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Just as cuts and wounds mar our outward appearance, trauma leaves an enduring mark on a person’s life. It changes how they react to people and circumstances. Whether the trauma happened in the past or just a few weeks ago, traumatic experiences are hard to overcome. For many people need professional counseling to find healing.
If you are the spouse of a trauma survivor, you undoubtedly want to support and help them. To do so, you’ll need a combination of understanding, empathy, patience and compassion.
Understanding and Loving a Trauma Survivor
Trauma can result from any experience that’s intensely disturbing or creates significant feelings of distress and emotional pain. Many situations can lead to trauma, from abuse to war to natural disasters. While professional counseling can help your spouse learn to live with trauma, your love and support go a long way as well.
When Your Spouse Experiences Trauma as an Adult
A traumatic event can happen at any time and anywhere. This experience can take many forms, including physical or sexual abuse, an assault or witnessing the terror of violence. One of the most prevalent forms of adult trauma happens among veterans. Military service can result in a condition called post-traumatic stress disorder, where they relive trauma experienced while serving.
When Your Spouse Had Childhood Trauma
Sadly, children can also experience trauma with far-reaching consequences that extend into adulthood. Childhood trauma usually occurs when a young person is abused, neglected or mistreated by someone who should have cared for them. Trauma experienced as a child can impact future relationships with loved ones and family members.
How Trauma Impacts Individuals and Couples
Traumatic experiences of the past have a way of bleeding into the present. Your spouse may experience:
- Mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders or self-harm
- Fear of losing or being abandoned by those they love
- Neediness in your relationship and relationships with others
- Perfectionism or a fear of failing
- Defensiveness when feeling criticized
- An unhealthy need to please others while ignoring their own needs
- Emotional reactiveness to seemingly small events
- Avoidance of intimacy
- Difficulty controlling their responses
- Impaired impulse control
- A substance use disorder that they use to cope
All of these issues can impact your marriage.
How to Support a Spouse Who Is a Victim of Trauma
Supporting your spouse through trauma is never easy. They may never fully move past what has happened. However, you can still create a beautiful relationship of trust, love and growth. Going forward, your encouragement will help your spouse deal with their personal challenges and find new hope for a better future.
Here are some ways you can be there for your spouse who has survived trauma.
1. Don’t Try to Fix Them
Your job is not to fix your spouse. Even if you do everything right, they must take the necessary therapeutic steps to overcome the impact of serious trauma. Your job is to be there, to comfort and to love.
2. Believe Your Spouse
Sexual assault is an invasive violation that can create trauma coupled with shame, terror and guilt. If you’re not sure how to help your spouse through sexual trauma, believing your partner is a simple act with extraordinary power. Survivors of rape or childhood sexual abuse often fear being disbelieved. When you say, “I believe you,” you empower your spouse and alleviate some of these fears.
3. Encourage Your Spouse to Get Help
Don’t underestimate the need for therapy for trauma-impacted individuals. Your spouse may need to see a specialist trained in trauma so that they can find healthy ways to process, reframe and manage the negative memories and emotions produced by their traumatic experience.
4. Participate in Treatment
Additional couples or marriage counseling can help the two of you develop a healthier, stronger relationship. These sessions will help you learn vital communication skills so that you and your spouse can effectively process their trauma recovery.
Seek Help If Your Spouse Is Using Drugs or Alcohol to Cope With Trauma
Sadly, trauma is often linked to substance use disorders. Many people cope with trauma by using drugs or alcohol. If your spouse is struggling with trauma and a co-occuring addiction, Gateway Foundation can help. Our trauma therapy program offers a safe place where your spouse can transform their pain into hope for a better future, free from addiction. To learn more, please contact us today.