If you’ve experienced trauma – whether as a child or an adult – and if you haven’t received the support you need in order to process it thoroughly, relationships can be tricky.
Before we jump into the interpersonal, let’s get a sense of what trauma is. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) says that,
“-trauma results from an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.”
It’s generally accepted that those who experience a trauma do so uniquely. In other words, two people could live through the exact same scenario and then describe it very differently. Person A might have frightening flashbacks for months, while Person B sees it as just a scary event that they are able to put behind them.
Additionally, two people might find themselves in an objectively terrifying situation (ie a serious car accident) and still report it in divergent ways. Research shows that many people who receive appropriate emotional support at the time they experienced the trauma, report fewer-to-no PTSD symptoms than others who receive little-to-no support. SAMHSA says,
Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder can sometimes be tied directly to triggers. Other times, one can be flooded with fear, anxiety, anger, or sadness out of seemingly nowhere. This can make romantic relationships extra challenging when it comes to communication, sharing needs and preferences, and even sexual engagement.
If the trauma was of a sexual nature, an individual might fear specific positions, acts, behavior, environment or simply any sexual engagement whatsoever. Others might become sexually active to a point that the amount or type of sex they’re having causes dysfunction, clouding their judgment or leaving them feeling empty and unsatisfied. It could even threaten their safety, health, and livelihood.
If you’ve experienced trauma and feel that it’s getting in the way of your relationship, it’s a good idea to seek out a trauma-informed therapist who can help you process your emotions, help identify triggers, and collaborate with you on an effective treatment plan. It can also be helpful to talk with your partner If you feel safe about what you’re experiencing so that they can support you and make accommodations if necessary.