Impact of Trauma on Couples

The impact of trauma on individuals is becoming well known as research continues to shed light upon the mind-body connection. We know that trauma is stored not only in our cognitive memories but also in our emotions and bodies.

Simply put, trauma is not an event that you can “get over.” The ripple effects fundamentally change your perception (van der Kolk, 2018). The effects of trauma are frequently experienced viscerally as much of the impact is stored within your nervous system (Fisher, 2018).

Trauma activates the sympathetic nervous system’s fight/flight/freeze mechanism; our survival instincts kick in. Knowledge of the trauma is stored away so that if we ever reencounter it, we will recognize the threat and react accordingly (Fisher, 2018). We often refer to this knowledge base as our triggers.

When triggered, something has alerted our nervous system that a threat is present, and our fight/flight/freeze response is activated. Here is the tricky part, we can be triggered by anything, e.g., a scent, a tone of voice, a place, a person, a touch, a situation – literally anything that reminds us on a subconscious level of our trauma.

Doing the work to heal trauma is vital. Learning your triggers and grounding techniques to help you cope with them until you understand that you are safe (instead of using maladaptive coping strategies to avoid your triggers) is paramount (van der Kolk, 2018).

Odds are at least one person in every couple has experienced trauma. Though, in my experience, wounded people are drawn to other wounded people. So, let’s imagine we have two trauma-impacted people trying to do life together.