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Navigating Trauma Together- 2023

Navigating Trauma Together

Reading Time: 4 Minutes

Navigating Trauma Together: Supporting Your Partner’s Healing Journey and Establishing Healthy Boundaries 

Trauma comes in all shapes, forms, and sizes, from emotional trauma in childhood and physical trauma from a gruesome accident to trauma from intimate partner violence and intergenerational trauma. If your partner has experienced trauma, you most likely have noticed that they are easily triggered, and your partner’s day can easily influence the outcome of your day.  

No matter how deep or fresh their wounds are or how many years they have been in therapy, their past trauma cannot be erased, and they may never just “get over it”. However, they can move through their trauma, and you, as their partner, can help them move through this trauma while also setting healthy boundaries for yourself.  

Does the source of their trauma matter? 

To support your partner in the best way that you can, it is essential to understand a little bit about trauma. As mentioned, trauma can stem from anywhere and affect each person differently. For example, two people who experienced the same trauma (think siblings and childhood trauma) may react differently in adulthood. Maybe one sibling is unaffected, whereas the other sibling struggles daily with trauma.  

A traumatic event that causes you a low level of distress can be extremely traumatic for someone else. How an event affects an individual depends on many factors, including individual characteristics, the type and characteristics of the event(s), developmental processes, the meaning of the trauma, and sociocultural factors. With that said, the source of the trauma doesn’t matter when it comes time to how much support your partner needs. How your partner displays their symptoms and the severity of these symptoms does matter, but you should not measure their trauma based on the severity of the event itself.  

How can you show empathy? 

Empathy begins with understanding that you may not understand why your partner is traumatized. Maybe you do not understand their trauma and reactions to the traumatic event, but what matters is that you validate their feelings and create space for them, regardless of whether you understand. You must never trivialize their trauma by saying things such as “That wasn’t that bad” or “Can’t you just get over it”. This is a toxic positivity mindset and can cause emotional harm.  

Empathy means learning about trauma, creating space for your partner, validating their feelings, listening to your partner, and engaging in activities that help you self-soothe during difficult times. Empathy is not about you but rather about them.  

Do you recognize their triggers? 

Helping your loved one work through their trauma means learning to recognize their triggers. Triggers come in all shapes and sizes. They can be events, people, places, memories, or nightmares that come suddenly. While it is your partner’s responsibility to react and cope with their triggers in a healthy manner, you can help them avoid triggers, especially when they are not in a good place mentally. First, talk to your partner about their triggers. Ask them about specific places and people that trigger them and how you can help avoid these triggers. It is also essential to catch early signs of distress in your partner. For example, do they become angry, anxious, or quiet when they become distressed? If you notice that your partner is showing early signs of distress, you can step in and help them self-soothe.  

Do you have the power to soothe them? 

 Soothing comes in all shapes and sizes. It can be as simple as listening to your partner, offering a hug, going for a walk, planning something fun to ease their mind, cooking them dinner, doing yoga, or meditating with them. By planning fun activities, you may be able to re-wire some traumatic thoughts or triggers by associating bad days with fun activities.  

Trauma lives in the back of people’s minds, nonstop, but you have the power to create a distraction. A fun day will not necessarily heal your partner, but it can provide a bonding experience to help them deal with isolation and self-doubt. Again, it is not your responsibility to handle your partner’s trauma or tell them how to manage it, but you can show your partner that you are willing to understand and try to help them when they are in distress.  

How do you set your own boundaries? 

It is important to keep yourself in mind when you are with a partner working through their trauma. Supporting your partner through their trauma can take an emotional and mental toll on your mind and spirit, especially if your partner is prone to lashing out during bad moments or hard days. Setting boundaries for yourself and your partner can help protect yourself and the relationship. How much support are you able to give yourself before you burn out? What things do you need to nourish yourself? You will not be helpful to your partner if you are burned out or in a bad place mentally.  

It is also essential to know what type of treatment to expect from your partner. Are you going to tolerate them lashing out at you regularly? Are you their emotional punching bag? Do they have healthy outlets and support systems besides you? You must be there for your partner, but it is equally important that you are not being mistreated and sacrificing your own mental health and happiness.  

Have you encouraged professional help? 

Unfortunately, there is only so much that you can do for your partner to support them through their trauma. You can’t (shouldn’t) be the sole provider of support for your partner. Please encourage them to seek help and start healing with a therapist. Professional help from a licensed and credentialed therapist with experience in trauma-related therapy is the best approach for your partner as they can teach your partner coping methods or guide them through past events to help rewire them. Your partner may not be aware of how therapy can help or may not know how to find the best therapist for their needs, but you can help them through this process.  

Remember that encouragement is vital as you can’t (and shouldn’t) force your partner to seek out a therapist. Some people may feel invalidated by that suggestion, especially if they’re having a bad day. Talk to your partner when they’re not experiencing a trigger and see if they’re comfortable making an appointment with a professional. 

 

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