For this Therapist Thursday I am delighted to introduce Natalie, a relationship expert and owner of Baggage Reclaim, a site dedicated to providing relationship advice that goes the extra mile and seeks to enhance the quality of relationships.
What made you decide to start up baggage reclaim?
I had been writing a personal blog where I’d been exploring my ambivalence and catastrophes in dating and an increasing number of people were asking me to share more of my take on relationships. As I started Baggage Reclaim, I’d experienced a major epiphany where I realised that not only did I have a pattern of being unavailable to men, but that I myself was unavailable with some major self-esteem issues. When I started BR, I wanted an alternative to the bland, homogenous content that’s peddled to women about dating and relationships. I wanted to be grittier and not suggesting that ’50 ways to please your man’ was a remotely adequate way of addressing relationship issues.
What is it about baggage reclaim that makes it different from other relationship sites?
I don’t do bullshit so I’m a straight shooter with empathy and humour. It’s really about empowering men and women to have healthier relationships with themselves and others. It would be all too easy to suggest ‘game plans’ or make out like it’s all the other person – at the heart of everything I say is recognising that we have to take the focus off ‘them’ and bring it back to us. It’s all very well having a PhD in someone else, but it’s more important and a more productive use of your time to not only understand why something isn’t working, but why you’re there in the first place and what you can do to change that.
What do you find the most rewarding part of being a relationship expert?
It’s a toss up between having a platform where I can put my thoughts and ideas out there and hearing from or meeting people who feel like I’ve changed their perspective and even their lives.
What are the biggest challenges couples face today?
Assumptions, values, identity and boundaries. The truth is, we carry a lot of BS around with us that goes unchallenged and when we have a lot of assumptions that we’re not communicating and turning into fact or retracting, it means that we’re not truly engaging in our relationships. An alarming number of people that I come across have no concept of values. They think it’s things that they admire in the other person even if there is no real benefit to the relationship. If you don’t share core values which really say who you each are and how you want to live, your relationship will have serious problems. There’s also a lot of people who use the relationship and the other person to ‘make’ their identity – this is a lot to ask of a relationship. You should’ve had an identity before you embarked on this journey together! And then there are boundaries… every person needs and should have them, whereas many don’t. We need to respect our own boundaries and those of others – relationships that have doormats as one of the partners will struggle.
What are your tips for a happy relationship?
Be yourselves in a mutual fulfilling relationship with love, care, trust, respect, shared values, where you’re progressing, committed, intimate, balanced and consistent. Be honest and don’t shy away from it. Be vulnerable because it’s needed for commitment and intimacy. Don’t suppress who each of you really are to appease the other. Don’t expect and assume without communication – if you feel certain things or want something, ask for it instead of taking the passive route. Don’t be complacent and keep talking. Face conflict instead of shying away from it or forecasting doom. Take care of your self-esteem and don’t merge your identities. Listen to one another’s needs – don’t assume you know what you each need, as they may be different things.
How do you think the digital age has affected the quality of relationships?
The digital age has affected the early stages of a relationship a.k.a dating. Lots of people treat meeting others like it’s shopping in a people supermarket with a never-ending supply, there’s a lot of lazy communication instead of forging real communication and intimacy. There’s also too much focus on appearance and superficial stuff, and when we are not as relationship smart as we could be, we can fall into the trap of feeling like we have more of a relationship and a connection than we actually do. I hear from people who have been texting and emailing with someone for several months or even years and they think it’s a relationship!
How have your own relationship experiences shaped the advice you give to those who seek it from you?
Baggage Reclaim is inspired by my own experiences and observations. I’ve taken what I’ve experienced and observed, almost broken it down/reverse engineered it, spotted the patterns, and translated what I’ve learned into relatable advice and lessons.
Thank you for sharing Natalie! If you would like to experience Natalie’s relationship expertise first-hand then visit BaggageReclaim.co.uk