One thing that we know about trauma is that is has an extreme effect on the human mind and body. Trauma can change a person – the way they perceive and understand things, how they react, and how they relate to others – but with help from a trained professional and support from a loving partner, the effects of trauma can be reduced significantly over time, and eventually healed.
If you’re in a relationship with a partner who has recently experienced trauma, don’t be discouraged. There is hope for them, there is hope for you, and there is hope for your relationship.
So far, in this series about supporting a partner through trauma, we’ve covered things like how important it is to do your research and build an understanding of what trauma is, as well as how it can affect a person. Knowing their triggers is key so you can avoid situations that may be harmful to you, your partner, and your relationship. If you and your partner practice kink and BDSM in the bedroom for instance, that might mean avoiding certain scenes that you once enjoyed playing out together.
We’ve also discussed the value in keeping the lines of communication open. Talk to each other about your feelings, and what you want for your relationship. Find ways to keep your love-life alive, and how to be there for each other. If necessary, get a mental health professional involved to help you with managing the conflicts that may arise.
Today’s topic is the last in this series, and the subject is all about monitoring your own experience with the situation – how you respond to your partner’s reactions to trauma, and how you can take better care of yourself through the process.
Check in with Your Own Feelings
When you’re supporting a partner through trauma, it’s easy to get lost in their experience and to neglect yourself and your own needs. This can make it quite difficult for you to remain supportive. You may begin to take things personally or have strong reactions to your partner’s emotions and coping mechanisms.
It’s important to check in with yourself regularly, notice how you’re feeling, pay attention to the interactions that seem to be impacting you, and start setting boundaries. Give yourself permission to take a step back when you need to. It’s okay if your partner’s experience with trauma is beginning to impact you too, but it’s up to you to be aware of how and when it does.
You’re allowed to feel and experience whatever feelings come up for you. You don’t have to sacrifice your own wellbeing for you partner, and ideally, you can find ways to be a supportive partner while taking care of yourself and your needs too. Self-care can go a long way when you’re supporting a partner through trauma. That means eating nutritious meals, getting good quality sleep, drinking plenty of water, making time for exercise, plus, finding other ways to take care of your mental health.
Try to keep yourself in a positive space. Yes, it’s important to let yourself experience whatever negative emotions come up for you, but you don’t want to live in those negative feelings. Find ways to cultivate positive feelings like joy, gratitude, hope, serenity compassion, and love, in whatever ways you can. Maybe that means you try spending more time outside, or start taking yoga classes. Maybe you use music to help uplift and balance your mood, or you lean into the support of other partners and friends. Maybe you start seeing a mental health counselor or increase your session frequency. Just find what works for you and do your best.
In many cases, supporting a partner through trauma can take a negative turn, especially if you begin to overcompensate as a means for dealing with your partner’s situation. Some relationships with trauma can even fall into a pattern of caregiver and care-receiver, parent and child, or guardian and “person who can’t take care of themselves.” This can feel comfortable and natural (if done in a healthy way), or it can activate the drama triangle.
The drama triangle is a situation where both you and your partner focus on the problems rather than the solutions. Your partner may take on the role of victim while you take on the role of rescuer (or persecutor), and in this situation, you may each continually view the other as the problem.
If this is a pattern you’re beginning to notice, you may want to consider getting a professional involved. Working with a mental health counselor can help you shift from a drama triangle to an empowerment dynamic, which is healthier for both you and your partner in the long run.
If you think you might like to explore mental health counseling as you continue to support your partner through trauma, use the tool below to schedule a free, brief consultation with me today. I serve people throughout the state of Texas, and I specialize in working with folks who are polyamorous, ethically non-monogamous, LGBTQ+, or into kink and BDSM.