intentionally or not. That's the stuff that creates the most conflict. It's not the dirty dishes that he leaves in the sink that gets you hot, it's you telling yourself those dishes are a sign that he doesn't respect you. That you don't deserve respect. It's not the one hundreth pair of shoes she bought, it's that she doesn't value your financial goals or thwarts your ability to be a provider. You feel out of control and maybe financially insecure. You probably don't fight over how you feel, you don't deserve respect, or how you feel out of control with yourself when these situations arise. Instead, the arguments are about the dishes or the shoes. They are full of blaming statements and threatening statements. Statements that keep the real issue in the dark.
The first step to healing is remembering the experiences that shaped your outlook on life. The experiences that taught you the rules of engagement and then realize that your partner's outlook and rules may be different from yours. Then, it's time to ponder those experiences to learn what negative beliefs those experiences created within you about yourself. Then, how do those negative beliefs affect you and your relationship? How do his negative beliefs affect him and his relationship with you? What can resolve these beliefs? If you're significantly stuck, or if knowing what could resolve them is not enough to resolve them for you, therapy might be a good idea. Sometimes unpacking your own baggage can be the best thing you do for your relationship. So can understanding the other person's baggage and being willing to help them unload.
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