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By Chandrama Anderson

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About this blog: About this blog: I am a LMFT specializing in couples counseling and grief and have lived in Silicon Valley since 1969. I'm the president of Connect2 Marriage Counseling. I worked in high-tech at Apple, Stanford University, and in ...  (More)

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How Much Baggage in a Partner is Okay?

Uploaded: Aug 14, 2023

Baggage is Meant to be Unpacked

How much baggage in a potential partner is okay, and how much is too much?
We all come with baggage. We have the opportunity to heal our own baggage as we are helping our partner to heal his/hers. Expecting that you will find a partner without baggage is pretty unrealistic.

Many people have had their heart broken; either as a child by parents who did not have secure attachment, and/or by partners along the way who did not have secure attachment, either.

Can you heal? Yes. Is it work? Yes!

Clients often ask me if they really have to help their partner fix his/her issues. Of course you don’t. But then, you might as well end the relationship. The reason is that we are harmed--and healed--in relationships.

If you’re an Island attachment style, you think you can do it yourself. And you can--up to a point. If you’re a Wave attachment style, you think you can’t do it alone. And you can’t--up to a point. You can be inter-dependent, which is healthy, secure attachment, or Anchor attachment.

Human brains developed over eons to need others, to have even a little bit of community. We may be eons away from our cave-person days, but our brains have not evolved that far since then. Survival depended on our clan, our community. People hunted, people guarded, people took care of the hearth and kids. You still need that (and no, I don’t mean gender-based roles).

We all need others to regulate our brain to be as healthy as possible. Being in proximity to our loved ones regulates our brain, which in turn regulates our body. An amazingly beautifully written book that explains all of this is ‘A General Theory of Love’ and I highly recommend you read it.

Back to the original question: How much baggage is too much? I think if a person is hell-bent on self-destruction (via drugs, alcohol, pushing everyone away, etc.), that’s too much baggage. That doesn’t mean you can’t be a friend to someone who needs steering toward help. If it’s someone who is attachment-wounded so s/he is anxious or avoidant, there’s a good chance that with an emotionally secure relationship AND WORK, you can be Anchors for each other-or securely attached.

Note: If the person is violent or emotionally abusive, leave, now.

Please remember that people who are generally behaving in securely attached ways will have their moments of difficulty, too. I described this to you, Readers, about myself when I struggled mightily with the ‘Put it Into Practice’ sections of my book, ‘I Do, I Don’t: How to build a better marriage’.

If you need help figuring out if a particular relationship is healthy for you, ask your nearest and dearest friends who know you best and have only your best interests at heart. Tell them you need them to be completely honest with you. Let them know you want to hear their thoughts and feelings about your well-being, and to please omit any editorializing.

What is editorializing? Here’s an example:

You: Do you think my relationship with ____________ is healthy for me?
Friend: No, s/he’s an asshole. (Editorializing)
Friend: S/he treats you poorly by berating or belittling you when you’re stressed about something. (Information/fact)

You get the picture.

If you’re trying to save your partner or change him/her into someone else, give it up. It’s unhealthy for both of you. And if that’s what you’re doing, please look at your own work that you need to do.

Asking for change of a behavior is completely fine. That’s different than trying to change someone. For example, asking your partner to please be on time is reasonable.

Do your own work on yourself, and don’t police your partner. You’ll build a better relationship.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Judy Watkins, a resident of Midtown,
on Aug 14, 2023 at 12:22 pm

Judy Watkins is a registered user.

It's always best to avoid any potential partners with mental and/or emotional why bother when there are other candidates to choose from?

Excess baggage also includes having to deal with someone else's biological children, intrusive and irritating in-laws, and various financial issues.

Starting off with a clean slate is always the best option.

Posted by Max Shoenfeld, a resident of Community Center,
on Aug 14, 2023 at 12:55 pm

Max Shoenfeld is a registered user.

I would also advise against getting involved with someone who is merely seeking a green card.

Posted by Jesse Theron, a resident of Mountain View,
on Aug 14, 2023 at 2:50 pm

Jesse Theron is a registered user.

"If you're trying to save your partner or change him/her into someone else, give it up. It's unhealthy for both of you."

^ So true yet some people continually waste their energy & time trying to.

"Asking for change of a behavior is completely fine. That's different than trying to change someone."

^ Another good point.

The key is getting to know someone better under a variety conditions before even thinking of committing oneself to a serious or long-term relationship.

There are a lot of whack-jobs out there and many are skilled at putting in false airs.

Posted by Jesse Theron, a resident of Mountain View,
on Aug 14, 2023 at 2:51 pm

Jesse Theron is a registered user.

Correction...putting [ON] false airs.

Posted by Roberta Wilton, a resident of Midtown,
on Aug 15, 2023 at 11:47 am

Roberta Wilton is a registered user.

Ms. Anderson brought up some excellent points. Unless you perceive yourself as some sort of savior, it is usually better to avoid getting involved with people who have serious mental and emotional problems or substance abuse issues.

On a side note, I have never figured-out women who get involved with prison inmates serving long term sentences for serious crimes. What is their trip?

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