I was emailing with a friend of mine recently and she said something I haven’t been able to get out of my head. She is a young single mother, drawing boundaries in her dating life, hoping to be happily married someday. She said, “It seems like a lot of guys want to “test the ride” before they buy it. But for me, I want a large truck and a GPS for a husband. I want a man that I know will protect my son and I, have room for some ‘baggage,’ and guide us where we need to be.” I told her she wasn’t alone. I mean, isn’t that what a lot of women want?
As a bride, I was alone when I walked down the aisle to meet my groom. It was symbolic. I did not have a father to give me away. I came alone to give myself away. In retrospect, I should have been lugging a huge suitcase down the aisle. I mean, as long as I was being symbolic, I should have given Tony a better picture of the baggage he was about to commit himself to.
Baggage is anything that you bring into the relationship that has nothing to do with the other person but can cause tension, damage, and strife between the two of you. Addictions, ex-lovers, past abuse, mother issues, psychological disorders, debt, insecurities… baggage in a relationship can include any number of things. Often they are issues that have gone on unresolved, but even personal history that seems under control can show up unexpectedly in the heat of a discussion or argument.
Granted, my husband-to-be could have been waiting at the end of the altar with his own suitcase, and I would have imagined he had adventurous dreams tucked away inside of it. I wanted to be married to him, and everything in me hoped I could handle my own baggage or keep some of it hidden from him. I knew it was there, I had shared some of the stories with him, but I didn’t want to bring it into our marriage. Except, I did bring it with me. Here is a story that was filmed a few years ago of just some of my baggage.
It’s been four years since I told that story for the first time. A lot has happened in those four years. Tony and I moved back to our home in Western Washington. We no longer work in full-time ministry. I have started to face the reality that, no matter how many of them I pluck, my gray hair is growing in more abundantly. Most importantly, we now have children.
A New Layer of Baggage
Our little daughters, while blessings in every way, have revealed a whole new layer of baggage since their arrival. It turns out, I am terrified that something horrible will happen to them. It is my worst nightmare that they would ever experience anything even close to what I went through in my childhood. I am so stressed about it that I actually cried in the locker room the first four times I took my children and dropped them off at the childcare of the gym. This is the sort of thing that I know deserves to be unpacked and confronted, and truthfully I don’t want to do it.
Still, for the sake of my family and my marriage, it is important to work through the baggage. Hiding it or pretending it isn’t there is not only dishonest, it’s burdensome. When we carry around unresolved issues, it has a way of seeping out into our everyday interactions with our family and they ultimately bear more of the burden than we realize. So, here are some things we have learned about baggage in our relationship.
Unpack Your Baggage
1. Name It
Whether it’s child abuse, over-bearing parents, neglectful parents, addiction, debt, or dashed dreams, it’s important to name the things dragging you down. Acknowledge that this is the part of your life that causes you pain. Our baggage, after all, is a part of our story as a whole. Even when it’s painful, it shapes who we become. Often what I’ve done over the years is try very hard to hide my baggage, claiming that “I’m just a private person.” The reality is that I feel ashamed about what happened to me and even more ashamed of the decisions I made on my own as I grew up. However, I have found that as I share with people who are safe (trusted friends, counselors, my husband) that the power of shame dissipates, and the blame I lay on myself rises off of my shoulders. Have you named your baggage? Have you shared your story?
2. Take Responsibility
Whatever your baggage, it’s important to take responsibility for your current behavior. In my case, it was important for me to address the bitterness and un-forgiveness I’d been carrying around for years. The man that abused me eventually did acknowledge it, though he has never apologized. Regardless, I’ve forgiven him and have to practice forgiving him when I feel fear or bitterness rising up in me again. Not because what happened to me was my fault. It wasn’t But we take responsibility because we all need to move forward, and that is not possible if we are still laying blame and pointing fingers. So, what part of your baggage do you own?
3. Ask for Patience
If you are married, or in a relationship, it is important to bring your spouse into this process. Ask for patience from them as you push through the hard work of confronting your baggage. Be patient with them as they may have a hard time understanding what you are going through. It’s important to remember that your spouse is not the initial cause of your baggage so that you don’t project your insecurity, trust issues, or frustrations onto them. Have you asked for patience?
4. Seek Healing
Whether it’s individual counseling that you need or just a good solid mentor, get the help that you need. Unpacking your baggage can be a slow and painful process and I am continuing to learn how important it is not to attempt to do it alone in the dark. Have you begun to seek healing?
Everyone has baggage of some sort. Even though you may feel like it, you aren’t the only one. It’s impossible to find someone without any past issues. In a loving relationship, we have the opportunity to help each other unpack safely so that we can move forward a little lighter every day. Start unpacking so you can #staymarried.
P.S. If you need to be pointed in the direction of a good counselor, I have contacts and would love to help. You can contact me here. Anything you share will be kept in the strictest of confidence. Sometimes just sharing your story can be the start of this healing process.
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