Send Your Baggage Packing

Carting around several suitcases’ worth of emotional angst from past relationships? Here’s how to get rid of it!

By Chelsea Kaplan

ave your past relationships left you with enough emotional baggage to fill an entire airplane? If so, it’s time to let go of it before your next relationship crashes and burns, says Terri Orbuch, Ph.D., the host of Detroit’s popular “Love Doctor” live television and radio programs. Below, find her tips on how to lighten your load:

Don’t despair—you are not alone
Though you may feel like the only person out there with unhealed scars from previous breakups, everyone else
Try for an anger-free attitude: “We just weren’t compatible.”
has ’em, too. “All people have some amount of baggage associated with past relationships,” says Dr. Orbuch. “It’s the amount of baggage that matters.” While it’s normal to occasionally compare past relationships with your present one, if you find yourself comparing every behavior and quality of a new date to your old flame, it is time to deal with the past, she says. Once you’ve done so, you’ll be able to move forward without the need to constantly revisit the past.

Forge new memories
All couples have their “places” —a favorite restaurant or coffee shop, a regularly-visited shop or a frequently-visited movie theater. Even if you’re still a huge fan of those establishments, when trying to get over an ex, it’s best to avoid visiting them, Dr. Orbuch advises: “It may sound obvious, but many people make the mistake of going to the old places that remind them of the past relationship, which brings the old memories right back.” Additionally, nothing good can come from having old photos, ticket stubs and your ex's clothing hanging around the house. “Putting away the photos and other reminders of your past relationships helps put away the memories,” Dr. Orbuch asserts. Focus on what’s going on in your life now—and creating an exciting future.

Refocus the blame
While you may need an answer as to why a past relationship ended, seeking such confirmation or closure may actually hinder your ability to move past the breakup. “It is important to not blame yourself or your partner for the past breakup,” says Dr. Orbuch. “Instead, blame the relationship or chalk it up to the fact that the two of you just weren’t right for each other.” An anger-free declaration of “We were not compatible” or “We were very different” can often ease you into the adjustment you’ll need to make after your relationship’s end, not to mention letting go of the baggage associated with the past, she says. Staying too invested in the who, what, where and why of the breakup will prevent you from moving on. Find a way to look at what happened, explain it, and move forward.

Express your anger constructively
It’s common to be saddled with baggage associated with the past because you still have unresolved anger about how, why or when a past relationship ended. “It’s OK to feel some anger about the demise of a relationship because it motivates you to move forward with your life,” explains Dr. Orbuch. However, if you don’t deal with that anger constructively, you can’t let go of the past and therefore can’t approach dating with a new, fresh, positive attitude. To deal with your anger in a healthy way, Dr. Orbuch advises logging your feelings in a journal, exercising, or writing a letter to your ex-partner. “If you go the letter route, write down all of what you want to say to your ex, but don’t send it! Throw it away, or put it in a drawer to read later,” she recommends.

Use gender-specific coping strategies
According to Dr. Orbuch, studies show that men and women cope very differently after a relationship breakup or
Refocus on the present, not the past.
divorce and also deal with past baggage very differently: “For women, talking about the breakup (though not endlessly) is very therapeutic and helpful for them. Women call their friends, seek out self-help books, and go to therapists,” she says. “Men, on the other hand, do what I call ‘behavioral coping strategies’—they play sports, work out at the gym, put more energy into their job/work, or start a new hobby.” In her experience, she’s seen that these strategies work well for each sex when they are trying to let their baggage go as well as when they’re dealing with a date who constantly brings up the past.

Get confirmation from friends and family
When you’re still licking the wounds from a breakup, the need for self-protection often causes even the best of us to become revisionist historians and forget why the relationship needed to end. “When going back and asking yourself, ‘Should we have ended it?’ consult your family and friends—they haven’t forgotten why it didn’t work,” advises Dr. Orbuch. When you need a dose of reality, ask them to remind you why your past relationship didn’t work or why it wasn’t right for you.

Seek assistance from a therapist
If you feel overwhelmed by the emotional fallout from your past relationships, don’t be afraid to seek help from a mental-health professional. “If you are really feeling distressed, angry or upset or you feel like the past is preventing you from moving on, I strongly encourage you to seek out the assistance of a counselor or therapist,” Dr. Orbuch advises, noting that another person’s perspective can be extremely helpful when your goal is moving on.

Chelsea Kaplan is deputy editor of and regularly appears as a guest on XM Radio’s “Broad Minded.”
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