Life After Divorce . . . What Baggage is Yours?

By Lindy Earl


We all bring baggage and insecurities into each new relationship.  The older we are, the more baggage we have.  Some of the baggage can only be held by us, but others we can put onto others.  For instance, based on our history, we can cast people into roles where they don’t belong.

If you had a bad childhood, first, I’m sorry.  I really am sorry.  A person with a bad childhood can carry that baggage for a long time, and you can cast that baggage onto others: You may view your significant other as the cruel parent or mean sibling or the monstrous bully from your childhood.  You may cast them into the role of disciplinarian, where they don’t belong and don’t want to be.

You may decide that you’re going to break up with them because you can see the writing on the wall and you want to do it before they drop you.  Maybe you should talk, because they were never going to break up with you.

That happened to me last summer.  A guy found me, we met, and we seemed to have great chemistry.  Sadly, he had a lot of challenges in both his personal and professional lives.  One day I mentioned that he might be too busy to have a relationship.  Oh my gosh.  I was not prepared for what came next.  I was lectured in not so gentle terms.  Then he dumped me.  All by text. What had I done, other than wonder if he had time to put into a relationship with what was happening at work and his house.

We talked about a month later, and he told me that he had heard my comment as a precursor to breaking up.  It wasn’t.  I was honestly concerned about him, and his ability to add one more ingredient to a full mixture.  He decided to break up with me before I could do it to him.  It never had to happen!  Looking back, he was carrying some baggage where he cast me in a role that I didn’t occupy, yet there I was.  The worst of it, though, is that I didn’t know it. If I had been aware, through better and slightly more intimate conversation, I may have been able to allay his fears.  So I think one big piece of baggage we bring is fear of abandonment.

Another piece of baggage is unrealized dreams.  I don’t know if this is true for men, but women started dreaming about their futures as young girls.  We were going to be happily married and be mommies and have careers and on and on it goes.

Here’s a secret: I used to edit my kids’ books as I read to them, to give my children a wider world view.  I really did this.  There was one book that talked about the dad going to work and the mom, in the book, was a wife. There is nothing wrong with this, and in fact, I had the honor and pleasure of being such a mom. But, wanting to give my children a larger view of life, when I read that book I would add things like, “Before she went to her job as an architect in the city . . . .”  I wanted to give my children a larger world view than what they saw in their own home.  Maybe they won’t cast their future SOs into a narrowly defined role.

Okay, so if you had some unrealized dreams in your first marriage, you may subconsciously, even unconsciously, try to make them happen in your next relationship.  If family vacations were part of your perfect family scenario in your dreams, but they hadn’t happened the first time, you may force them the next time around, even before you’re ready.  You are not intentionally forcing things to go your way, and you may not even realize this was an unfulfilled dream, but your partner may feel the pressure of your baggage.

One piece of baggage I definitely brought into my marriage were male/female roles.  It was simply the dad’s JOB to bring the Christmas decorations down from the attic and set up the tree.  I was more than happy to bake while Christmas songs played.  Now, the second half of this scene, me baking while music plays, is more from a movie than my childhood, but my point is that it was the role of the husband to tackle the large decorations. Sadly, I failed to communicate that as an expectation.  So I would ask if he would get them; then I would fuss; then I would nag.  Of course none of this did anything to get the decorations from the attic.  So I got them myself.  And I would leave them available but out of the way.  Nothing.  Then I would move them to be in the way.  Nothing.  Then I finally just put them up, resenting my broken idyllic Christmas scene.  I did finally catch on and stop asking and just decorated alone, so at least I learned.

But it was my baggage that was the real problem here.  There were a lot of traditional roles that my ex just didn’t enjoy.  So I taught our children to ride a two-wheeler, even though it had been my father who taught us, so that was part of my baggage.  And I taught my boys to throw footballs and chop wood, along with the saying, ‘He who chops the wood warms himself twice.’  I was realizing that the baggage I brought into the marriage was not my husband’s.  I was the one who had to deal with it, and I did.

So, I think the first step is to realize, what is your baggage? What expectations, what negative experiences, what trash are you carrying around?  Next, have an open and honest conversation about what you learned.  Discuss baggage in both directions, because I promise you, both of you are bringing in some stuff.  As you discuss things, you will find that some of your baggage isn’t a big deal for some people, but you never know what will and won’t be an issue.

For instance, some people have a no-children rule.  Too much baggage.  I’m not just talking young children, but any kids at all, even if they are adults and on their own.  I have met these men, who simply don’t want to even date a woman who has children. It’s their choice.

I’ve found a lot of people have baggage filled with sex-related issues.  These topics definitely need to be discussed, the earlier the better.

Money probably fills more than a few bags.  There is no judgment here, just a good conversation about financial preferences and responsibilities.  I’ve dated guys with little money who are generous, and guys with lots of money who are frugal. Again, no judgment, you just need to know where both parties stand.

Once you are ready to get a little serious about someone, maybe closer to an exclusive relationship, maybe even a commitment, you need to be sure your baggage has been emptied and laid bare for inspection.  Honesty is required to ensure you’re on the same page.  If you admit to some of your requirements, and they agree, then they change their minds a few months later, that’s on them.  Honesty is important from the beginning, with yourself as well as with your partner.

Whatever baggage you both bring does get lighter over time.  Whether its traditional roles, expectations of where to live, amount of time spent together – it can all be overcome.  Just start unpacking.

That’s Life After Divorce.

                Lindy is a Speaker, Columnist, Author, and Consultant.  Contact her at or find and like her page on Face Book, and join her FB support group, Single Again: From Devastation to Dating. You can subscribe (for $12/year) to her Life After Divorce Newsletter at