Supporting a Spouse With Relational Trauma Through Treatment and Beyond
Relational trauma occurs when a person is abused, neglected, or otherwise mistreated by someone who should care about them, such as a parent to a child. The impacts of this kind of trauma are far-reaching and extend well into adulthood affecting relationships and families. Partners of people with relational trauma must help them get professional treatment in order to heal but also be there during and after treatment to provide loving support.
Trauma is any type of experience that is intensely disturbing and that causes significant distress. Many different situations can be traumatic, but also impersonal, like a car accident or natural disaster. Trauma that is perpetrated by one person against another person they are supposed to care about is deeply troubling and is known as relational trauma.
If your spouse suffered neglect or abuse as a child, or some other type of trauma, at the hands of a parent, caregiver, sibling, or another individual in their lives, the repercussions are long-lasting and far-reaching. Your partner needs professional treatment to process and learn to live with past trauma but also your personal love and support.
Understanding Relational Trauma – And How It Impacts Families
Having a spouse with relational trauma can be challenging for everyone. The terrible experiences of the past bleed into the present and cause all kinds of difficulties. Childhood trauma generally has the most lasting and severe impact. The individual who experienced the trauma tends to:
- Have a fear of being abandoned or of losing people they love
- Be needy in relationships
- Be afraid of failure and a desire to be perfect, especially for other people
- Prioritize other people over themselves, pleasing others and ignoring their own needs
- Be overly vigilant about their surroundings and often reactive
- Isolate themselves and avoid intimate relationships
- Have a hard time controlling their emotions
- Have poor impulse control
The impact of relational trauma can be all encompassing. Someone who went through it may also struggle with related complications like substance use disorders, self-harm, poor physical health, eating disorders, mental illnesses like depression, and suicidal behaviors.
All of these difficulties naturally impact relationships and families. How an individual reacts to past trauma informs how they develop relationships in the present. You may find that your spouse is needy and gets defensive when criticized; they may overreact and have emotional outburst that are difficult to handle; they may also struggle with behaviors that are self-destructive and impulsive.
Getting Your Spouse Into Treatment
The best way to overcome, process, and learn to live better with past trauma is to get dedicated professional treatment. Help your partner by helping to find a treatment program that specializes in relational trauma. This kind of trauma is complicated and your spouse has been living with it for decades. Residential treatment for at least a month or two is the best way to learn to manage awful memories and their consequences.
If your spouse resists treatment, be patient but firm. Insisting on treatment is being supportive because it is what your partner needs. It may help to take a tour of the treatment facility and to meet with staff ahead of time. This will help your spouse feel more comfortable and provides an expert opinion they may take more seriously than your own.
Support Your Loved One by Participating
Relational trauma does not only impact your spouse. Their experiences have affected your relationship and your mental and emotional health as well. The experience of trauma is intertwined with your lives and how you relate to each other. This means that the best way for both of you to heal effectively and to have a better relationship is for you to get involved in treatment.
Choose a residential facility that will allow you to be a part of your loved one’s care. This likely will mean participating in relationship therapy sessions and maybe in some group activities or family days as well. There may also be family psychoeducation sessions you can attend. This will help you learn more about what your spouse is experiencing and how to better communicate with and support them after treatment.
Studies have shown that your participation in treatment is essential in full healing for your spouse. A lack of support from loved ones has been shown to be detrimental to recovery from trauma. Your spouse will benefit from seeing you actively involved in the healing process and in treatment and therapy sessions.
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Transitioning Home From Treatment
Active and loving support must continue from treatment to home. The transition from a residential facility to home can be challenging for any kind of mental health issue. The safrree, supportive environment in treatment may feel lacking initially at home. It is important that you welcome your partner home with warmth, love, and active support. This means both vocalizing that you support their recovery and taking active steps to show you support your loved one:
- Talk about what happened in treatment and show that you are open to listening.
- Give your loved one time to open up. It may be difficult initially, so be patient and don’t get frustrated.
- Try not to take it personally if your spouse does not want to talk about their experiences.
- Practice communication skills learned in therapy.
- Together, discuss and practice coping strategies learned in treatment.
- Attend relationship therapy sessions on an outpatient basis, either regularly or as needed.
- Follow your partner’s lead in terms of socializing with other people. They may need some time to decompress at home first.
- Encourage your spouse to exercise and be active, and do it together.
- Help with housework and other chores until your partner is ready to get back into a regular routine.
Supporting Your Spouse Now and in the Future
It’s important to recognize that your spouse may never fully “get over” past trauma. Treatment is effective in that it gives an individual healthy ways to process, reframe, and manage negative memories and emotions. Treatment helps the two of you as a couple develop a better relationship and learn to communicate with and support each other more effectively.
What treatment cannot do is cure trauma. Going forward with your lives together you will have to provide ongoing support, just as your spouse will do for you with your own personal challenges. One of the most important things to keep coming back to what you both learned in treatment. You don’t need constant vigilance, but avoid slipping back into old behavior patterns.
If you do experience some backsliding, recognize when you, your spouse, or both of you together need additional therapy sessions. Think of it as a refresher course, not that you are starting back at the beginning. Just like with any other skill, you sometimes need to catch up or learn something new.
With support for your spouse now, in getting treatment, and after residential care, both of you can enjoy a better life together. When you support each other your relationship will only get better and be more fulfilling.
If you’re concerned about a loved one and believe they may need residential care, we can help. BrightQuest offers long-term treatment for people struggling with complex mental health illnesses and co-occurring disorders. Contact us to learn more about our renowned program and how we can help you or your loved one start the journey toward recovery.