Family life

Relationships: How to lose the emotional baggage

Psychotherapist Liza Finlay explains the four main emotional culprits that may be holding you back in your relationship — and how to let them go.

Relationships: How to lose the emotional baggage

Photo: iStock

Relationships: How to lose the emotional baggage

Lighten up

Emotional baggage can sabotage the most solid of relationships. We carry residual resentments from our past relationships into our present one — often without even knowing it. Old sores get stored in our subconscious, taking up space like an uninvited third party in our partnership.

It’s time to unpack that emotional baggage, to "out" the skeletons in your subconscious so they don’t undermine your relationship.

Click on to start unpacking!

Read more: Relationships: Are you fighting too much?>

Relationships: How to lose the emotional baggagePhoto: iStockphoto

Parental programming

Most of us spent close to two decades living under our parents’ roof. We were shaped by the memories amassed in that time; the culture of our childhood leaves a psychic imprint.

If our parents were authoritarian, for example, we may become highly sensitive to our partner’s “bossy” tone. If your parents were permissive — routinely rescuing you and doing for you what you could probably do for yourself — then you may mistake acts of service for love, surprising your unsuspecting partner with an air of entitlement.

I have a client who grew up in a highly verbal house led by two academics. Family dinners were highly charged debating matches, and, as a child, she often felt dismissed from the debate. Years later, she has come to realize that her complaint of being ignored by her cheerful, chatty husband was actually just a hangover from her childhood.

Relationships: How to lose the emotional baggagePhoto: iStockphoto


Sibling saboteurs

The only people who have a greater impact on our early development than our parents are our siblings. The nuclear family is the first experience of "society." It’s where we rehearse the part we’ll play in the bigger, broader world. Our siblings — more than our parents — are the peers with whom we perform that vital practice. 

As such, siblings hold huge sway on our emerging senses of self. So, if a bullying big brother berated you, then you may have a tough time accepting criticism from your partner. Or, if you were an eldest child who blazed the trail for younger sibs, you may find it hard to share power in your primary partnership. 

Whatever the sibling experience, it’s easy to unconsciously fall back into early patterns, impulsively reacting to our partner as if he were a sibling.

Read more: Help! I hate my in laws>

Relationships: How to lose the emotional baggagePhoto: iStockphoto

The ex factor

Past relationships are perhaps the best practice for enduring relationships. We learn what to do and what not to do. We learn what works for us and what doesn’t. But those practice sessions leave us with bruises — sore spots that we instinctively protect.

Ideally, we want to learn from past relationships without letting the ghosts of boyfriends past haunt our present partnership. The “ex factor” asks us to be accountable — for our past transgressions, our role in conflicts, our needs, our personal growth — and to take that learning into our new relationship.

But (and here’s the tricky bit), we need to carry forward that personal learning without projecting the sins of past partners onto present partners. Your mate isn’t the madman your ex was. Don’t tar him with the same brush.

Read more: 6 signs you need couples therapy>

Relationships: How to lose the emotional baggagePhoto: iStockphoto

We're not in high school anymore (or are we?)

Speaking of sore spots… When it comes to racking up inner bruises, junior high and high school are emotional boxing rings. If you’re a little touchy about, say, your weight, or your nerdy proclivity for all things NASA, there was likely a torrent of teasing in your past. Teasing — and it’s evil twin, bullying — tells us we’re not good enough just as we are. We’d like to believe that we leave those inferiority feelings behind us as we enter self-actualized adulthood, but, let’s face it, many of us don’t. Residue from those days remains in our memory banks, like psychic fossils.

Excavate them. Hold them up, examine them, laugh at them and then let them go. They have no place in your here-and-now.

Relationships: How to lose the emotional baggagePhoto: iStockphoto


More relationship tips!

4 steps to letting go of the past> 
Past transgressions and harboured anger can be detrimental to your relationship. Learn how to let go of the past and fully move forward with your partner.

Relationships: How to lose the emotional baggagePhoto: iStockphoto
This article was originally published on Sep 18, 2013

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