I do believe that our scars are what make us fall in love—especially when we fall deeply, passionately in love. If you’ve found someone who makes the scars less visible, who has found a means to heal your wounds and hurts in a way no one has before, it can lead to profound, satisfying love.
I have often heard it said that the best partner will compliment you and bring out your finer qualities. When you’re with him or her, you will begin to see untapped possibilities within yourself and in the world. However, in any relationship, you will face difficulties and your love will be tested.
That said, if your expectations are for an effortless relationship, you might be at risk for throwing in the towel at the earliest sign of any discord. Think of how many good relationships have been discarded before they matured, dismissing a life partner while searching for a soul mate.
The idea of a soul mate is romantic but also damaging because healthy relationships are developed and don’t just appear. If you want to unpack baggage from past relationships, it’s a good idea to examine your expectations about intimate partnerships. You might be more focused on your dream of how a relationship should be rather than the reality of how it is, ultimately leading to disappointment.
In Hold me Tight, Dr. Sue Johnson, explains that we all have raw spots (in our emotional skin) that are tender to the touch and deeply painful. Sue Johnson explains: “A responsive partner helps us work through our painful feelings.” It is natural to feel exposed as we allow ourselves to fall in love and it takes determination to work through each partner’s vulnerabilities and wounds.
Janette and Tim, in their late-thirties, have navigated many challenges together such as Janette’s trust issues and emotional baggage leftover from her ex-husband’s infidelity.
Janette put it like this: “I didn’t realize how mistrustful I was until I met Tim. I thought I’d gotten over my past. Thankfully he’s been very patient and has helped me deal with my mistrust.”
Janette and Tim’s successful ten-year marriage illustrates how a supportive partner can help you grapple with the unpredictable, ever changing aspects of life as your vulnerabilities are exposed and you face challenges, feel emotionally disconnected, or even disagree.
In her 2015 article for The Good Men Project, Grace de Rond offers a perspective on relationship dynamics that is perhaps even more relevant now, during the COIVD-19 pandemic, than ever. Drawing on her personal experience with divorce and remarriage, de Rond explains how we tend to bring baggage from prior relationships and continue to resolve issues in new ones.
Rather than fixating on the faults of her counterparts in past and present relationships, de Rond breaks with convention and looks inward, laying out a helpful roadmap to navigating turbulence in a marriage by being aware of the problematic patterns that create our pitfalls.
In fact, de Rond boils it down this way: while breaking up with a partner may seem like the only viable solution in a conflicted marriage, we need to be cognizant of the tendency to “form relationships over and over with the type of people who can help us resolve our particular issues.”
In other words, we’re attracted to partners who present a comfortable dynamic and are, unexpectedly, uniquely suited to our problems. Indeed, de Rond observes that “we look for relationships that can give us what we need to become whole. But that doesn’t mean that our wholeness is someone else’s responsibility. In the area of relationships, two halves don’t make a whole. Two wholes make a whole partnership.”
And offering an insightful analogy that was earned through multiple relationships and many years and reflection, de Rond likens the cycle of unhealthy relationships to riding an elevator: “Our choice of relationships is like riding an elevator: If we don’t do something different, such as select a new number, the doors will open and we’ll just get out on the same floor.”
In understanding the relationship baggage that may be weighing you down when you enter a new one, it’s a good idea to heighten your self-awareness and sharpen your tools. Here are 7 ways to foster a happy and loving relationship.
7 Ways to Promote a Healthy Connection and Unpack Baggage with a New Partner
Be prepared for your discussions to be intense sometimes – especially when controversial issues and emotional baggage comes into play. Both partners will have their own unique way of reacting to comments and concerns. Since there will be disagreements, showing respect and kindness is mandatory during discussions. Remember that love and caring take time to develop in a new relationship.
- Offer unconditional loving-kindness to your partner. This includes support and compassion to him or her if they’re upset (rather than justifying your position). When you are having an argument, find a quiet time and place to talk.
- Seek to genuinely understand your partner’s point of view, without debate, criticism or judgment. If you can’t compromise, attempt to let your mate have what they want sometimes, if the issue isn’t a deal breaker for you.
- Don’t take things personally when you disagree. Imagine that your partner’s concerns have nothing to do with your character or worth. Imagine that there are not any threats, assaults, or insults in your partner’s statements. Remember, they’re just speaking about what upsets them, but it doesn’t change your value.
- Taking a short break when one or both of you is feeling defensive or flooded is a good strategy. This will help you to be clear and calm in your efforts to communicate and repair hurt feelings.
- Accept your partner with all of their flaws, don’t try to change them; take responsibility for your actions. Life is messy at times. While it’s natural to assign blame when things go wrong, in a healthy relationship, partners take responsibility for things they do to hurt each other, apologize, and make amends.
- Turn towards your partner (rather than turning away or against). Listen more than you speak. Ask your partner open ended questions about their hobbies, interests, and family. When they’re sharing, don’t stare at your phone, the computer screen, or TV. Also, don’t ignore them, or change the topic.
- Focus on the things you can control and work on being the best partner you can be. Accept that you can’t control the past but can exercise the power of choice today. Try to see things from your partner’s perspective.
Focusing on being especially compassionate when there’s a rough spot in an intimate relationship can go a long way toward creating a safe emotional space for both of you. This safety net can help promote intimacy and understanding without winners or losers (no one wins). The relationship wins when you both generate a solution within the context of a loving relationship. You have it within your reach to create a satisfying relationship and you don’t have to let your past dictate the decisions you make today.