Reader Question:What do I do with my family baggage?

So I’ve received a couple of questions lately about family background and how to prevent a troubled family background from reoccurring in a current relationship or scaring potential partners off.

First, I will start with the bad news: childhood and family experiences are some of the best predictors of what someone, and you, will be like as a partner and a parent.

Yes, very Freudian, but it’s true, we are a product of our past.  So in a relationship, do not minimize the power of family background and childhood experiences. Take your time exploring these areas and learn about how your partner has made sense of all of these experiences.

Here are a couple important areas to consider.

  1. Family closeness: How open and involved was the family? How did they express affection? Anger? Handle and resolve conflicts.
  2. Family structure: What were the roles of the parents and kids? Biological or step-family? Divorce? How was discipline handled? Organized home or chaotic? Rigid or Flexible?

Ok, for the good news: we do not have to repeat the mistakes of our families. Some of the best mothers I know had mothers that were quite neglectful or self-involved or downright abusive.

However, this wasn’t a fluke, but rather these women vowed to not repeat the mistakes of their mothers, to not cause the same hurt to their children that they experienced growing up.

People can take some of the worst experiences and learn from them and change as a result. This becomes the choice that you must make: do you want to repeat your family’s mistakes or learn from them and ultimately do it differently in the relationship and family you create?

So what do you need to do it differently?

  1. Insight: Insight into what needs to change and how it has impacted you.
  2. New information: This can come in many forms: therapy, books, other people’s input, and even life-changing experiences.
  3. Time: Change rarely takes place over night so keep working to implement any change you hope to instill in your relationship and family. It’s normal to have some regressions, but just keep practicing. As a side note, these aspects of change don’t just apply to you they equally apply to your partner. Read this for more on change.

Lastly to the reader who was worried about scaring partners off, my advice is this: be honest when the time is right. And when you do talk about your family history, talk about what you have learned from it.

We all have baggage that we carry as a result of our family experiences, so when you are dating someone, show them and tell them what you are doing with it.

The truth is that some people may be intimidated by your history; however, most people will identify on some level and appreciate your maturity and thoughtfulness about how you have resolved and grown from those challenging experiences.




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