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  • Natalie Garcia
    Natalie Garcia

    I'm dating someone who has a lot of emotional baggage. How can I support them without taking on their emotional burden?

    The metaphor of emotional baggage has been used for centuries to refer to unresolved issues, pain, and anger that have accompanied us through life. It refers to baggage that is often too heavy to carry and can become overwhelming, emotionally paralyzing its host when faced with an emotional crisis. When you are involved with someone who carries heavy emotional baggage, it can be difficult to know how to support them without taking on their entire burden.

    It can feel like you’re walking a tight rope between being supportive and protecting yourself. How to gauge which task is too big, who should bear the responsibility of 'luggaging', and listening without feeling the drain that comes along with tending to your partner's emotions?

    When such a dilemma arises, it’s important to start from the acceptance that dealing with emotional baggage is a two-way street. As such, many couples find mutual respect can be helpful in dealing with the struggles, as well as remember to be accountable for one’s own feelings. An open dialogue, along with establishing boundaries, is key in effectively communicating about the way forward.

    Equally important is understanding how to practice kindness and encouragement during the most difficult times. For one, remind yourself to be gentle, yet honest; judge less, love more and practice patience. Be present and listen when your partner needs to talk, and also back off with ample statements of love and security. Discourse with your partner with confidence and gentleness while being truthful. Open conversation opens the door to healing.

    In addition, acknowledge and accept your partners vulnerabilities without overcompensating. Do not assume responsibility for issues that are not within your control. Being a support system can empower your partner in building self-confidence, where they can tackle the adversities they successfully face. To be supportive, rather than falling into the habit of taking on your partner’s emotions, avoid the pitfalls of getting overwhelmed. Maintaining your own balance and stability between patience, empathy and honesty can help your partner feel safe to share their experiences, and to learn how to cope on their own.

    It is important to stay true to yourself and recognize that no matter how much you love your partner, you cannot fix their emotional baggage. It is also critical to recognize that your responsibilities to your partner exist alongside those to your own physical and mental health. If a situation becomes too difficult or too draining, remind yourself to take a step back and conduct self-care. This can range from a day spent alone indoors, eating a comforting meal, or talking to a trusted friend. Mindful listening creates space for reflections and understanding, which can be incredibly beneficial to the overall process of walking alongside your partner on their emotional journey.

    Supporting your partner through emotional baggage is no small feat. It takes courage, patience, resilience and honesty. Navigating emotional largess is hard work, and there will be times you may need to take a break from the high demand role of maintaining a healthy relationship. But blending sensitivity and accountability, along with plenty of honest communication and self-care in between, can be a strong foundation for understanding and compassion.

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