The end of a relationship can teach you a lot about yourself and what you want in the future, but it can also leave you with a load of emotional baggage – especially if you had no choice but to end things on bad terms with your ex.
A term used to describe the negative emotions or unresolved issues that come from enduring a negative or hurtful experience, emotional baggage not only has the power to make you feel rubbish, but it can also affect the way you view and approach future relationships.
Of course, this is far from ideal. And while it’s likely not your fault that you’re carrying emotional baggage, ignoring it can lead to negative consequences for your future relationships; indeed, the last thing you want when you finally feel ready to find someone new is to be reminded of a hurtful experience from your past or have a load of negative emotions stop you from achieving a genuine connection.
But there are things you can do to deal with your emotional baggage and adopt a fresh perspective as you move forward – and that’s where this article comes in.
To find out more about how our past experiences can impact our dating behaviour, and how to avoid carrying that emotional baggage into a future relationship, we asked Sam Owen, Hinge’s UK relationships expert, to share her insight. Here’s what she had to say.
How can our past relationships affect our dating behaviour?
According to Owen, there are a number of different ways that our experiences in past relationships can influence the way we date in the future.
“Firstly, they can alter our self-image,” she explains. “For example, if you’ve been cheated on, you may feel like you’re not good enough or funny enough etc, and that can really knock your self-esteem and impact your self-image. That kind of bad experience can also make you more nervous and hesitant about trusting again and shape the way you view the present and future, so you might be more pessimistic about what’s to come.”
On top of shaping the way you think about a future relationship, your past relationship experiences can also influence the way you behave in a dating situation, too.
“Our past relationships can impact the kind of people we date as well,” Owen explains. “You’ll get some people who will repeat patterns and choose the same kind of person because it’s familiar, not because it’s healthy or necessarily making them happy.
“And on the other hand, you’ll get some people who will go to the complete opposite end of the spectrum and choose someone because they’re the polar opposite to their last partner, even though they might not be suitable, either.”
Owen continues: “You may also end up judging your current partner and making assumptions based on nothing that they’ve done, but tarnishing them with the same brush as one of your exes because of the baggage you’re bringing from the past.”
How to prevent emotional baggage from influencing your future relationships
1. Work on yourself
As you might expect, the biggest thing Owen recommends doing is taking some time to work on yourself so you have a firm grip on your emotional baggage and how it might affect the way you see the world and think about relationships.
“Do enough work on yourself and on the emotional baggage that you’re carrying so that you feel calm and confident enough to put a good version of yourself forward and successfully find the type of relationship you’re looking for,” Owen says.
While one way to work through your emotional baggage is to go to therapy (something 29% of Hinge users said they were doing to cope with past negative dating experiences in a recent survey), other ways to work on yourself include investing in your mental health (through self-care, for example) and forging healthy habits.
“Taking the time to really work through the stuff that you’ve been left with from the past helps you to wipe the slate clean and get back to a good foundation of being happy and healthy within yourself,” Owen explains. “You need two happy, healthy people to make a happy, healthy relationship.”
2. Ask questions instead of making assumptions
When you’ve had a bad experience in the past, it’s easy to make assumptions based on how your previous partner behaved. To avoid this, Owen recommends approaching your date with an open and curious mind.
“Asking questions instead of making assumptions allows you to make sure that you’re responding to what’s really happening in the moment rather than letting it be tainted by an experience from the past,” Owen explains.
3. Adopt a growth mindset
Once you’ve given yourself enough time to deal with the emotional fallout of a relationship, adopting a growth mindset – an approach that acknowledges that things don’t always go right but that those moments are an opportunity to make progress – will help you to feel more positive and motivated going forward.
“Try to see your past relationship as a life lesson – you’ll have learned from it,” Owen says. “It can really tell you what you want from the future and what you’re willing and absolutely not willing to put up with, and that will empower you and make you feel stronger.”
4. Practise mindfulness
Because emotional baggage can often lead you to live in the past and ponder on the things that went wrong in your previous relationship, practising mindfulness is a good way to bring your attention back to the present moment.
“If you’re on a date and feeling really nervous, just take a moment to find yourself in the present moment and focus on what you’re taking in through your senses, because if you’re focusing on the present moment, you’re not judging yourself or getting carried away with critical thoughts – you’re just dealing with what’s coming at you right now,” Owen explains.
“If you’re feeling nervous before a date, doing just 15 minutes of mindfulness meditation can help you to feel more confident too,” she adds.