5 Tips To Support Your Spouse When They Have Experienced Trauma
Updated: Mar 28
Trauma: a disordered psychic or behavioral state resulting from severe mental or emotional stress or physical injury
When we marry or not, we commit the entire being of our partner: family, friends, profession, income, credit, kids, no kids, quarks, idiosyncrasies, humor, mood swings, morning person or night owl, wine connoisseur, juice drinker, allergic to water drinker, you name it. This mixed bag may also include trauma that your partner experienced at some point in their life, which may continue to be a struggle.
The following are five tips that may greatly benefit increasing the support of your partner -and your person in the process. Please be advised that this article is in no way intended to substitute for treatment with a professional mental health provider or higher level of care services if needed.
Seek professional help: Encourage and support your partner to participate in professional mental health services with a licensed clinician experienced in trauma treatment. The safety of the therapeutic setting provides the opportunity to identify, understand, process, and manage the trauma response behaviors and symptoms. Therapy with a trained licensed professional is a wonderful, supportive, and caring space where the effects of trauma can be approached with compassion, its effects managed and at times fully healed.
Learn to recognize the symptoms of trauma. Learning the trauma symptoms can be a win-win for you and your partner. Knowing what your partner's trauma response looks like can explain a lot. And it may minimize the stress you may experience knowing that your partner is not angry or disappointed by you, but rather in a state of trauma response. Common symptoms: intrusive thoughts, nightmares, flashbacks, intense emotional distress, detachment, foreshortened future, hopelessness, difficulty concentrating, hypervigilance, avoidance of triggering thoughts and activities, anhedonia, and increased use of numbing substances.
Examples of a trauma response episode:
You and your partner may be at a social gathering or among family members at home enjoying an evening in. Suddenly, your partner appears to retreat from others by becoming quiet, detached, and with visible angry or sad facial expressions. You may think they no longer have interest in you or others, yet what they are experiencing at that moment may be flooding -i.e., intense emotional distress, and their way of managing it is to shut down.
Learn to recognize symptoms of a trauma you, as the partner, may experience, commonly known as second-hand trauma. Exposure to your partner's trauma can also cause a toll on your personal emotional and mental health. Understanding its effects on your person is significant because it provides increased clarity and understanding of your behaviors and stressors.
Symptoms of second-hand trauma include Anxiety - when it seems like your partner is a different person now. • Confusion over your partner's inconsistent moods • You feel compelled to "fix" your partner • Anger at your partner for not controlling their own explosive emotions. • Hurt that your partner is withdrawing from you. Bewilderment with your partner's flashbacks or amnesia. • Frustration when your partner avoids triggering places and activities. • Hurt that your partner can no longer share positive emotions. • Grief that your partner can no longer dream about the future. • Resentment if your partner wants quiet. • Fear that your partner may suicide.
Have a heart-to-heart with your partner: All couples have a unique communication style. Use your language to tell your partner you are on their side and suggest a plan you can make together. If you feel you are a team, it can help lessen second-guessing what to do or how to fix the issue. Tackling this as a team may help to reduce the belief that trauma controls your lives. You are prompting a strengthening of your bond and your hope for the future.
Use relaxation techniques together as a team: Regularly incorporating small yet impactful grounding and relaxation techniques will provide a respite from the effects of trauma. Examples: going for a walk, exercising, watching funny tv shows, calling a trusted friend or family member, and spending time outdoors -(It's incredible how much our emotions can be regulated with reduced Anxiety by spending time outdoors)! Take a trip to Barnes and Noble or Amazon, where you can find various books in the clearance section to provide visual ideas for creating an in-home spa day to encourage self-care. You can use the ideas given one by one as a reminder that self-nurturance feels nice, is deserving, and will help you and your partner create a new language on the road to betterment!
We'd like to recognize the hardship and ongoing trauma stress, and I have the deepest sympathy. Although trauma response may appear impossible, it can be overcome with a sound support system and sometimes by going to therapy!
The Gottman Method To Treating Affairs and Trauma