In the last few years, the word trauma has become a bit of a buzzword. It could be because more people are choosing to live life more authentically – whether they are polyamorous, LGBT+, or into kink and BDSM – and as a result, experiencing the traumas that sometimes go hand-in-hand with those things.
Personally, I think it’s because the world is changing the way it understands trauma. Any number of experiences can be perceived and processed as traumatic, especially depending on the individual undergoing the experience.
Nobody is free from trauma – everyone is undoubtedly impacted by some level of trauma at some point or another in their lives. Whether or not that trauma goes on to impact their daily lives is another story.
Of course, traumatic events come in a variety of severity levels, and how a person has been impacted by their traumas depends on a number of factors. Some are able to process and move through minor traumas with few hiccups along the way. For some, trauma experiences result in only a few, easily managed bumps and bruises. For others, unfortunately, the scars run deep.
It can be hard to watch the ones we love go through these difficult times. Managing ourselves and our relationship with a loved one who is deeply impacted by trauma can feel overwhelming, discouraging, and sometimes, impossible.
If you’re in a relationship with someone who is dealing with trauma, and you find yourself wondering where to begin, know this: knowing is half the battle.
Being in a relationship with someone who has experienced severe trauma (recently or in the past) is no walk in the park, but if you’re ready to be a supportive partner for your loved one, the first thing you’ll want to do is study up on trauma.
In general, trauma shows itself as the emotional response that an individual has to traumatic life events. Under the surface, the brain can go through specific changes depending on the specifics of the trauma. It can occur after a onetime event, like being disowned from your family after revealing that you’re gay, or poly, or putting aside a religious belief. It can also occur after a repeated series of events, like being bullied or abused because of who-and-how you choose to love.
If your loved one is dealing with a recent traumatic event, they may be in a state of shock, or even denial at first. If their trauma occurred in the past, then they may be experiencing flashbacks, unpredictable emotions, or even some physical symptoms. One thing to remember is nobody has to earn being traumatized, whether you’re 3 feet underwater or 30 feet underwater, you’re still drowning.
Take some time to learn how trauma generally affects the mind and body. You’ll want to become familiar with common triggers, emotional states, and responses to triggers. Once you’re familiar with these things, work on learning your partner’s specific triggers. If they’re comfortable having a conversation with you about these things, great. If not, then don’t.
Managing your Relationships Post Trauma
Now that you know a little more about trauma, and you understand on some level what your partner may be going through, work to create a plan to support your partner in crisis – not cure or become wholly responsible for – just support. You’ll want to make sure that you’re also taking care of yourself throughout the process. Know your own needs and boundaries. If you’re polyamorous or ethically non-monogamous, you might consider leaning on other partners for support, and if things get really challenging, consider getting a mental health professional involved.
For the relationship to synergize, learn your personal Love Languages, Attachment Styles and Character Strengths (this is a long survey, but when it’s done you can design an awesome date around it). Knowing these things about yourself and your partner can help you make sure that you both feel loved, supported, and taken care of during this difficult time.
If you need additional support, please feel free to reach out and schedule a free, brief consultation with me. Guidance from a trained mental health professional such as myself can make all the difference when supporting a loved one through trauma.