Couples Counselling: Their Trauma Becomes Our Shared Journey

In this discussion, we explore the intricacies of trauma within relationships. To start, let’s define trauma—it’s essentially unresolved negative experiences from one’s past that significantly affect a person. To cope, our psyche tends to bury these experiences deep within the subconscious mind. However, they persist, and unless addressed at some point, they continue to impact the individual. They resurface when triggered, causing feelings of overwhelm and underlying anxiety. Often, individuals project their trauma onto external factors—whether their own bodies or aspects of the world that terrify or trouble them. In essence, this is a simplified explanation of what trauma entails.

While much has been written about how trauma influences attraction in relationships (often referred to as “shadow work” due to its hidden nature), I want to focus on a scenario I’ve encountered while working with some couples. When one person carries a significant burden of trauma while the other does not, it can strain the relationship. The traumatized person frequently experiences triggers that manifest within the relationship, involving the partner who doesn’t share the same trauma.

So, how do we navigate this? Many relationships face challenges when the partner without trauma feels unable to endure the behaviour resulting from their partner’s trauma. Another possibility is that the traumatized partner tries to preserve the relationship. However, trauma often leads to isolation, blame, disconnection, and difficulty in committing to a healthy relationship, leaving them wondering why?.

The encouraging aspect is that trauma can be addressed, particularly within a relationship, but it demands extra effort and resources to prevent it from affecting the relationship negatively. I recently came across a phrase that struck a chord with me: “Her trauma is now your trauma.” This statement underscores the notion that in a relationship, you are not adversaries but teammates, working together to strengthen your bond. Or it means that unless you go on a healing journey together and see it as a joint effort, they will recreate the trauma in the relationship with you as the main protagonist!

The crucial question then becomes, how can we be better team players? How can we support our partner’s journey toward healing when they carry trauma? It is imperative for the partner without trauma to be actively engaged in this process. Naturally, the person with trauma must be willing to confront it, acknowledge it, and comprehend its impact on themselves and the relationship. Yet, the role of the partner is equally significant.

Relationships are challenging even without the presence of trauma, given issues related to power dynamics, trust, and vulnerability. These challenges are magnified when trauma is involved. So, what can a partner do when their loved one has trauma, to support the healing process instead of inadvertently hindering it?

To be effective in this role, it’s essential to recognize that when you enter a relationship with someone who carries trauma, you willingly embrace their struggles as part of your shared journey. Together, you embark on a path toward healing. This acceptance represents a profound step for the traumatized individual, as it allows them to let others in and feel secure in their vulnerability.

This can be the first challenge for the partner with trauma. The defences around the hurt are such that this person wants to isolate themselves and push away their partner and anyone else who might help them. The trauma can take on a life of its own within the psyche of the traumatised person and will try and re-create its pain within the relationship, using the partner as the perpetrator to become a self-fulfilling prophesy. Recognising and protecting against this relationship sabotage is a big step in protecting the integrity of the relationship and moving towards healing.

In conclusion, the partner’s commitment to delving into the dark and often painful depths of their loved one’s trauma can be a profound source of healing. This required awareness, courage, and willingness on the part of both partners. Together, as a team, you can confront the shadows and ultimately discover the light within your relationship.

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