The "Baggage" You Shouldn't Hide From Your Partner

by Rachel Sanoff

Chances are, when contemplating a new relationship, your anxiety may get the best of you as you wonder what could go wrong. More specifically, you might wonder what you'll subconsciously do to make things go south. Such is existing as a human being "with baggage" — and baggage is something that we all possess. And since we all must traverse through life carrying past experiences with us, what kinds of baggage are OK to bring into a relationship?

First of all, you shouldn't be ashamed of your baggage. In fact, discussing it is not only important for your own personal growth, but for the health of your relationship. Claire Nicogossian, Psy.D. and licensed clinical psychologist tells Bustle, "We all have baggage, which I would prefer to reframe as 'experiences, lessons, and opportunities for growth.'" And as you'll read throughout the rest of this article, baggage isn't "good' or "bad" — the only thing that matters is how you handle your baggage.

"No person is perfect and neither is any relationship," Dr. Nicogossian says. "I believe it's about having a shared commitment to treat one another with respect, support, understanding, and most importantly, to grow together during times of stress rather than grow apart. And to work through issues and ''baggage' as a way to help one another heal."

Alicia H. Clark, Psy. D. agrees, and tells Bustle how what we consider "baggage" is often the foundation of a healthy relationship, "Strong relationships are built around deeply knowing and accepting a partner, and understanding your and your partner's baggage is always part of this process. Knowing your baggage is central to growing forward and maintaining a strong bond with your partner."

Here's what you should know about "baggage" that's OK to bring into a relationship:

1. Everybody Has Baggage — What Matters Is How You Deal With It

If you are a human being, then you have baggage. If you desire to have a romantic partnership, you are going to date another human being with baggage. It is inevitable and it is a part of life. The only thing that really matters, in terms of your relationship, is how you DEAL with this "baggage." And the way that you handle your past struggles is the only difference between "good" and "bad" baggage.

Sarah Schewitz, Psy. D. and Licensed Clinical Psychologist specializes in couples therapy and tells Bustle, "Every human has baggage and relationships are a great place to unpack and work through said baggage. The kind of baggage that is healthy to talk about in a relationship is any events, beliefs, childhood experiences, and ways of viewing the world that affect how you react to your partner or people in general. Thus, it's all important if it's affecting your relationship!"

Schewitz adds, "There is no "good" or "bad" baggage, but just good and bad ways of dealing with it."

2. Not Addressing Your Issues Is What Creates Unhealthy Baggage

Kali Rogers, CEO & Founder of Blush Online Life Coaching seconds this ideology, telling Bustle, "Not addressing issues is what creates unhealthy baggage... if someone has simply ignored their past or warning signs and keeps marching from relationship to relationship - that is unhealthy baggage... If someone has simply ignored their past or warning signs and keeps marching from relationship to relationship — that is unhealthy baggage."

Confronting and working through your issues with therapy or another form of healing is what helps you create the difference between "good" and "bad" baggage.

3. It's Important To Share Past Experiences That May Affect Current Behavior

You deserve to be honest with yourself and your partner, and your partner deserves to know why you may sometimes behave the way you do sometimes. Honest conversation can only lead to better understanding. "I think it's essential to talk about baggage of any kind in a new relationship," Rodgers says. "Being able to communicate and appropriately address someone's past is a key sign that someone has worked through it and healed properly... Not being able to talk about the past — toxic relationships, exes, a breakup, etc. — is a sign that perhaps they [or you] aren't ready [and] would be bringing unhealthy baggage into a relationship."

And there are ways to decipher what parts of your past you especially should work through with your partner. CJ Carter, CEO of LOV Inc., a dating app, tells Bustle, "Baggage that needs to be discussed would include anything that causes a change in behavior (i.e. trust issues or anxiety). It is important to let someone know where the behavior stems to avoid negative encounters... PTSD is a big one here." You are a complex human being, and the only partner for you is one who gives you space to discuss and work through these parts of yourself.

4. People In Healthy Relationships Are Open About Issues They Are Working On

Following from that, in order to maintain a healthy relationship, you have to open about what you are working through. Dr. Fran Walfish, an adolescent, family, and relationship psychotherapist, tells Bustle, "Baggage that is acceptable to bring into a relationship involves the issues you are consciously aware of, open to sharing and discussing with your partner (once trust has been established), and willing to be accountable for by owning up and taking responsibility."

So what exactly does that look like? Dr. Walfish says, "For example, if you had a critical mother and you have absorbed that critical trait into your personality, own up to it. Learn to identify it immediately and apologize to your partner right then and there in the moment! You’ll score brownie points with your lover and be on the path to self-aware and building quality character."

