When you commit to a relationship with someone, you commit to helping them with some of their physical and emotional burdens. While no romantic partner has to be a personal therapist, you can still offer support and empathy when your partner is struggling.
If your partner is healing from trauma, you have a more difficult job. Trauma-related conditions and behaviors are hard on everyone: both the person dealing with the trauma and the people around them. Trying to work through traumatic healing together is challenging, but not impossible.
Regardless of when your partner experienced their trauma, working through it is a lifelong process. There will be ups and downs, good days and bad days.
We’re here to help you navigate the process of understanding and helping your partner when they’re feeling the effects of their trauma. Keep reading to learn more.
Does the Source of the Trauma Matter?
Many people are unfamiliar with the idea of trauma or trauma-related conditions outside of the world of military veterans. It’s a common (and harmful) misconception that you can only have valid PTSD or other types of emotional trauma from serving in the military or working in other “dangerous” professions.
In reality, trauma can stem from anywhere. It can start with childhood neglect or abuse, isolation, a violent event, a death in the family, or anything else that might be upsetting.
Something that causes low levels of distress for you can be traumatic for someone else.
With this in mind, the source of the trauma doesn’t matter when it comes to how much support your partner needs. It may relate to how they display the symptoms of their trauma, but you shouldn’t measure trauma in terms of severity.
On the topic of measuring trauma, empathy begins with trying to understand that you might not understand why your partner is traumatized. That’s okay, and you don’t have to be able to put yourself in their position in that way.
That doesn’t mean that you can diminish your partner’s trauma or try to talk them out of it. You need to validate their feelings, even if you don’t understand them.
You should never try to tell your partner that their experience “wasn’t that bad,” or that they should try to “be more positive” and get over it. This is called toxic positivity, and it’s invalidating instead of helpful.
Educate yourself on trauma. This allows you to understand some of the reasons that your partner may act the way they do. When someone is acting out as a result of trauma, it can be confusing.
When you educate yourself, you can discover how trauma impacts the brain and body so that the concept is less foreign to you.
While it’s your partner’s responsibility to manage their triggers, you can help by learning them and helping your partner avoid triggering events or situations when they’re not in a good place mentally.
Talking with your partner can cue you into what causes them distress.
This is also a good time to take notice of how your partner responds to these triggers. Catching early signs of distress allows you to get your partner out of upsetting situations or help them self-soothe when leaving isn’t an option.
Allowing Room for “Bad Days”
When you have a partner who’s working through trauma, you need to understand that some days will be more challenging than others. While you should never accept bad treatment from your partner, there are a few things that you can anticipate on these “bad days” that might make them more challenging.
Bad days can happen for any reason. There may have been a triggering event, or your partner may have woken up in a more sensitive mood. That’s normal.
Sometimes, bad days may lead to your partner being more irritable than normal. If they’re being unkind to you, acknowledge their feelings and then assert your boundaries.
Some bad days will mean that your partner isn’t up to certain tasks or activities. They may be unable to clean the house or even get out of bed. It’s not your job to heal your partner, but understanding when and why these bad days are happening is helpful when you’re accompanying them on this healing journey.
Engaging In Fun Activities
If your partner is up to it, it’s helpful if you can engage them in activities that they enjoy when they’re feeling bad. Trauma lives in the back of people’s minds, often nonstop. By engaging in interesting activities, you create a distraction.
You may also be able to re-wire some traumatic thoughts or triggers by associating bad days with good activities.
A fun day won’t heal your partner, but it does provide a bonding experience. Many people feel isolated by their trauma and worry that it will cause cracks in their relationships. By bonding and having fun together, you can provide comfort and relieve some anxiety.
Engaging in fun activities is one part of soothing distress in your partner. You should research calming techniques so you can guide your partner through their triggers.
Again, it’s not your responsibility to handle your partner’s trauma or educate them on how to manage it. By learning a few self-soothing techniques, though, you show your partner that you’re willing to understand and help when they’re in distress.
Many self-soothing techniques revolve around the idea of mindfulness. Mindfulness is when you connect with the world around you and your senses instead of whatever is going on in your head.
The most popular method of practicing mindfulness is meditation. Because many people find it difficult to meditate, you may want to start practicing together when your partner is having a good day.
For sudden events, you can encourage your partner to connect with their senses. The most popular way of doing this is the “5-4-3-2-1” method.
Your partner should try to recognize 5 things they can see, 4 things they can feel, 3 things they can hear, 2 things they can smell, and 1 thing they can taste. This should ground them and help calm them down.
It’s also helpful to have sensory objects on hand. They can be as simple and mundane as a piece of flavorful gum or headphones so your partner can listen to music or something more interesting like a squishy toy or keychain that they can fiddle with.
Taking Note of Your Own Boundaries
You need to keep yourself in mind when you’re supporting a partner through trauma. Trauma support can take a toll on your mental health, especially if your partner is prone to lashing out on bad days.
Setting and asserting boundaries (with yourself and your partner) will protect both of you.
Consider your limitations. How much support can you give each day before you begin to burn out? When you know this, you’re able to recognize when it’s time to step back and take time for yourself. You won’t be helpful to your partner if you’re burnt out.
You also need to know what kind of treatment that you expect from your partner. While lashing out during an episode is normal, that doesn’t mean that you have to allow your partner to treat you unfairly.
Once you determine your boundaries, talk to your partner about them. You should always discuss boundaries with partners regardless of their mental health, but it’s more important when there are mental health struggles in play.
Encouraging Professional Help
At some point, your partner will be better off if they seek out a professional to help them. There’s only so much that you can do or provide, and seeking out a therapist will help both of you.
Trauma-related therapy is complicated, and healing from trauma takes a long time. As we said, trauma recovery is a life-long process.
You can’t (and shouldn’t) force your partner to seek out a therapist. Some people may feel invalidated by that suggestion, especially if they’re having a bad day. Talk to your partner when they’re not experiencing a trigger and see if they’re comfortable making an appointment with a professional.
A professional can teach your partner coping methods, or guide them through past events to help rewire them.
You can’t be the sole provider of support for your partner. Encourage them to seek help and start healing with a therapist.
Healing from Trauma Is Easier With Support
Healing from trauma is a difficult task, but with the support from loved ones and counselors, it’s manageable. Keep in mind that your partner is going through something difficult, even if you can’t understand it. Offer love and support, but don’t forget to take care of yourself in the process.
Are you or a partner seeking out professional counseling for a trauma-related condition? We want to help you heal. Contact us at Makin Wellness and our intake team will match you with the right counselor for your situation. We can’t wait to hear from you.