Your Relationship is your Greatest Asset
I am sitting in our garage surrounded by boxes filled with musty memories: trophies, love letters, precious but tired books, photo albums filled with smiling faces, and records of some broken dreams.
We are moving. Finally.
Boy do we have a lot of stuff. There is so much stuff in this world! We have been sorting for weeks now. There are three main piles:
Christian gets excited when one of the people he sees tells him that they’re moving.
Moving is a chance to sort through belongings which is also an opportunity to sort your personal emotions and thought life. You can sort through some things, and throw a few things out.
It’s easy to decide what functional stuff to throw. Toasters that don’t work any more, clothes that are too tight, tape recorders from another century. Decorative stuff is a bit difficult: like Christmas ornaments, which represent magic and joy.
Past stuff is harder. Much, much harder. The memories subsumed in my grandmother’s cooking bowl, a poem my son wrote me, a letter from a friend who has now passed on. They were all part of me. Letting go is like letting go a part of ourselves. It’s a wrenching. Still, Christian and I encourage each other: “throw it out if you can.”
I smile a lot. I cry a lot.
I usually live in the now, but sorting through the past has stirred up some dust. I can let go of objects as just their memory can still burn in my spirits and warm me on a cold night; they still, as Wordsworth says, “flash upon that inward eye.” I think back on our son holding his “blankey” with two fingers in his mouth or the bowls and bowls of tulips from Christian that once filled my New York apartment. (I have thrown out “blankey” and the dried out tulips, but not the memories.)
We had a moment of revelation: past stuff can contain memories, but what about the baggage? Baggage is the heavy stuff that weighs you down. It sometimes hurts you; it suffocates your relationships. It can be extremely difficult to see it’s there let alone sort it.
It comes in all shapes, sizes and objects. Baggage from past relationships is often the elephant in the room or hidden in your “black bag” that has a lock on it that only you can open.
Perhaps you need to open it together someday.
The biggest, but often most liberating step, is throwing out the hurtful baggage. Only you can decide if that is right for you.
We grasp baggage so tightly sometimes that we don’t see the bruises on our own hands.
I picked up another old photograph. It immediately flooded my brain with bittersweet memories. It beckoned me into the past. But it was time to let it go.
I sighed, dropped it into the throw out pile, and stepped back home into my glorious now.
What?? No escalator, no lift, just 40 steps and 4 suitcases weighing 20 kilos. Each.
We are in London, one of the world’s biggest cities. We’re exhausted and taxis are unavailable. It's the day of a big sporting event and cyclists have taken over the city. It’s been a 24-hour journey from Australia to see our son who is studying here. We haven’t slept, our feet are aching and we're cranky. The temperature swelters at 30 degrees celsius and we brought all the wrong clothes.
"I thought London was cold?"
“I just want to lie down!”
The thought of a pillow on a park bench seems more attractive to me by the minute.
The tube is our only alternative and there is only one way down. Us and the bags. We share the load.
After a precarious and exhausting descent, we end up underground, on the tube, sandwiched between people who try not to stare at our bulging baggage. (Normal people carry smaller bags.) On the journey I think about all the people round the world dragging around heavy bags with wheels. Encumbered.
Arriving at our son's apartment block we are confronted with more stairs. Four narrow, winding flights. Again, no lift.
I sit on one of the bags and cry.
Ten minutes later, we haul the suitcases up one bag at a time, bumping into each other, tripping on the stairs. A dog barks incessantly on level 2. “Shut up tiger” yells his owner.
The apartment has all the ailments of student living: blocked sinks, sloping floors, cramped spaces and resident cockroaches. We put our suitcases down on the wooden floorboards and they roll to one side of the room. I feel like I am on a ship.
“Did you need all this stuff?” remarks our son.
Christian and I just look at each other. (Half of it is for him anyway.)
I am reminded of a talk Christian gives about how we all drag around baggage from our past: childhood experiences, hurts, past relationships.
He talks about how baggage from the past can clutter up your relationship now. Couples deal with it differently. Baggage can be the elephant in the room that never gets talked about or it can be the issue that is brought up in every argument, even, subtly, as a weapon against the other person.
There are two principles to keep in mind for dealing with baggage.
Firstly, recognise that the relationship isn’t the problem; the problem is the problem.
Secondly, whatever the baggage is, share the load. It is not “what are you going to do with this baggage” but “what are we going to do?”
Christian picks up one of my bags to move it.
“Don’t open that”
There are things in there I just don’t want him to see.
There is some baggage from the past that takes a while to unpack and share.
“Is it OK if we put it over here?” he says.
He lifts the bag gently and places it in the corner.
I know when we leave that we are going to have to take those bags down the stairs again. Fortunately, we’ll be able to get a taxi. But somewhere between here and the airport, there’ll be a whole lot of schlepping of heavy bags. And, as always, Christian and I will have to share the load.
Welcome to our blog. Each blog contains an insight into your relationship and how to mend or grow it drawn from Christian's 18 years of clinical experience working in psychiatry. They are told as stories. The central ideas are in bold. All the pictures are originals. We post every fortnight and would love to hear your comments. Looking forward to travelling with you in this amazing journey called life.