Unpack Your Relationship Baggage

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More Ex Hexes

Ex Hex 2: "He's bound to cheat on me." Lonnie Barbach, PhD, a psychologist and author of Going the Distance: Finding and Keeping Lifelong Love (Plume, 1993), says that most of us have good instincts about our partners' fidelity. The great exception: People who've been cheated on. "Someone who has been burned might not be able to trust their instinct," says Barbach. "They see affairs everywhere and they are not able to clearly judge."

Instead of jumping to conclusions about your new man, Harris says that you need to look at your bad experience as just that: experience. "You need to store it in your mind not as baggage, but as data. So instead of this big bulging suitcase you have a little laptop bag." Ask yourself: What did I learn? What could I have done better? What were the things I never could have predicted in a million years? Then do a sober analysis of the current situation. Are there unexplainable hang-ups? Mysterious receipts from romantic restaurants? Weird excuses as to why he can only see you on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays between 7 and 11 p.m.?

If not, then chances are your man is faithful and should be treated that way. After all, if he's constantly being punished for a crime he didn't commit, he might figure he may as well do the deed.

Ex Hex 3: "I don't satisfy him in bed." Christine, 38, from Kansas City, Missouri, grew up with very strict parents and never started dating until college. This left her feeling insecure about sex, and her tepid relationship with her first boyfriend, Marcus, didn't help. "He told me that I was the kind of girl you marry, not the kind you have hot sex with," she said.

So after she met her husband, Christine tried to overcompensate by trying every sex act in the book. "At first he loved it," says Christine. "But the problem was I was still not enjoying it myself, and eventually he figured that out." But things did improve dramatically when she told her husband where all this ambition was coming from. "He was floored that any man wouldn't think I was sexy, and I realized that I was assuming that Marcus had the last word on my sex appeal. Once I realized that wasn't true, things changed dramatically," says Christine.

Lou Paget, author of The Great Lover Play Book (Gotham, 2005), says there are other ways to keep old lovers from haunting the bedroom. First and foremost: Get rid of the bed, along with any old sheets or lingerie. "Treat the whole thing like it's new and you're both beginners," says Paget. "Because you are."

Ex Hex 4: "I'm doomed to get dumped." Anna, 39, from Brooklyn, New York, had had a crush on Howard for years. So when he asked her out, she was thrilled -- and terrified. "I was constantly fretting that he would dump me, and surprise-surprise -- he did," she says.

After she was jilted, Anna engaged in a lot of negative self-talk about why she didn't measure up. "I decided that he thought I was really selfish. Howard was really politically active and so I imagined he met some beautiful 25-year-old at a clear-air rally. Then it finally hit me: If I felt bad about myself because I didn't do any kind of volunteer work, then I should do volunteer work," she says. After that, Anna organized a small fund-raiser for her favorite charity. When the event was over, she realized she no longer felt bad about herself.

Anna discovered life's best defense against low self-worth -- be the kind of person that you admire. "I always tell my patients, it's called self-esteem, not Kevin-esteem," says Lise Van Susteren, MD, a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University.

Learning to unpack your personal Samsonite won't just help your own psyche; it'll also help you empathize with your new man. "Because guess what?" says Harris. "That guy you're dating? He's standing there with a suitcase and garment bag, too."


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