Have you ever felt shocked or overwhelmed by something that threatened your physical health, or involved threat of death or serious injury? Maybe a car accident, the loss of a child, a mass shooting, or a robbery. Add to this list, significant emotional loss, and all types of abuse as part of your experience. These are examples of trauma. They involve either experiencing or witnessing violence towards others or yourself. In other words, trauma can be direct or indirect. And trauma impacts around 8 million people each year in the US.
When trauma happens, a supportive person or group can help you immediately cope. Sometimes without support, you can develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress which could impact your relationships.
Couples can be very affected by trauma experiences when they involve one or both partners. If trauma is not recognized, it can create strain or tension in a relationship. So, acknowledge the trauma and do not shut your partner out.
A first step towards healing is to be aware of the trauma experiences each partner has faced. Once you are aware, show empathy and agree to face the trauma experiences in order to heal.
Here are 5 important steps for couples:
- Accept that the trauma happened and may be impacting your relationship. Trauma can trigger negative emotions, behaviors and can create a lack of trust in the relationship if you don’t acknowledge what happened.
- Give the person time. The bigger the trauma, the more numb a person might be. Since trauma involves loss, respecting the person’s timeline to process the trauma is important. We all grieve differently and at our own pace.
- Acknowledge your body and connect to feelings you may be carrying around. Talk about how you feel trauma in your body. Does your neck get sore, your legs feel heavy, do you feel pressure in your chest, etc. Attending to bodily feelings is part of the recovery process, so tune in and talk about this. One helpful way to address those bodily feelings is movement–exercise, walking and being physical.
- Consider Trauma-Informed Couples Therapy. This type of therapy will help you trust, communicate, and connect with your partner. In the work, you identify triggers in your relationship, learn to emotionally regulate, build awareness, self-care and more. This type of therapy addresses what happened to you and will help you understand the coping skills, defense mechanisms and protective parts you bring to the relationship. Then you can make changes.
- Transform the trauma into something you can use for good. For example, if you were hit by a drunk driver, start an awareness group or a community campaign against drinking and driving. Think about how Joni Eareckson Tada transformed her tragic diving accident to a global ministry helping those with disabilities. God can use our painful experiences to provide comfort and compassion to others going through similar experiences. Read the stories of Joseph and Job. They too suffered many traumas, but God used both for His glory. He can do the same for you. Get help and get healed.