What is Trauma’s Impact on Relationship Development?
Relationships are integral to the human experience. They bring us joy, gratitude, support, and improve our emotional awareness. But while relationships can boost mental wellbeing, some people who struggle with mental distress find themselves in strained relationships. Oftentimes, the most important relationships in our lives—like romantic relationships or marriages—aren’t able to grow or flourish when one person is dealing with trauma.
Trauma is a common mental health condition that many people have experienced in one form or another. Data from the National Council found that about 70% of American adults have experienced a traumatic event at least once in their lives. That accounts for nearly 223.4 million people. The rate of trauma in children and young adults is just as alarming.
If you’ve experienced trauma that is impacting your relationships, know that it’s completely normal. It doesn’t mean that you’re a bad partner or friend. It doesn’t mean you should avoid your loved ones or hesitate to form new relationships. In this post, I’ll share some ways that you can overcome your trauma and improve the most important relationships in your life.
Types of Trauma That Can Hinder Relationships
First, let’s talk about the different forms of trauma that can impact relationships. Traumatic events can happen at any point in your life, and they often stick with you, especially if you don't address those emotions. Partner-related trauma, such as domestic, sexual, or mental abuse are often the biggest culprits of relationship issues.
However, that’s not to say that non-partner related trauma can be just as detrimental. For instance, losing a loved one, enduring a serious illness, getting into a car accident, witnessing violence, or experiencing neglect can all interfere with relationships. Oftentimes, children who experience trauma will hold onto those issues into their adult years, when they start to develop more mature relationships.
For example, a child who was neglected by their parents might struggle with attachment to a romantic partner later in life. They’re conditioned to believe that people close to them will leave, so they’re constantly fearful that their partner will abandon them, even if they have no evidence that will happen.
The same goes for loss. If a teenager tragically loses their best friend in a serious car accident. The event was so traumatic, that they’re anxious every time they ride in a car. Maybe that person becomes extremely afraid every time their partner drives to work in the morning, for fear that they too will get into a serious accident and lose their life.
There are many different ways that trauma can manifest itself in a relationship. Your behaviors and moods have a direct impact on the people around you, and negative emotions can cause tension that is difficult to dissipate. Those feelings can lead to disagreements, communication issues, and even withdrawal.
How to Work Through Trauma to Improve Relationships
Trauma can be a real threat to relationships, but just because you suffer from trauma, doesn’t mean it has to affect your relationships. You’re loved and appreciated as you are, with or without your trauma. To mend your relationships, you need to work through your trauma, communicate with your partner, and focus on developing healthier behaviors. Here are some ways to get started.
1. Address your trauma
In order to strengthen your relationship, you need to address your trauma head-on. If it’s something you’ve been avoiding, now is the time to open up and tell your partner. You don’t need to share every single detail, but it’s important to explain the root cause of your trauma, when it occurred and how it makes you feel. Remember that your partner wants to support you, so being open about your trauma will help them do that.
2. Work on communication
Good communication is essential in any relationship. When one person is dealing with trauma or another mental health issue, communicating is even more important. When you’re struggling with negative emotions or are being triggered by certain situations, speak up, and talk about it with your partner. Help them understand how you’re feeling and why. If they are causing your distress, they need to know about it so they can change their behavior.
3. Establish trust
Like communication, trust is another pillar of a healthy relationship. A loving partner understands that your trauma is a sensitive topic, but it’s something you need to talk about in order to feel better. Make sure you’re constantly working to build and strengthen trust in your relationship so you feel safe and secure discussing your emotions. You should also encourage your partner to speak about their own emotions, so no one is ever hiding their true feelings.
4. Practice self-care
Relationships are a two-way street, but when it comes to healing from trauma, it’s something you need to take into your own hands. One of the best ways to do that is to practice self-care. Any healthy activity that renews your spirit and recharges your energy counts as self-care. It could be something physical, like a weekly manicure, but it could also be a daily meditation practice. Cooking, art, yoga, exercise, and volunteering are also great ways to reconnect with your inner self and make you feel good.
5. Get therapy
Working through your trauma alone is important and often effective. But getting professional treatment will give you the tools to cope with your emotions in a more healthy and productive way. Attending regular therapy sessions is a great way to work on yourself so you can improve your relationship with your partner. During treatment, a therapist can also assess any other mental health issues you might be struggling with that could be hindering your ability to recover successfully.
Trauma is a serious mental health condition. It can impact every area of your life, especially your relationships. Overcoming your trauma starts with you, and getting therapy is the best way to start the healing process. Contact me to learn more about my experience treating trauma and what you can expect in a typical trauma therapy session.