Let’s face it: We’ve all had the oh-so-delightful experience of dating someone who had too much emotional baggage. Unfortunately, it’s often not until you’re knee-deep in a relationship that you realize just how much baggage he or she has. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could train yourself to spot emotional baggage sooner so that you don’t have to start and then later stop the relationship?
I can already hear you asking, What are the most common types of baggage? Check out the types below.
Major problems with the family of origin
Regardless of whether your date is 20 or 50, they may have emotional baggage related to dysfunction stemming from the family he or she was born into. If you date someone who has significant issues with their family, it’s often with the parents. Yet sometimes he or she will have a sibling that brings major stress or emotional tumult into their lives.
How to spot it: She has extreme anger toward one or both parents; he has fairly frequent blowouts with family members at family dinners, reunions or other events; she has a parent or sibling who is an active addict whom the family is always worried about; or he was emotionally, physically or verbally abused by one or both parents.
I know a lot of people believe that depression is more of a female problem. For the doubters, I must refer you to any of the following real-life examples: my friend’s 6’3” burly ex-boyfriend who worked as a bouncer at a super-hip Los Angeles nightclub; my 40-year-old client who works as a trial attorney and pulls in several hundred thousand dollars per year; or the 19-year-old guy I recently assessed who was having trouble being intimate with his girlfriend. Simply put, both women and men can carry the baggage of depression into a relationship.
How to spot it: He is moody; she doesn’t feel like being social with others; he has a low self-esteem and he is critical of himself; she has lost interest in activities that used to make her happy; he complains a lot and has a pessimistic view of the future; she gets irritated easily and excels at starting arguments; and he cries once in a while for no particular reason. You can switch the pronouns because both men and women manifest depression in various ways.
The ex factor
When you first start dating someone, ask yourself the following questions: Is this person still in contact with his or ex? Has the person you’re dating fully closed the romantic/need-for-attention door with the ex, or has that door been left slightly ajar? (Note: I just finished reading the psychological thriller, The Girl On the Train, which includes a perfect example of a man who left that door slightly ajar with his ex, which caused major problems for his new relationship.) If you breathe even the slightest whiff of unfinished business with your date’s ex, you will make your life easier by heading toward the nearest exit sign. I tell my clients to give themselves a good six months or longer before even considering starting a new relationship. The reality: If the last relationship ended in a nasty or messy way, a person needs a year or longer to heal before being able to start a healthy relationship – which means not carrying baggage into the next one.
How to spot it: In the first month or two of dating, he mentions his ex at least once per week; she still keeps pictures around or other mementos of the ex; you hear him mention the ex’s name when he’s talking to friends; he tries to get together with the ex for coffee or a meal soon soon after the breakup; or she compares you in any way to her ex.
By the time we reach adulthood, we all inevitably carry some sort of emotional baggage with us. The question becomes, is the baggage severe enough to negatively affect a new relationship? Whom you seek out is your choice, but you must remember that warning signs don’t lie!
Dr. Seth is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, Psychology Today blogger, and TV guest expert. He practices in Los Angeles and treats a wide range of issues and disorders and specializes in relationships, parenting, and addiction. He has had extensive training in conducting couples therapy and is the author of Dr. Seth’s Love Prescription: Overcome Relationship Repetition Syndrome and Find the Love You Deserve.