Childhood trauma can have several impacts on an individual’s life through adulthood. Like any other type of trauma, childhood trauma is not something that simply disappears with time. It takes a lot of hard work and effort to overcome these traumas. Most of the time, individuals with childhood traumas end up re-creating unhealthy situations and relationships throughout their lives if left unresolved.
Now, since you are here to learn how you can support your partner as they recover from their past traumas, you probably want to know how childhood trauma can affect relationships in particular. In other words, what can you look out for? What challenges may you be facing in your relationship currently that may be a cause of your partner’s childhood trauma?
How Childhood Trauma Affects Relationships
When it comes to relationships, it is critical to recognize trauma’s role in complicating issues. Many times people who have gone through trauma in their childhood will experience increased emotional responses to common relationship issues and struggle to communicate effectively with their partner. They may display withdrawn or distanced behaviors, especially after disagreements, and may even avoid conflict completely whenever possible.
It is also very common for these individuals to constantly doubt their partner’s feelings towards them or think that their partner is actually against them. Many childhood trauma survivors find it difficult to accept love, even if their partners constantly reassure them. All of these things can put immense pressure and strain on a relationship and make it difficult to develop the healthy communication skills needed to be in an intimate relationship.
Unfortunately, many people with childhood trauma may not even know that they have had traumatic experiences and, therefore, not even realize why they have such a hard time with these things. This can place even more strain on a relationship because it may feel like one partner is “causing trouble” for no reason. Luckily, there are ways to recover from childhood trauma and work on creating the healthy communication and relationship skills you want. Keep in mind that recovery is not solely the responsibility of the individual who has experienced trauma. In a relationship, you strive to tackle issues and come up with solutions together, and overcoming childhood trauma should be no different.
How to Support Your Partner
Keep in mind that each person is different, and while the tips we have below are all good general practices when it comes to supporting your partner, you may find that your partner is looking for support in another way. You must communicate with your partner (which is one of our tips here!) to decide the best way you can support them.
Now, without further ado, let’s dive into some of the best ways that you can help support your partner through their recovery journey.
Listen to Them
The first way that you can show your support for your recovering partner is to listen to them. A lot of the time, when someone we love is struggling, we spend most of our time trying to think of solutions. We “listen” to what they are saying and try to craft the perfect helpful or insightful responses. Realistically though, listening with the intent of responding or “solving” an issue is not always what your partner is looking for. Sometimes it is best to simply listen and reflect on your partner’s words.
Show your partner that you are invested in what they have to say, and try to refrain from interrupting or cutting in with any points of your own unless they ask you to. Go into the conversation with the willingness to learn rather than the approach of “solving” or comparing to your own story or someone else you know.
This does not mean that all conversations need to run like this. Sometimes your partner may want a solution, an idea, or even a comparison to something else. A good way to determine what your partner is looking for from a conversation is to simply ask at the beginning: are we looking for solutions or listening?
Now, we’ve talked about listening to your partner, but listening means nothing if you do not believe what your partner is telling you. Many trauma survivors find it incredibly hard to open up about their experiences and seek the support they need. Many individuals fear that they will be dismissed, not believed, or even resented for doing so. Because of this, telling (and showing) your partner that you believe in them and that you are here to support them can be one of the most important things you can do as their partner. You may underestimate how much the words “I believe you” can mean to a survivor of trauma, but they can be everything to these survivors.
Remember also that believing your partner does not just mean believing them about what happened to them in the past, but also understanding that it has affected them deeply, and the effects of that experience are still ongoing. Even if you do not see a clear connection between the event and their current behaviors or emotions, listen to what your partner tells you and believe in their feelings and story.
Keep Up the Communication
Good communication is the key to any healthy relationship. Still, it can be especially hard when your partner has suffered trauma in their childhood, as these traumatic experiences can leave long-lasting scars. So, strive to offer a safe and comforting space for your partner to talk about these things with you and encourage good communication throughout the relationship.
Ask your partner how they feel most supported. Not everyone is comforted by the same types of actions. For example, while you may find a hug when you are upset to be comforting, your partner may not. Your partner may even experience times when they do not want to be touched at all. Do not take these things personally. Your partner would likely love to feel loved and supported by you in a warm embrace, but as they recover from their past experiences, it may be too hard for them. This is not a reflection of their feelings towards you. It is a result of their past trauma. These things can be discussed and worked on with healthy communication and a solid support structure.
Remind your partner that they are no longer in the situation they once were and that you are there for them. Be attentive, but also ensure that you are communicating your feelings. Remember that it is okay to feel frustrated or upset, but focus on how you communicate these feelings with your partner. Aim to restore calm and comfort, even when discussing challenging topics.
Don’t Try to “Fix” Them
As we mentioned earlier, sometimes your partner may be looking more for a shoulder to cry on than a superhero to save the day. It is completely natural for you to want to alleviate their pain and lessen their burden, but the simple truth is that healing from trauma takes time. It takes hard work, validation of their feelings, and the knowledge that they have a loving and caring support system in you and in anyone else that is a part of their healing process. It may be difficult to hear, but there is no quick fix or cure for recovering from trauma. All you can do is be there for your partner in the ways that they need you and support them as they heal.
Consider Your Own Wellbeing Too
There are some times when a relationship may be too much for you. This is okay, you must consider your own well-being as well, and if you are constantly feeling as if you are walking on eggshells or unable to be yourself without any sign of a happier future, then that relationship is not going to be healthy for you. In this type of situation, it is best for you to leave the relationship and focus on finding a fulfilling relationship for your own needs.
If you are feeling fulfilled in your relationship, but some things are too much for you to handle on your own, it can also be a great idea to seek professional help for you, your partner, or both of you from a therapist. Remember, your role in a relationship is to be a partner, not a therapist. If your partner needs more support than you can give them, then consider talking to them about seeing a therapist.
If you, your partner, or both of you are considering therapy to help you through this challenging journey of recovery, please do not hesitate to reach out to us at Love Heal Grow to get in touch with a therapist who can provide that extra level of support that you need.