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Before You Leave, Look Into Your Trauma

August 18, 2016

It has been said that there are four stages of a marriage, or a long-term committed relationship: romance, disillusionment, misery, and awakening.

Most of us declare life-long commitments to our partners after a whirlwind romance, convinced that “this time everything is different” and that you’re both sure to live in the same state of mutual bliss forever.

Then comes the disillusionment. We often reach this stage in a relationship when we can no longer help but notice all the ways in which our partner pushes our buttons:

“He/She never listens to a word I say!”

“He/She doesn’t care about my feelings.”

“He/She always leaves the empty milk container on the kitchen counter!”

The degree to which you and your partner have acknowledged and resolved your childhood trauma may determine the level of intensity that arises in either of you when these common relationship issues come up. If you find that you are having major blow-ups over even the most trivial things, your reaction may be more of a learned response to a perceived emotional threat based on what you experienced as a child, rather than an indication of your partner’s inadequacy.

Maintaining a healthy relationship in the long-term requires a high level of emotional maturity. Both people in the relationship need to have the ability to express their thoughts and feelings appropriately, accept life’s many ups and downs, and take full responsibility for their decisions and actions.

Unfortunately, emotional trauma from a person’s past can interfere with their ability to grow on an emotional level and function well in an intimate relationship. Those with unresolved trauma tend to experience super-charged emotions, escalate seemingly trivial issues, and make effective communication seem impossible. They may also struggle with depression, addiction, and a whole host of additional mental health issues.

There are signs you can look for in your partner and in yourself that may indicate that some emotional growth—and possibly therapy or treatment—are needed in order to build a strong and satisfying long-term commitment.

Trouble Signs in Your Relationship

In a truly committed relationship, the effects of unaddressed emotional trauma are not one person’s problem to solve. What affects one partner affects the other and has an overall impact on the relationship. Unresolved emotional trauma can commonly turn up in a relationship in these ways:

  • Very strong emotional reactions to common relationship issues.
  • All disagreements, no matter how minor, tend to be fueled by intense emotion.
  • Tendency to withdrawal, or behave in a distant, unresponsive manner.
  • Avoidance of conflict and inability to discuss issues.
  • Assumptions that the partner is acting against them when they are not.
  • Constant doubt about the partner’s love and commitment.
  • Difficulty accepting love, in spite of constant reassurance.

Pia Mellody’s Model (a.k.a. The Meadows’ Model) of Developmental Immaturity provides a framework for recognizing and understanding the impact of childhood trauma on a person’s ability to connect with others. The model looks at whether the person experiences appropriate levels of self-esteem, sets healthy boundaries with others, owns their own reality, understands their needs and wants, and expresses themselves appropriately.

Take a look at the chart below and ask yourself:

  • Which areas does my partner do well in?
  • Which areas does my partner struggle in?
  • Which areas do I do well in?
  • Which areas do I struggle in?

Once it becomes clear that your relationship is being negatively impacted by emotional trauma—yours, your partner’s, or both—reach out for help. Progress can be made through a combination of individual therapy sessions and couple’s therapy sessions. An inpatient or outpatient treatment program may even be necessary for one or both of you depending on the severity of your issues and behaviors.

Can Your Relationship Be Saved?

Many people don’t even realize they’ve had traumatic experiences or recognize painful events from their pasts as “trauma.” Trauma-informed therapy and trauma-informed treatment programs can help individuals and couples begin to identify their hidden pain and see how it still affects them and their relationships. Trauma-focused therapy also helps couples to better understand one another by sharing their individual personal histories and teaching them how to process and express their thoughts and emotions in healthier and more productive ways.

But, trauma work isn’t just for couples. If you’re currently single, now is the perfect time to focus on yourself and develop the communication skills and self-knowledge that will help you start any relationship—whether it’s with a spouse or partner, friend, family member, or employer—on the right foot. You can build a better future for yourself and those you love.

The Rio Retreat Center at The Meadows can help you get started. Our acclaimed Survivors Workshop can help you find and change the self-defeating beliefs that lie at the heart of addiction, mood disorders and troubling relationships. Strengthening Coupleship can help you and your partner learn new methods of communicating and build on the existing strengths in your relationship. Call us for more information at 800-244-4949, or send us an email.