This is the delightful season of summer where many of us leave our homes and take a trip or two. When we leave for more than a few days, many of us are faced with decisions regarding “how much do I pack?,” “what if I don’t pack enough?,” “how do I know what I am supposed to look like in a few days?,” “will people judge me about what I am wearing?” “will I regret what I have packed?,” and “what if I forget something”? Such seemingly simple questions can bring us down. Sometimes people cloud their vacations with thoughts of “what I should have brought” or that “I packed too much.”
Invariably, most people pack too many clothes in anticipation of the “what if.” We can think of the stress of packing clothes like how we think about managing our relationships. The “what if” becomes a psychological baggage. If I pack everything I think I need for a trip, my bag becomes heavy, and perhaps over the limit I can carry or one that is specified by the airline. Similarly, if I try to bring everything about my past relationships or the history of my current relationship, these thoughts can be too much to bear and compromise out mental strength, just like the physical impacts of heavy luggage.
So where go we trim our baggage load? When I pack clothes into luggage I can edit down to those clothes that are essential and/or “matchy” “matchy” so I can get the most out of my limited wardrobe.
So what can we trim or edit in terms of the baggage we bring to discussions about conflict in our current relationships? Research has shown we romanticize the past. In other words, we think it was better “then” (whenever “then” was. Just like my favorite shirt from the 90’s, which I thought was awesome “then,” it may be dated and not one that I would be happy wearing now. Therefore, one thing to think about is what about the past truly matters to help our partners to understand who we are or where we are coming from. If we stick to what we are used to, or what we liked at one time, we bring that shirt, or that way of thinking, but it prevents us from wearing something new, or trying on a new argument or point of view.
Communication research has also shown that when we cannot move beyond past concerns or hostilities, we engage in the same argument again and again. So what part of our past can we leave behind to move ahead to a renewed understanding and space for positive discussion with our partners? Just like the decision to leave a creshed shirt behind from vacation luggage, we need to think about aspects of our histories and experiences—that we may have once cherished or “worn well”—to move forward.