It’s funny how often in relationships a person can just plain forget that their emotional baggage isn’t the only burden that a couple is carrying. That wonderful partner of yours has baggage too.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that all men and women have deep-seated emotional issues that can be damaging to a relationship. Just most of us do, and in our reverse narcissism believe that our baggage is ours to bear alone and that often times it can make us unlovable.
We want to shield our partners from it for fear that it’s too much pain or shame to handle, or that once they know that terrible unlovable secret, they’ll never look at you the same way again. We fear rejection, abandonment, negative judgment of ourselves as people. For those of us who have spent years of our lives in a mostly-successful attempt to constantly make people happy or at least keep them that way, the idea of your partner finding out that one deep, painful secret can eat away at your insides and poison all the love you receive until you feel like their affections are misplaced because you’ve been keeping this secret – that you’re unlovable – for so long. Suddenly you’re not just unlovable you, but you’re unlovable you who’s been HIDING the fact that you’re unlovable. Now your shame has a second layer – that you’ve been keeping the truth from the person you’re in love with. SURELY, if you loved them, you wouldn’t fool them into believing that you’re a lovable person to begin with.
That’s the funny thing about emotional baggage. Sometimes you don’t know that you have it, and at other times, you’re so concerned about it that it eats away at your insides and shows up in nightmares and unnecessary fights.
The truly crazy thing is this – if you handle it together, it’s lighter on both of you.
Until very recently, I didn’t know the strength and patience takes for the “non-burdened” partner to deal with baggage when it’s finally presented to them. I’d always assumed as a mid-twenties divorcee with MS, a seizure disorder, and a crazy family that I was the one in the relationship with the issues, and that SURELY, when my long-time boyfriend learned about all the pitfalls of my existence, he would not walk but run away. Any SANE person would… right? I mean, who wants to deal with disability after he’s already had to convince me that it’s safe to love him and to trust him, when my trust issues were huge. (Funny thing, divorce – it’s one of those “Once Bitten, Twice Shy” situations) He’d have to be someone with an immense heart, and he’d HAVE to be with me out of pity – because OBVIOUSLY, there’s nothing lovable about me, since I have medical issues and a past.
When I finally broke down crying because I couldn’t handle it anymore and I wanted to FREE him of the burden that is loving me, I said that out loud.
“I’m a burden to everyone I love. You would be better off without me. I love you too much to make you suffer with me. Please, just go.”
I expected him to shake his head and just walk out the door, or say “Thank you for understanding. I love you, but I can’t handle this.” Instead, he laughed at me, and then said this – “You are the same woman I fell in love with, with the same medical conditions you always had – you just didn’t know what to call them. Treatments will work out, it’ll just take some time, and I’m right by your side.”
Imagine my shock.
Of course, his acceptance of my unlovable flaw made me love him more – and every day he stays by my side, telling me that he loves me… every day that he catches me because I’m having a seizure, I find myself loving him more deeply than I had the day before. There was, and is, no doubt in my mind that my boyfriend is the very best partner for me I could ever imagine – so you can imagine my sudden “huh?” when out of nowhere he presented some of his baggage to me.
It takes a lot of guts to let someone (especially someone you deeply love) know about fears and weaknesses that go so deeply that you hide them from the world and often yourself. The other day we were talking about household things, and suddenly I was presented with some of HIS baggage. No, he doesn’t have a secret lovechild or a second life as a double agent super spy. His baggage is not something to be shared with the public – but like all fears that act on us, it was based on previous experiences.
Now, I know that I have never ever done anything to harm my boyfriend financially or emotionally. I’m a very loving girlfriend who is often overly responsible and unnecessarily apologetic. I was blindsided – even shocked – by the revelation of new information and its connections to how he feels about us.
My first instinct was to turn it on myself. Obviously, since he’s associating negative emotions with something concerning me, he must think that I will act in the manner of the person who has hurt him in the past. He must not trust me. At the gut level, I couldn’t believe that. Would someone who lives with me, stayed 12 days with me in the hospital, and who knows my deepest, darkest secrets not trust me? Do I believe that this one moment where he’s entrusted me with his fear that I should act defensively or think only of myself? No!
So I looked him in the face and said, “I would never hurt you like that. You mean too much to me.” And in that moment, I saw his eyes soften, his misunderstood anger start to fade, and our relationship become stronger.
In an odd way, it makes things feel more even – him knowing that I’m a physical and emotional train wreck from time to time, and me knowing that he isn’t perfect. (Even if he is.)
Now, I get to take the position he has had to fill for me. I get to be patient with him. I get to show him my love and my trust and my steadfast nature. I get to show him what it means to be safe and loved ALL the time, no matter what.
We get to love each other more because we know each other’s deep, irrational fears and we choose to soothe them and work through them together instead of exploiting them or letting them rule us. I could live in a state of anxiety, worried that his fears will get the best of him and he’ll leave, reinforcing my fears, or I could live in a state of trust and give us each the opportunity to realize that we both deserve the love we have and work so hard to maintain.
I’m glad for the chance to prove how lovable I am just by loving him right back. It’s the easiest thing in the world to do because I don’t even have to try, and I couldn’t stop if I wanted to.
Realizing that’s how he feels about loving me with my condition and my baggage lets me know a very important thing… when it comes to emotional pain and healing wounds from our past, love CAN conquer all.