10 Top Tips on Maintaining Your Relationship Post-Trauma

Are you worried that your trauma may ruin your relationship? We discuss the top tips for maintaining and building a stronger relationship with your significant other.

People can experience trauma in various ways and it often manifests in the form of post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD is usually associated with the military, but it can actually affect anyone in any situation that they might find traumatic. For example, a person might be triggered by a traumatic childbirth experience, physical or sexual assault, a burglary, or a serious illness or injury which can sometimes be the result of medical negligence.

For people who experience trauma, both mental and physical, it can have a profound impact on their relationships with those around them, particularly with their partners. There can often be a significant shift in relationship roles and responsibilities, especially when the injured party has reduced mobility or cognitive function. This can cause feelings of guilt, loneliness, anger and depression, amongst other things, that can strain even the best of relationships.

Read on to find out more about the types of trauma, how they can affect a relationship and tips on how to protect your relationship with your partner.

Types of Trauma

A traumatic event is an event that can cause, emotional, physical and psychological harm. People respond to trauma in different ways, but generally, most people will have severe emotional responses, such as shock and denial fairly soon after the event.

In some cases, people may not feel the effects of a traumatic event for months or sometimes even years after. Some examples of trauma include:

  • Emotional or verbal abuse
  • Physical abuse or assault
  • Sexual assault
  • Being involved in an accident or natural disaster
  • Witnessing violence or abuse
  • Childhood neglect
  • Death of a friend or family member
  • Serious injury as a result of medical negligence e.g. traumatic birth injuries such as severe tearing, brain injury as a result of surgical errors or misdiagnosis etc.

Symptoms of Trauma

As well as shock and denial, people who experience trauma may also display the following symptoms:

  • Mood changes
  • Anger and irritability
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Lack of concentration or focus
  • Disrupted sleep or insomnia
  • Social withdrawal
  • Loss of appetite
  • Flashbacks and fear that the traumatic event will happen again
  • Stress-induced headaches and nausea
  • Deterioration of a pre-existing health condition

Why Might an Acquired Injury can Affect a Relationship?

Acquiring an injury, and experiencing the trauma that comes with it, can have long-lasting effects for you and those around you. Certain injuries will have a physical impact on your life, as well as an emotional and behavioural impact. 

For example, if you suffer from a brain injury, you may experience memory problems, and difficulty focusing and making important decisions. This means you might not be able to carry out certain tasks you used to be responsible for, such as paying household bills or planning family activities. 

Similarly, if you suffer from a more physical injury, such as loss of a limb or a spinal injury, you will not be able to carry out the more physical tasks you used to. This could include tending to the garden, doing DIY, or even carrying piles of laundry around the house. A physical injury can also cause sexual dysfunction, which could significantly hamper your relationship.

How Might an Acquired Injury Affect Your Relationship?

Injuries and trauma that shift the responsibilities from one partner to another can feel unsettling for the of both you, and it can take time to adjust. You may experience stress, anger, guilt, and feel more withdrawn as a result of this shift. Similarly, your partner may also experience stress and loneliness from the added responsibilities and may be unsure how best to fit into their new role.

What’s more, if one partner has to become the primary carer for the other, it can blur the lines between carer and romantic partner. This can make the relationship more challenging, as you’re spending a lot more time together, and seeing the effects of the trauma.

Partners will have a strong sense of commitment and will feel obliged to carry out this caring role, even if it’s not something they like doing. With this new burden and responsibility, it can sometimes lead to a complete breakdown in the relationship.

10 Top Tips on Protecting Your Relationship Post-Trauma

It’s important to point out that these challenges can be tackled, and that you can make your relationship stronger than ever if you work together to overcome them. So, how can you maintain your relationship when roles and responsibilities change following trauma? Try these ten top tips.

  1. Communicate

The most important thing you can do as a couple is to communicate. If you’re feeling stressed or upset about something, set aside some time when you’re calm and at ease, to talk through how you’re both feeling.

If you can’t communicate in this way due to your injuries or because it feels uncomfortable, there are other ways to do this. For example, writing down your feelings in a letter, or creating an audio recording to play aloud, can also be a great way to communicate. It gives you time to provide proper thought to what you want to say.