5. Be Open About Things That Could Trigger You

One of the reasons why it is so important to discuss these kinds of struggles with your partner (and vice versa) is so that you both can be sensitive about certain topics or arguments when it is necessary. Laura L. Ryan, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, tells Bustle, "Any information that may have an effect on your relationship and reactions to your partner is important to share so that you can have more intimacy and connection. If you've had a challenging family of origin or difficult events in the past that have caused you pain, it's important that you educate your partner on the themes that could trigger your trauma or aggravate your wounds."

And these kinds of conversations are cornerstones of every relationship. Ryan elaborates, "The point of relationships should be about letting each other in so that you can mutually heal; transparency is so important in facilitating that healing. 'Good baggage' is shared information that will bring you closer to each other and help you to heal."

6. Talk About Past Experiences That Symbolize What You Want To Do Differently In This New Relationship

"Baggage" from previous relationships is important to share because it likely represents what you do and don't want from a new partnership. That information will make you and your partner better support systems for one another. Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist practicing at Los Angeles Westside Therapy, and she tells Bustle the kinds of baggage that are important to talk about for this reason: "Experiences in significant relationships that have been repeatedly disappointing (especially that with your parents, siblings, and past lovers), [and] areas where you have been burned before and that you are wary of now. If you share [those kinds of things], it means you are aware and want to do things differently."

Raymond elaborates on what this kind of openness represents regarding emotional intimacy and trust: "It also means that you are willing to be vulnerable and open with a partner, that you trust and can handle whatever comes from the disclosures. You give your partner the message that its safe for them to share too — that you both have messy parts inside and that you aren't looking for some paragon of virtue."

7. Share The Traumas That Helped You Create Healthy Boundaries

Tough times shape you, and when you work through them, it helps you better understand how healthy relationships work. Audrey Hope, relationship counselor and addiction specialist, tells Bustle how "baggage" can positively shape your relationship: "You had some traumas that taught you to create healthy boundaries. For example, if your ex cheated on you, you learned the signs and now will no longer stay too long at the party. The hurt has inspired you to make healthy boundaries, like... I will not allow anyone to treat me badly."

Hope also provides examples of baggage that will harm your relationship, to make this sensitive issue clearer. This is what unhealthy baggage looks like: "When you are so hurt, so worn out, angry and unhealed from a past relationship that you continue to talk about the old love... You can't see the new person without the old context. This is lethal for a new relationship. You must process, forgive, and understand your past relationships or you will see the new person as the old."

Likewise, if you have not forgiven yourself over something, that can harm the relationship as well. Hope elaborates: "You are mad at yourself for what you did not do in the past. You wish you could succeed at your dreams. You are angry, resentful, and very negative. You ‘poo poo’ what is exciting and hopeful, and your new love gets the brunt of your anger."

8. "Baggage" Is Something You Can Bond Over

Baggage is part of what shapes us all as human beings. The more you know about someone's "baggage," the more you know about them as a person. Jeremy Arnold, co-founder of dating app Launch, tells Bustle: "Our research suggests that, perhaps surprisingly, baggage is actually a primary bonding factor. It guides us in very subtle, often subconscious ways... The best relationships are built on a partner foundation. This happens when two people have compatible baggage, which is to say the needs of one matches the strengths and giving style of the other, and vice-versa."

And how do couples achieve this kind of foundation? Arnold elaborates, "...This often requires a lot of mutual self-awareness to determine. We encourage new couples to make discovery questions a regular feature of the early dating process... What are my relationship skills? Where am I weak? What am I afraid of? Where do I need support most? The earlier and more honestly we answer those questions, the better relationships we create — and the less negative impact our remaining baggage has."

9. The "Baggage" You Are Afraid Of Can Actually Help You Be A Good Partner

And remember, what you consider "baggage" may actually be the very thing that provides you with your best qualities. It shapes you into a stronger person. April Davis, owner and founder of matchmaking service LUMA, tells Bustle one example she comes across often as a matchmaker: "I often meet people with deal-breakers that involve 'baggage' of one kind or another. Frequently, the baggage that they are trying to avoid is dating someone who already has children. People with children tend to be responsible, caring, and selfless. So, all of these thoughts about unwanted baggage, etc., that bloom in our minds when this subject comes up are usually misplaced. If you're a person who has been on a seemingly endless run of dates with people that appear to be bit too self-centered, irresponsible, or missing a little something in the attentiveness and caring department... dating a person who happens to have children may be just what the doctor ordered."

And you can apply that philosophy to many of the parts of yourself that you assume make you "less than." Actually, they make you, you!

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