Getting engaged is a life-changing, thrilling event and envisioning a lifetime of joy and adventure with the man or woman of your dreams is wonderful.
But despite the gravitational pull toward marriage once you’re engaged (and perhaps because of it), it’s worth considering any “emotional baggage” your fiancé may be carrying and whether you are ready, willing, and able to share the load once you’re hitched.
After all, as a married couple, you’ll be a team. Your happiness will be your spouse’s happiness and their sorrows will be your sorrows. Just like you will bring a lifetime of experiences into your new marriage, there is no escaping the fact that any emotional baggage your fiancé has now will carry over into your lives and be something you’ll need to grapple with.
When this happens to an undue or negative extent, it may impact your partner’s ability to do things like:
>> Communicate calmly and respectfully
>> Spend money wisely
>> Avoid the urge to become controlling or possessive
>> Parent your children skillfully
>> Respond appropriately when frustrated or hurt
>> Ask for comfort, affection, or sex (or give it to you)
>> Establish or honor healthy boundaries (with you or extended friends or family)
If this is something you’re wondering or concerned about, keep reading.
What is Emotional Baggage and Where Does it Come From?
As defined in the dictionary, emotional baggage represents “feelings that accumulate over time about prior experiences that can have negative effects on current behavior.”
These prior experiences can be anything from childhood abuse to failed prior marriages, being cheated on in past relationships, an incapacitating illness, or another life-changing event.
The deciding factor is not WHAT has happened to your partner, but HOW they have interpreted and dealt with it and what meaning it has for them today. It may be glaringly obvious to you, but they may not even be conscious of the impact these experiences are having on their everyday thoughts and actions.
How to Determine if You Can Handle Your Fiancé’s Emotional Baggage After Marriage
As a start, ask yourself the following questions, as they will help you decide whether you have what it takes to address, manage, or tolerate any “issues” they have from the past:
>> How HEAVY is the baggage? Are you finding it difficult to carry now? What is it that makes it difficult?
>> What’s IN the baggage? If, for example, your fiancé has lingering issues from a previous marriage, what kinds of problems is this causing and is this ex a routine part of your lives today? In what way can you possibly mitigate the impact or scope of their involvement in your lives?
>> Do YOU really need to carry this load? It’s normal to want to help the person we love most in the world, but perhaps they alone can address specific hurts from the past. Are they willing to do this so they are no longer present in your marriage? “Baggage” connotes things that shouldn’t be there; things that should have been dealt with already. What is the reason they haven’t been addressed before?
>> Do you have a clear sense of your own BOUNDARIES (what you will and won’t do)? If you have a “red line” that you won’t cross when it comes to putting up with specific issues or your willingness to support your partner in a healing process, it’s only fair that you share this ahead of your nuptials.
>> What are your EXPECTATIONS? If your fiancé expects you to endure something unreasonable, you will also need to confront this head-on. Things that are often “cute” or “amusing” in the dating phase become “annoying” and “infuriating” in marriage. Don’t be afraid to postpone the wedding until you get this worked out.
Answering these questions will help you clarify what you can and can’t handle. If you decide to move forward with the wedding, the following 8 tips will help you handle your fiancé’s emotional baggage in a way that supports your relationship and new marriage.
Are you concerned about the transition from being single to marital bliss?
Check out my blog on From Me To We: How To Start You Marriage Right
8 Ways to Manage Your Partner’s Emotional Baggage (and Stay Sane)
- Communicate Early and Often
Maintaining an open line of communication with your fiancé is important. You’re not a mind-reader, and may need to gently probe the rationale for their behavior. Whether the negative events are from the recent or distant past, it may be difficult for your fiancé to discuss them, so take it slowly and don’t forget to thank them for sharing these things with you. And remember that—when it comes to “communicating”—speaking is highly overrated! It’s much more important to listen to your fiancé without interrupting, criticizing, or over-reacting. Sometimes, not saying anything at all except “I understand” or “go on” to show you’re tuned in completely to what they are saying is all your fiancé needs to open up even more. The information you gain by listening to your partner explain their feelings could provide you with vital information about the nature of their emotional baggage, how they’re dealing with it, and how you can best support them.
- Have Patience
While time doesn’t solve everything, it’s a crucial ingredient for healing. Once we bring issues forward and into the open, we all love to see quick improvements, but this may not be possible. It could take years for your partner to fully work through prior hurts and betrayals, but your support will accelerate the process. Just like with grief over the loss of a loved one, the initial sense of loss will usually ease with time but may never be completely absent. Your partner may also end up talking to you about their emotional baggage more than you think is necessary. Continuing to be patient and listen will strengthen your bond and help them see you as a true and trusted confidante.
- Be Honest
You’ve heard the old saying, “Honesty is the best policy”, and it can save a significant amount of time, confusion, and hurt in the long run. If you find that you can’t handle your fiancé’s emotional baggage, you may need to share this and pump the breaks on your upcoming wedding. While this is an undesirable step to take, at least you’ll have the chance to explore all possibilities, negotiate your expectations, and chart a path forward.
- Deal with Sensitive Information . . . Sensitively
How you handle your fiancé’s emotional baggage will make or break your upcoming marriage. After they’ve shared something difficult with you, they may worry that you will abandon them, so it’s important to focus on the positive aspects of your relationship and your plans for the future. Refrain from throwing any “issues” (like insecurity) back in their face in heated moments and sharing their personal struggles with others unless you first get their permission. The last thing you want to do is add fuel to the fire.
- Put Yourself in Your Fiancé’s Shoes
Healthy, give-and-take relationships are built around empathy, or the ability of someone to understand how another might feel and see the world. Picture yourself going through the same experiences or events your fiancé’ has. Then ask yourself how you would feel and react under the same circumstances. Show compassion and avoid minimizing (or unnecessarily maximizing) their emotional baggage. (After all, you probably have some too).
For another perspective on how to deal with a partner’s emotional baggage,
check out this article on How to Deal With a Partner Who Has Baggage.
- Forgive (and Then Forgive Again)
A readiness to forgive is common to happy couples. If your fiancé has upset you or hasn’t responded kindly to you because of their own emotional baggage, forgive them but make clear what needs to change so the offense doesn’t happen again. As your partner observes you forgiving skillfully, they should be able to follow your lead and do so more willingly as well. Conversely, when you make a mistake, apologize quickly and ask directly for their forgiveness. Fortunately, forgiveness is a skill that can be learned, and practicing it now will be a great asset in your new marriage.
- Extend Care to Yourself as Well
It can be exhausting to work through your fiancé’s emotional baggage, so be sure to take time out to do fun or relaxing things for yourself. Letting your tank run dry won’t do your partner any good, so take the time to keep yourself mentally and physically strong. Choose a few activities that make you happy, add them to your schedule, and make sure you do them—with or without your fiancé. Things that are neither elaborate nor expensive could include reading, walking, crafting, praying, stretching, working out, volunteering, gardening, baking, or just soaking in a long, hot bath (my personal favorite).
- Call in the Cavalry
Don’t hesitate to reach out to get an outside perspective and support! Talking to a pastor or your successfully married friends is a good first step but they may not have the training, expertise, or objectivity to help you deal with your fiancé’s emotional baggage.
We have all been injured to some extent by events in our past which may cause us to respond in a dysfunctional or hurtful way to certain situations or people—even (and especially) our closest loved ones. If you discover that your fiancé’ has emotional baggage that needs to be unpacked before you marry, work through the issues with kindness, empathy, and respect—and reach out to someone with experience in resolving these matters completely so you can begin your new life together with confidence!