• How Trauma Can Affect Your Relationship

    Most of us hear about how traumatic experiences leave a lasting impact on soldiers, first responders and victims of crime. But even events that aren’t life-threatening can result in stress that wreaks havoc on intimate relationships.

    Sadly, even fairly commonplace occurrences can create trauma — for example, babies whose parents rarely respond to their cries. Teens who face bullies or cruel authority figures can experience trauma. An affair or betrayal by a trusted partner can also be extremely traumatic.

    The impact of these events is magnified when they occur in the context of social isolation or lack of human support and contact — in other words, the pandemic environment for many people over much of the past year.

    Trauma registers in our brains differently than ordinary memories. If you think about what you had for breakfast this morning, you’ll almost certainly stay calm. Traumatic memories, on the other hand, can be associated with strong physical and emotional responses.

    Since the brain prioritizes survival, it remembers trauma vividly — and in a way that can resurface time and again. The brain wants to remind us not to place ourselves in harm’s way in the future. Unfortunately, these memories can re-activate long after the events pass and when the warning is no longer needed. That’s why you may find yourself suddenly re-living disturbing images, associations and sensations.

    The lingering memory of past events is one way trauma can harm your relationship. Even a particular tone of voice our partner uses may trigger the trauma, resulting in anger and aggression that seems like an over-the-top reaction to the situation at hand.

    Trauma can change our view of the world or ourselves in ways that interfere with our ability to trust and respond to others. This can further isolate us from the people we care about most. Trauma can make the world seem unsafe or dangerous. We may change our view of ourselves, thinking that we are defective — that we are the problem. These negative self-appraisals create even more isolation and emotional deprivation as we push people away or fail to respond to the ones who need us.

    As challenging as trauma can be, there are ways to overcome it. We’re living in a time when society increasingly recognizes the many ways trauma can impact us. Fortunately, there are therapeutic approaches that can alleviate pain and suffering. For example, eye movement, desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is an effective, research-based approach. Emotionally focused couples therapy (EFT), family therapy and individual therapy are also proven ways to treat trauma.

    I’ll share more insights about the causes, effects and treatment of trauma in my next post. In the meantime, Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Bruce Perry have released an informative new book about trauma called What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience and Healing. If you or someone close to you suffers from trauma, I strongly suggest that you read the book and follow this blog for an expanded discussion about trauma and its effect on relationships.

    I also encourage you to seek counseling from a licensed therapist if you feel that your relationship is impacted from the effects of trauma. You can call me at 407-579-2070 for a complimentary couples therapy consultation.

    Therapy services available via Telehealth.