DEALING WITH HER BAGGAGE
I see your wheels turning now, asking yourself (and me) “What if the baggage is hers?” “What about her crap?” Yes, this will be something that you will need to contend with and here’s some insight into how to handle it best. First, recognize that she is holding onto the past for similar reasons that you hold onto yours…it’s comfortably uncomfortable. It’s a part of her story and has given her a certain identify that she’s attached to. Just like you, most of this is not deliberate or conscious; it’s residue from previous wounds that haven’t fully healed. Other times, it’s in the form of attachment in a very real way, like kids or family challenges or ex husbands.
For women, this either comes in the form of seeking a man very similar to the man (or men) that hurt her or desperately searching for someone to rescue her from her treacherous past. Though it appears strange that she would choose someone who treated her in the same disrespectful, abusive or dishonest way, it is familiar and strangely comforting to her. Humans make choices according to their current world perspective. If her early notions of love came in the form of someone who hurt or yelled at her, then she learned that love is expressed in this way. She will seek others who treat her this way until she learns that there are other, healthier ways to express love. This is why many women (and men for that matter) will sabotage good, caring relationships.
For example, take the core belief that men treat women poorly or disrespectfully. If she doesn’t examine this belief, then she will either: A. attract a disrespectful man, B. sabotage a loving relationship until she is disrespected or C. she will look for evidence that she is being disrespected (even if she is treated well the majority of the time)…all to preserve this core belief. This seems like a great deal of work to uphold a non-supportive thought pattern, but it happens all the time to all of us in some form or another. The opportunity for growth comes when she (or you) can recognize that the pattern is happening (this means stepping out of the auto pilot mode), that it is not helping the current situation and a different decision can be made. Elevating awareness about the larger perspective and automatic tendencies leads to freedom of choice.
So, what are you supposed to do when you see that she is unloading her baggage in your living room? First, remain calm and steady. Defensiveness is going to add fuel to the inferno. Validate her feelings (remember, validation is not agreeing with her views, it’s recognizing her current emotional state) by making a reflective comment about her perspective (see the Communication track on Conflict Resolution and Listening Skills for more details). It’s very important that she gets that you’re listening and not just putting her issues right back in her face. You do this by taking responsibility for any part of the situation that you may have contributed to and explain that you are partially accountable, but that the remainder is not yours.
Chances are you did something that was pretty minor like show up late, flirted a bit or made a sarcastic comment that served as an emotional trigger for her to unleash. She will probably want to focus on the trivial issue itself, but since you are such a wise and informed man, you know that this is simply a symptom of something more painful that lies beneath. Don’t take the bait. If the topic is getting heated, it’s not the time to bust out your Freudian interpretation of her Daddy Issues, back down Sigmund, and let things cool down. When she is calmer, you can ask her what she believes is the reason for her behavior, her words or her emotions. Explain that you would like to gain better understanding of her and help her get through those challenges. Not only will you avert a giant fight about something completely innocuous, but you will show how sensitive and aware you are.
Now you’re ready to move onto Putting It Into Practice.