Intimate relationships are a place for complete honesty, which requires vulnerability. But vulnerability can be difficult for a trauma survivor. This post will help guide you on how to explain trauma to a partner.
How Does Trauma Affect Relationships?
Trauma can result from a singular event such as a robbery, natural disaster, or loss of a loved one. Or, it can be an accumulation of stressors over time, such as parental neglect, bullying, or abuse. Whatever type of trauma you experience, surviving it helps you regain control.
Sharing the story of your trauma with others threatens your ability to maintain control by making you feel vulnerable. You’re unsure if you can trust them with such distressing information and how they’ll respond to it. Fear of having that conversation also isn’t the only way trauma can affect a relationship.
Traumatic scars can impact the way you form romantic attachments. Attachment issues are especially common when a parent or caregiver causes the trauma.
There are types of insecure attachment styles. They all center around protecting yourself from potential danger. You learn how to understand love and affection growing up. If you learned it in an unhealthy way, you’re likely to replicate that in your other relationships.
These insecure attachments may leave you with an intimacy disorder.
Intimacy disorders revolve around avoiding authenticity in relationships. Essentially you refuse to get too close to anyone or open up to them emotionally. You do this subconsciously to try to keep yourself safe. An intimacy disorder can affect your relationship by keeping you from opening up to your partner, trusting them, or fully connecting.
Mental Health Concerns
Surviving trauma but not processing it emotionally and coping with it can result in various other mental health concerns. Those concerns mostly involve the survivor trying to protect themselves and keep themselves safe. But they may negatively impact your relationship.
Mental health issues for trauma survivors may include:
- Compulsive behaviors
- Depression and anxiety
- Traumatic flashbacks
- Substance use
- Panic or anxiety attacks
If you have any of these symptoms or feel like your trauma is unresolved, it’s a good idea to seek help from a mental health professional.
Addiction is a common mental health issue that results from unresolved emotional trauma. The addiction may be to substances, sex, pornography, or even masturbation. People become addicted to these behaviors after using them as a quick way to feel better emotionally. The emotional relief, no matter how temporary, encourages them to repeat these behaviors. By the time they realize they can’t stop, the addiction is already fully formed. They likely need professional help to heal the trauma and recover from the addiction.
How to Explain Trauma to a Partner
When and if you tell your partner about the trauma you survived is up to you. When you’re ready to tell them, give yourself time to prepare for the conversation. Plan the discussion in a safe space where you feel most comfortable. Also, remember, you don’t have to tell anyone anything you aren’t ready to share.
It’s ok if you don’t openly discuss the trauma you survived. You may not feel comfortable talking about it with people you don’t fully trust. And as a trauma survivor, completely trusting someone may be challenging for you. Make sure you trust your partner when you decide to tell them about your trauma.
- Does your partner keep secrets from you?
- Does your partner respect your boundaries?
- Does this person express clear empathy regularly?
Answering these questions can help you determine whether you truly trust your partner or not. If you don’t, it may not be time yet to share such a vulnerable part of yourself with them. You may decide to revisit the decision later when the relationship is more developed or not at all.
If you decide that your partner is trustworthy and you’re ready to tell them about your trauma experience, ask them to have the conversation. Asking for permission to share something potentially troubling demonstrates mutual respect. It also ensures they are ready for the exchange. Something like, “I have something important I am ready to share with you. It is traumatic for me, but I want to share it with you. Is it a good time to share that with you? Or would another time be better?”
Doing this shows you respect them and their comfort too. Also, remember, they may also be a trauma survivor. They may not be ready to share their story or prepared to hear yours.
Ensure You’re Comfortable
Your healing process should focus on you. If you have trouble talking or thinking about your past, approach this with great caution. You are not obligated to rush yourself into explaining your trauma to your partner. You need to put yourself, your boundaries, and your sense of safety first.
Plan What You Want to Say
Choosing your words is essential when you determine how to explain trauma to your partner. You don’t have to share every detail, and the way you tell your story is your choice. You don’t have to say anything you don’t want to. You also can choose not to answer specific questions your partner may have about the traumatic experience.
Acknowledge How Trauma Affects You
You can process and cope with the trauma you experienced and still have negative responses to stressors or things that remind you of it. You may even be able to identify triggers. Sharing these with your partner can help them support you. Your partner also can help you avoid the triggers.
Don’t worry if the conversation doesn’t go exactly as you planned. Your story belongs to you. You aren’t responsible for how someone else responds to it. Nor should you apologize for telling it.
Pay attention to whether your partner is truly responding negatively or if your fear of their response is making you read into something.
Remember that it may take time for your partner to come to terms with what you shared. They may be surprised. They could even feel hurt that you hadn’t already told them. All of these feelings belong to them. Give them time to work through them.
Establish Mutual Understanding
Now that you’ve reached this milestone, you can decide how to handle the trauma in your life together. Discuss how to move forward with your partner helping support you.
Talking to your partner about your traumatic history may feel daunting at first. But, after you’ve been open and honest with them, you may feel like the relationship shifts. You may usher in a new era of talking openly and feeling safe being vulnerable with each other.
How Your Partner Can Support You
After you share your story, tell your partner how they can help support you. People often anticipate that partners should read their minds and “just know” the right thing to do. That isn’t the case.
If you give your partner all the tools they need to help you, then you’re more likely to feel like they love, support, and care for you. They’ll also feel intimately connected with you and better able to support your needs.
Ways to ask for support include:
- Education. Educating your partner (or encouraging them to educate themselves) about the specific trauma you experienced and it’s mental health outcomes may help them better understand you as a person. It also can help them better support you.
- Triggers. Identify possible triggers and responses, preparing them for how you may react in one of these circumstances.
- Calming. Learn how you de-escalate from stress best, and share that information with them. This knowledge allows them to help calm you when life gets stressful.
- Boundaries. Inform them of your boundaries as a result of your unique experiences. Invite them to set their own limits too.
- Professional Help. If you need professional help because of a mental health concern or addiction resulting from your trauma, ask your partner to support you through the treatment and recovery process.
Trauma can be challenging to navigate, even long after the actual traumatic experience. You and your partner don’t have to become experts overnight. Knowing when to seek help or ask for professional support is a sign of strength, emotional maturity, and growth.
How Begin Again Institute Can Help
Begin Again Institute is a trauma-informed treatment center that provides a safe space for healing from trauma resulting in sex, pornography, and masturbation addictions. BAI also offers a unique Partner Support Program that helps your partner better understand trauma and for you to heal together. Contact us today to start recovery.