How Past Relationships and Partners Affect You
As human beings, we innately act out common behaviors and experience a range of emotions. Our stomachs growl when we are hungry; we become anxious or uneasy when threatened with danger. Yet when it comes to navigating certain life experiences such as relationships, we’re left to figure out the formalities without a manual, and often our intuitive reactions only seem to get us in trouble with our partners.
We learn through experience — whether witnessing others or directly engaging ourselves — and use those examples to guide our beliefs on the workings of an intimate relationship. Consequently this process can lead to the accumulation of “baggage” or problems from past relationships and partners. By identifying baggage carried over from past relationships, you can combat issues affecting you, and create new patterns in current relationships.
Past Relationship Baggage
It’s normal to collect items over the course of a relationship such as photos, memorabilia, and souvenirs. In addition to materials, you also store memories of shared experiences, thoughts about your partner, and feelings that are associated with the relationship. This collection of tangible and mental components create a relationship bundle that is always present until consciously dismantled.
“Unless intentional efforts are made to reshape personal opinions — such as seeking individual or couples therapy — individuals will result in suppressing their perceptions of relationships and partners.”
Challenges that arise when breaking up an intimate union may include purging keepsakes and dividing shared matters. After the separation process takes place and relationship bonds eventually dissipate, what is left to tackle are the mental attachments. These emotional bondages are usually in the form of beliefs, opinions, and skewed memories. Unless intentional efforts are made to reshape personal opinions — such as seeking individual or couples therapy — individuals will result in suppressing their perceptions of relationships and partners.
How Does Relationship Baggage Affect You?
Relationship problems occur when expectations from past relationships are applied to the current participants in a new relationship. Baggage that is suppressed from past relationships and partners show up in the form of preconceived opinions, biased assumptions, and unfair expectations. Unresolved negative thoughts about the past can show up as cognitive distortions — thoughts that have not been proven to be true while tending to be negative.
Individuals use distorted or negative thoughts as a form of protection to avoid dreadful outcomes. However, negative thinking causes more anxiety while painting an unrealistic picture of the relationship. This pattern of behaviors produces turmoil, friction, and hinders growth of the relationship.
Preparing New & Healthy Patterns
Many individuals use couples therapy to flush out problems that stem from past relationships and partners. A marriage and family therapist can provide an unbiased presence to help identify baggage that is causing disruption. Whether seeking couples therapy or wanting to gain better insight on your own relational habits, the following reflection prompts can help stimulate personal observation and understanding.
Changes in self. Does your personality drastically shift when you are in an intimate relationship? Do you find yourself modifying who you are when you’re with your significant other? If so, what causes you to change?
Tainted emotions. What troubling feelings or opinions have you developed about your significant other? Are these emotions directly in response to your partner’s behaviors or do you find yourself thinking about and responding to previous partners’ actions?
Forced identity. Are you putting expectations on your partner that are based on expectations from a previous relationship? Do you find yourself trying to shape or mold your significant other to look more like an ex-partner?
By identifying and releasing old expectations and perceptions of previous partners, you can make room to practice healthier habits that will mature future relationships.
Practical Tips for Starting New Patterns
Clearing out relationship baggage requires practice. The following tips will get you started on creating new patterns.
- Practice open communication. Don’t assume what your significant other is thinking.
- Be the person YOU want to date and/or marry. Exhibit behaviors that will establish a healthy relationship.
- Appreciate your partner’s positive actions. Make a habit of highlighting what they are doing well.
- Don’t punish your partner for mistakes made by previous partners.
- Assess your partner as their own person, not a collection of past people.
Being in an intimate relationship can be a very rewarding experience. With the right support, understanding, and insight, you can cultivate a long-lasting, positive partnership. There is no perfect manual to manage your relationship, but positive dedication and practice can guide you in the right direction.
Here at Pure Health Center, we understand that all relationships have issues and conflict. We provide services such as couples therapy to help support you and your partner through those challenges. If you and your partner are seeking help, please call 312-324-4502.