How Trauma Can Affect Your Relationship

How Trauma Can Affect your Relationship

How Trauma Can Affect your Relationship_ichhori.webP

What Is Trauma?

Trauma is an emotional reaction to a traumatic incident that generates intense dread, uncertainty, helplessness, or detachment. War, natural catastrophes, assault, abuse, violence, and watching death are all examples of traumatic occurrences. According to Jenna Hennessy, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist and instructor of medical psychology (in psychiatry) at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, trauma can affect people in a variety of ways, and the effects can vary from person to person.

If you have gone through a traumatic situation, you may discover that it has impacted you in many ways, including how you relate to your partner. Indeed, according to the American Psychological Association, one of the long-term impacts of trauma is damaged relationships.

Trauma can alter our behavior in the world. It can have an impact on our relationships by altering how we react to ourselves and others.

This article discusses some of the effects of trauma on relationships as well as some coping strategies that you and your partner may find useful.

How Trauma Can Affect Your Relationship

Dr. Hennessy describes some of the ways trauma can influence you and your relationship with your partner below:

Change your mental processes: A traumatic event can alter your perceptions of yourself, others, and your surroundings.

  • Change your thought processes: You may have spent your entire life believing that others are generally trustworthy. If, on the other hand, you have been wounded by someone in a traumatic encounter, you may believe, "I can't trust anyone or let anyone come near to me." This, in turn, will influence how you interact with others, including your relationship.

  • Make you hyperalert: Trauma triggers our brain's fear center, sending us into a fight/flight/freeze response to help us live. However, your brain may remain hyper-alert even after the encounter has ended. You may find yourself reacting to anything your brain perceives as possibly threatening, whether or not there is an actual threat. For example, if you were assaulted while strolling along the street, you could feel frightened if someone accidentally knocks on you.

  • Cause you to feel numb: The opposite of this increased arousal is dissociation, which causes you to feel numb or "dead inside." This is especially common in circumstances of long-term and irreversible trauma, such as childhood abuse. In order to protect us from damage, our brain enters a detached, dissociative state. Trauma can cause a person to swing from one extreme to the other, from hyperarousal to hyperarousal.

  • Lead to avoidance: When you have experienced trauma, you may avoid events or circumstances that remind you of the terrible occurrence. This can have a huge influence on your capacity to operate on a daily basis since it leads you to assume that the only way to feel safe is to shrink your surroundings. As a result, you may miss out on many rewarding encounters.

  • Leave you isolated: Traumatic situations can be extremely isolating since you may find it difficult to express your feelings to others, or you may believe that no one understands what you are going through. These tendencies can lead to relationship distance and social/emotional isolation.

  • Create anger and frustration: Following a traumatic occurrence, you may feel less in control of your emotional/behavioral responses and respond in ways that others believe to be out of proportion to the circumstances. This can irritate or anger others, reinforcing your sense that you will never be understood.

Coping With the Effects of Trauma on Your Relationship

Dr. Hennessy discusses some coping skills for dealing with the effects of trauma on your relationship:

  • Validate your observations: Recognize that what you went through was horrific and that it makes sense that you are still affected by it.

  • Increase self-awareness: Take the time to explain specific ideas, define and label your emotions, and notice your impulses and responses to become more aware of your body and mind's responses to situations/stimuli.

  • Stay present by using grounding tactics: Grounding techniques such as breathing exercises, tapping your finger, or focusing on your five senses can help you stay present at the moment. These strategies can be especially beneficial if you are experiencing flashbacks or dissociation.

  • Co-regulate with your partner as follows: Co-regulation entails utilizing your partner's calming presence to assist you in feeling more regulated and grounded. Your spouse can assist you by speaking in a warm, soothing tone, validating your concern, and modeling breathing or self-soothing techniques that are beneficial to you.

  • Create opportunities for self-efficacy: Schedule predictability and self-agency times throughout the day, where you feel empowered to act from a place of self-efficacy. Your partner can assist you with this by being dependable and consistent, as well as providing you with numerous options and allowing you to choose what is best for you at the time.

  • Seek expert assistance and support: Attend therapy with a clinician who is trained in trauma-informed care. There are skilled therapists that understand what you're going through and how to help. Please speak out if you or someone you care about is suffering from the impacts of trauma.

  • Participate in a support group: Joining a support group for people who have had similar traumatic situations might be beneficial.

Supporting a Partner Who Has Experienced Trauma

Dr. Hennessy discusses some of the emotional reactions you may have if your partner has gone through a horrific experience:

  • Anger at not being able to prevent it: You may be furious and upset that you were unable to prevent the event from occurring, as well as frustrated that you must now live with the consequences.

  • Unsure how to offer assistance: You may find yourself unclear about the "proper" way to assist and be there for your partner.

  • Confusion over your partner's actions: Furthermore, it might be perplexing and frustrating when your partner no longer acts or responds to you in the same manner after a traumatic occurrence.

  • Grief at the loss of particular components of your relationship: When someone discovers that the life they used to enjoy with their spouse no longer exists, they may experience grief. When coping with uncertainties about how to proceed and begin healing, it might be beneficial to lean on others.

Dr. Hennessy advises the following techniques to help your partner if they have been through a terrible experience:

  • Avoid platitudes: Avoid sayings like "everything occurs for a reason" or "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger." Sometimes terrible things happen for no apparent reason, leaving a person feeling like a broken version of themself. The idea that they must be "stronger" or "find purpose" in their trauma can be extremely invalidating, leaving them feeling defeated rather than reassured.

  • Before reacting, take a breather: Before reacting to your partner in anger, irritation, or anguish, take the time to calm down and regulate your emotions.
  • Compassion: Your spouse may not be fully in control of how they respond to a trauma trigger and may require time to let the automatic response out before learning a new way of responding. During this time, be understanding and caring to them.

  • Please be patient: Remember that healing is not a straight line—there will most certainly be ups and downs. Try not to get disheartened.

  • Seek assistance: Attend your own therapy to help you process your emotional reactions to the event as well as the changes in your partner or relationship.

A Word From Ichhori

Traumatic situations frequently result in long-term mental and emotional damage. Trauma can have an impact on every aspect of your life, including your relationship.

Allow yourself time to heal and seek assistance if necessary. Communicate with your partner and allow them to be there for you throughout this time. You can work together to repair your relationship.

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