Just as important; make sure you listen to each other and take on board their concerns. Fully understanding how you are both feeling, and figuring out ways to make each other feel more comfortable, is a great first step to maintaining your bond as a couple.

  1. Get Outside Help

All relationships go through tough times, even without the added stress of an injury and trauma. Don’t be afraid to get an outsider’s perspective on your relationship, whether that’s through family and friends, a marriage counsellor, a therapist, or a support group.

You can find a list of relationship counselling services near you through the NHS Choices website. Alternatively, there are a wealth of resources available from Relate, the UK’s largest provider of relationship support.

  1. Don’t Forget to Look After Yourself

Caring for your partner can become a full-time role, and it can make it tricky for you to prioritise your own mental health. That said, it’s so important that you look after your own health and wellbeing before focusing on how to improve your relationship. After all, how can you possibly look after someone else when you’re not your best self.

Making sure you get enough sleep, eat healthily, and take regular exercise can give you the boost you need to maintain a healthy relationship. If you’re struggling with your mental health, speak to your GP or find information and support from organisations such as Mind or the Mental Health Foundation.

  1. Make the Effort to Show you Care

Little gestures to show how much you care about your partner can go a long way in a relationship. It doesn’t need to be overly grand or expensive either. Simply telling your partner how much you mean to them or writing it in a letter is enough.

If you are the partner of someone who has suffered trauma, then don’t be offended if they don’t respond in the way you’d expect. They might not be able to express their emotions in the same way, but it’s important to make sure they feel loved.

  1. Create Regular Date Nights

Having a regular date night with your partner, where you spend quality time together, is really important. It’s easy to get swept up in our busy lives and forget to slow down, but this quality time can help you to feel more connected to one another. The routine of a regular date night can also give you and your partner something to focus on, allowing you to add structure to your life after the upheaval of a traumatic event.

  1. Focus on the Positives

Experiencing trauma in your life can have long-lasting effects, and it can sometimes feel as if it overshadows everything else. That’s why it’s important to look for the positives in your lives and focus on them.

Whether that’s making sure you celebrate family birthdays and anniversaries or congratulating yourself on achieving a small step towards recovery. If you have children, it’s even more important to share these moments and to create positive memories to look back on.

  1. Find a New Interest or Hobby Together

Post-trauma, you may find that you lose interest or are unable to participate in your hobbies. This is another thing that can make sufferers of trauma lose their sense of identity and self-worth.

If you can no longer participate in your old hobbies, try finding a new interest or hobby to do together as a couple. It will give you the time to bond and again, keep your mind focused on positive things, and giving you more structure to your lives.

  1. Remember it Takes Time to Heal

People who suffer from an injury or trauma, may start to feel better after a few weeks, a few months or it could take years. It’s important to remember that it’s okay to take your recovery at your own pace.

Just keep communication open with your partner so they understand what kind of day you’re having, and keep track of your progress as a couple. If you feel like you need a little extra help, talk to your GP or specialist and go from there.

  1. Acknowledge the Change in Roles and Responsibility

If your partner has taken on new roles or responsibilities as a result of your injury or trauma, it’s important that you take the time to acknowledge this. A simple thank you will help your partner feel appreciated, and that you recognise how they are helping you with the transition.

It’s easy to feel angry about not being able to do what you used to do, but try not to focus on what you can’t do and focus instead on what you can do. If you can’t physically do the task, can you delegate? Finding ways to work as a team can help to balance out your relationship again.

  1. 10. Educate Others

Part of the reason partners, friends, family and co-workers may find it hard to adjust to your life post-trauma, is because they don’t fully understand it. If you can, take the time to educate them about how your injuries affect you, both mentally and physically. Or, point them in the direction of the right information. The more they understand, the more they can empathise and know what you need from them.

Creating Stronger Relationships Post-Trauma 

Acquiring an injury and living through trauma can have a dramatic effect, not just on you, but on your friends and loved ones. You may find that home life with your partner is drastically different, and it can put strain on your relationship.

However, it’s important to remember that, with time and effort, you can come out the other side with a stronger relationship than you had before.

Don’t be afraid to seek help and advice from others when you need it and to keep the lines of communication open with your partner. Be patient with each other, learn from each other and move forward together.

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