Posted on February 11, 2020
Trauma can deeply impact romantic relationships. Discover tips on loving a trauma survivor in a supportive and constructive way.
All trauma leaves its mark and can have a profound impact on individuals and relationships. Loving a trauma survivor can be challenging at times. But, when you’re equipped with the right tools, you can find an opportunity to support your partner’s experience, while simultaneously strengthening your bond. A therapy matching service can connect you with a professional to help you navigate your relationship.
One of the most critical aspects of human life is our relationships with one another. Connecting with other people, whether it be romantic, familial, or friendly, is one of the most powerful abilities we possess. They allow us to share experiences, feel love, inspire us to be better, and offer the companionship that everyone needs to thrive. However, no matter how rewarding they are, relationships are never easy. When two individuals with unique histories and experiences come together, it typically takes time and effort to figure out what parts mesh and what needs to live in parallel.
It can be particularly challenging to build a relationship when one partner has experienced childhood trauma or otherwise. Residual anger, fear, and other negative thoughts, feelings, and behavior will almost always inevitably arise with triggers, both known and undiscovered.
However, while trauma often presents unique difficulties for partners, your relationship also offers unique opportunities for support and healing. Engaging in the healing process with your partner, who is a trauma survivor, can enhance your loved one’s well-being and create a healthier, more loving connection between you both.
A strong foundation of support for loving a trauma survivor is rooted in belief, acceptance, communication, removing yourself from the equation, and remembering to maintain your well-being, so that you can better participate in your partner’s healing process. Seeking out a professional that specializes in trauma focused therapy is a healthy way to support your loved one while also supporting yourself. However, here are some tips that will help your relationship.
1. Believe A Trauma Survivor
It seems like an inherent part of being in a relationship, trusting and believing your partner, but when it comes to post-traumatic stress, it might bring up challenges. Some of that may arise from the fact that many trauma survivors have a deep fear of being disbelieved. They may have had past experiences where their trauma was minimized or denied.
Denial of the trauma doesn’t necessarily come from a bad place. It could happen as a response to protect yourself from the reality of the awful situation or traumatic event your loved one had to endure. It will always be painful to hear your partner’s story of living with complex PTSD, and perhaps even challenge your moral compass. It can be hard for a logical person to fully believe when the survivor’s story is incomplete or inconsistent. Remember, trauma alters memory; that’s normal. Still, it is critical to believe your partner unconditionally. Disbelief can be profoundly hurtful and potentially re-traumatizing, affecting how the survivor trusts people outside your partnership. If you find yourself unable to do this, you may want to examine your own impulse and reaction. There may be issues for you both to tackle.
Trauma can manifest itself in many different ways that can be disturbing for a partner of a trauma survivor. It’s often confusing for the partner without trauma to understand how or why their loved one is acting or feeling a certain negative way. It’s normal to want to jump in and “fix” the bad feelings and make them go away. Who wouldn’t want to help their partner feel better by taking away their pain? No one likes periods of unrest. However, this is a mistake when dealing with a trauma survivor. Healing from trauma or post-traumatic stress takes time; it can’t be corrected in a matter of hours or days.
Instead of trying to fix your partner, you can show your support by listening and validating their feelings, without offering solutions or interjecting your thoughts and opinions. Simply saying, “I hear you,” can be enough.
For any relationship, communication can make or break a connection. However, when your partner is living with complex PTSD, communicating becomes even more critical. Unfortunately, the trauma can become a wedge in this essential part of your relationship. This is because pain and trauma can leave long-term damage to how your partner feels, thinks, and behaves. Many times that means that your trauma survivor cannot express themself due to fear, shame, or an environment that suppressed emotion. It can also be a challenge because you struggle with the indirect impact your partner’s trauma has on the relationship and you. Remember to try not to take things too personally. It’s possible that misunderstandings and difficulty communicating can lead to hurt feelings, confusion, and resentment. If your partner isn’t ready to disclose their traumatic experience and be open, don’t push them. Likewise, make sure to cultivate a safe and supportive environment if and when they do decide to share their traumatic memories.
Supporting a partner in healing from trauma can take a toll on your emotional well-being, and it’s often best for the relationship to find help together as a couple in addition to individual mental health work. Trauma focused therapy can not only help reduce your partner's traumatic memories, but can also help you to release some of your own stress or concerns. Participating in your partner’s recovery is healing for your partner, and helpful in understanding the symptoms of their behavior. At the same time, you have to remember to take your well-being into account and seek out your own mental health support, independent of your partner.
For help seeking a therapist matching service, speak with a professional at Advekit today!
Alison LaSov, LMFT
Alison LaSov is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist with experience treating clients struggling with anxiety and depression. She predominantly focuses on mental health intervention for children and adolescents, particularly those who are in crisis. She has worked within the Los Angeles education system treating students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), as well as supervised a non-profit Teen Crisis Hotline out of Cedars-Sinai Hospital. Alison earned her B.A. from UCLA and M.A. from Pepperdine University. She is a native to Los Angeles and co-founder at Advekit.