Baggage—all of us have it. We certainly do. A few people seem to travel light—women with maybe a handbag’s worth, just enough to get through a night on the town, men with not much more than you could toss into the glove compartment. Others travel like they’re moving across the country, with more cases, trunks, and bags than you could cram into a U-Haul, lugging all kinds of drama, fear, and regret into every new situation. Most of us, we think, are somewhere in the middle. We all wish we could travel lighter, and we’re not willing to unpack everything, especially in front of that special someone we’ve just met and hope to start something brand new with.
We all have “histories.” That’s what makes us who we are, good, bad, or indifferent. And whether or not we want to acknowledge it, that history has shaped our ideals and our wants and needs. The reality is that we’ll never get rid of all our baggage permanently, but the two of us are living proof that it’s possible to minimize it, to turn liabilities into assets and negatives into positives.
You’ve got to work on you (and all the baggage you carry with you) because that’s where all your relationships start. A healthy you is the basis for any healthy relationship. When you’re in a good place, your mate is more likely to complement you than to clash with you. Now, in order to become the best possible you, you have to face the you that exists now—and that means learning to see both the good and the bad. In this chapter we will teach you how to recognize and pump up your best qualities as well as acknowledge and improve upon your bad qualities so that you’re able to accept the love that God has placed in your life.
Eddie’s parents divorced when he was five. His mom was a flight attendant, and she was gone a lot. He and his sister lived with their grandmother most of the time during grade school and high school, and only saw their mom on the weekends. His father was in and out of my life a lot during those years. He lived right around the corner, but he was emotionally unavailable. His father’s distance had a big effect on Eddie, eroding his confidence and self-esteem and chipping away at his very identity.
Tamara grew up in a violent household with a stint of molestation from a cousin. Her stepfather, who came into her life when she was three years old, was a serious drug addict who was physically abusive. The experiences with her stepfather and cousin definitely shaped the way she felt about men and relationships.
“There wasn’t a healthy model anywhere to change my perception from negative to positive. When I did find someone who seemed to reciprocate my love—who ended up being a boyfriend—I became so attached and overbearing that I think I just pushed him away. I just wanted an incredible marriage and a family that I could depend on, and I would think, I’ve found it, every time I found a boyfriend who treated me nicely (at first). I would believe that with him my life could finally have some kind of foundation. Of course, there aren’t many boys that age ready for anything like that, so I found myself sabotaging my relationships almost from the start.”
None of us gets through childhood and adolescence without some baggage, some bumps and bruises to our psyches. Life is a contact sport. And we bring those wounds to marriage.
Preparing ourselves for a great relationship doesn’t require that we eliminate every bit of baggage. It does mean dealing with it and learning to handle the situations and emotions that could turn into new baggage. And it was a learning process for us. As we have grown and matured, in our faith especially, we see that our premarital sex had a cost. Once sex enters the equation, there is no going back. It is a game changer, and it could easily have turned into new baggage.
So, where do we start?
It all begins with facing your history, and there’s no better way to reveal the past to yourself than with paper and a pen or that trusty computer keyboard. There are a couple of advantages to putting it down in black and white. First, writing forces us to think, which is something a lot of us don’t like to do with potentially unpleasant topics. And second, it puts good and bad in perspective. Our problems feel bigger and more complicated when they’re running around inside our heads. Putting them on paper usually lets us see that they boil down to a few simple emotions, or a few simple tactics we use that aren’t working anymore.
When you begin writing, you’ll be tempted to spend too much time on what other people have done. What’s important is not, What did they do?—although you need to acknowledge that—but What did I do? People are going to say and do things that hurt you. Sometimes they mean to; sometimes they don’t. But finding the best you doesn’t mean dwelling on others’ mistakes or misdeeds.
What we had to do for ourselves, and what we encourage other people to do, is to figure out our own faults and where they came from. We have to try to improve on those qualities or at the very least try to keep them from affecting our relationship. Working on yourself is part of working on your relationship.
This article is excerpted from Married for Real: Building a Loving, Powerful Life Together, by NFL star Eddie George and his wife, Tamara, member of the singing group SWV.