Trauma happens. It’s not something people often talk about. Possibly, someone you’ve been getting to know and like, your relationship partner, or your spouse has experienced a horrific life changing event, such as a sudden or violent death or suicide of someone close, physical or sexual abuse, bullying, violence, (domestic or family, war or political), a life-threatening illness, or something else.
Healing takes both time and a willingness to face the trauma, whether it’s old, recent, large, or small. We cannot force readiness to deal with trauma. Each of us has our own timetable, which should be respected.
The Power of Empathic Listening
The best thing you can do as a relationship partner is to be available to listen when the trauma survivor needs to and is ready to talk. We can’t overestimate the power of simply being there for another person, showing quiet empathy. Encouraging remarks, such as “That much have been so hard for you to have gone through _________ (say what the person experienced), or ““I hear you saying this is really hard for you right now,” show empathy.
He (or she) may fear he has burdened or disturbed you by talking about his experience. He’s likely to feel relieved and validated if you thank him for sharing it with you.
Therapy Can Support Recovery
Various therapy approaches help people recover from trauma. EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) helps many people heal from the emotional distress resulting from disturbing life experiences. People also benefit from telling their story to a skilled therapist who validates them for having survived and thrive the extent that they have. They gain a sense of wellness and the ability to move forward in life.
How Trauma Affects Close Relationships
If someone with whom you’re involved is haunted by a past traumatic event — or if you are — the strain can cause an avoidance of or decrease in emotional or physical intimacy, isolation, feelings of frustration, anger, confusion, sadness, or increased anxiety. Both partners may feel helpless, argue more frequently, and find it difficult to resolve problems.
How to Respond Constructively
It’s easy to take these behaviors personally. Even if you’re feeling frustrated, avoid criticizing or complaining. It’s better to view the stressed person’s actions as symptoms of a disease from which he hasn’t yet adequately healed.
You may want to “cure” him right now, but that’s not possible. So accept that you cannot fix him.
Also, you might find yourself making assumptions about how the person wants to relate to you. Doing so can put the two of you at cross purposes. It’s much better to ask him how he feels about whatever you’re thinking he might want to do. For example, you might ask if he feels like taking a walk with you, sitting quietly together, or taking space for himself by doing something alone.
Do You Need to Heal?
The need to heal may also apply to you. Hearing about a relationship partner’s trauma might bring forth feelings about a trauma you’ve been through. But put that aside when hearing about his experience, so that you can be fully present for him. Softly, try to let him get it all out. Your story will be for another conversation.
Ideally, healing should be well on the way before you commit to marriage. You don’t want a lifelong relationship with a partner whose symptoms turn your life upside down. But it’s never too late to recover from trauma. You’ll be much happier with someone who’s processed enough of his trauma be a kind, loving partner. If you are still experiencing the aftermath of a traumatic event in your own life, and this is affecting your ability to create a good relationship, this could be the time for you to arrange for healing that’s needed.