How to be in a Relationship When One of You Is Healing from Trauma or Abuse
by The Mystical Sister
When an adult enters psychotherapy, they are actively taking on a massive task: re-routing their psyche toward healthy pathways and creating a safe and firm structure for themselves.
This task is not an easy one. It can render a person raw. It may be difficult for them to tell a partner what they’re going through. Simple things like being around people who are drinking, yelling or even cursing can trigger a person who has survived abuse. This can cause them to appear confused, withdrawn or angry.
A person who is working through a traumatic event or childhood sometimes finds it hard to do simple things such as feed themselves, put on clothes or answer a telephone. Dealing with everyday struggles can feel insurmountable when faced with raw, unexpected emotions. Dating is complicated enough, but when you add the struggle of trauma into the mix, things can become outright volatile.
That’s why people who are actively working on their mental state need to be open and honest about the amazing and brave work they are doing. When you are dating, it’s especially important to know that you have a safe space with your romantic partner, regardless of circumstance.
People that are undergoing therapy or healing are working extremely hard to correct patterns that may be very old. They may have endured years of being put down or told that they weren’t good enough, yelled at, being touched inappropriately or not being fed enough food. Often, adults who survived childhood abuse have been pawns in elaborate mind games between family members and have a hard time trusting and opening up. Or they can open up too much; now that someone is listening, there is no end to the river of tears they can finally cry.
This, of course, scares a lot of potential partners off. Sometimes it is because the potential partner doesn’t want the abuse to leave a mark on their own lives. Sometimes they don’t understand because they had a supportive and loving home and a hot meal every night.
This lack of support changes the perspective radically for those who are healing from abuse; sometimes it’s harder to accept that parents or caretakers failed them, and that they’re left to pick up the broken pieces. The healing process can seem endless.
If you’re a trauma survivor entering a relationship, it’s important for the partner to be aware of how emotions and feelings can come across differently. It is very easy for the healing partner to unwittingly “fly off the handle,” cry or isolate. They may have good days where they seem happy — and bad days where taking the train to work can trigger a whole set of emotions that change how survivors interact with their partners.
It’s imperative our partners always come to the table with kind words and unlimited understanding. Often when working through abuse or trauma, a survivor will act out the same patterns as the people who traumatized them in the first place.
Under the guidance of good therapist or healer, this process eventually tapers off as the frightened parts of the psyche are identified and healed. But the journey there is a long one — and a partner must be able to actively hold space for their loved one throughout the process. This can be extremely difficult. The partner must keep in mind that the survivor is seeing life through a different lens, and that most likely it is not a reflection of them of something they are doing wrong.
Partners can also help by making sure the survivor feels safe, and by taking them to substance-free events where people are calm and not acting violent or yelling. More often than not, where there was trauma and abuse in a household, there was alcohol. Something as simple as being round adults drinking can be triggering. So many triggers can take survivors back to an unsafe place in their minds. This can bring up anger, sadness the need to withdraw or burst into a manic happiness for no reasons. They may cry quietly or have an angry outburst.
Likewise, survivors who are working to heal a trauma must be very careful when choosing a partner, and should only spend time with people who will hold respect and love for them at all times. It is so important to interrupt the patterns that may draw survivors into more abusive relationships — and not to get involved with people who are dependent on alcohol or drugs. Survivors need to be able to heal themselves enough to attract healthy people into their lives.