Relationships are hard enough to navigate even while we’re in perfect health. Interpersonal communication is a skill that requires our full attention if we’re to improve upon it. If someone in a relationship has unresolved trauma, you can rest assured it’s going to cause friction eventually if it isn’t already.
If you’re wondering how to deal with trauma triggers in a relationship, you’re not alone. Many people struggle with poor mental health associated with post-traumatic stress. Fortunately, managing stressors and triggers is possible with good communication and practice.
Read on for some useful ideas to deal with sudden triggers and their emotional fallout.
How to Deal With Trauma Triggers in a Relationship
First and foremost, be present and kind during all attempts at mending and strengthening a relationship. The depth of emotion others feel is impossible to understand or gauge accurately, so a figurative gentle touch will serve you well.
Methods of dealing with trauma are as varied as the experiences and personality of the sufferer. There is no catch-all answer that works for everyone, but certain approaches are more likely to help than others. Whether you’re experiencing trouble yourself or are in a relationship with someone who is, the approach to easing the burden is much the same.
Open communication is the backbone of any successful relationship, and that includes how we relate to ourselves. Any relationship that doesn’t make a concerted effort to maintain a line of genuine communication between its participants is doomed to failure. Considering what good communication actually is is a fantastic place to start, especially when tackling potential triggers that have to be understood to be tackled efficiently.
Good communication allows both people in a relationship to set the groundwork for exploring why certain things might cause a sudden negative reaction. Emotions often don’t appear rational until their cause is understood, but that doesn’t mean the reaction is completely irrational. Taking the time and effort to understand the root of the trigger shines a light upon the issue, making it much easier to gauge, and therefore mitigate.
The Importance of Communication
Communication means accurately and truthfully conveying your thoughts and emotions, and listening attentively to what’s being said. This might appear simple on paper, but we’re usually far more obstinate than we would care to admit. It’s incredibly easy to substitute a painful truth for a convenient benign lie, for example.
While it makes sense not to tell the truth all the time for convenience’s sake, lying is a huge obstacle when it comes to concise and worthwhile communication. Before there’s any hope of being able to deal with triggers from trauma, both people in the relationship must agree to a common goal. The common goal, in this case, ought to be to tell the absolute truth in the understanding that anything less is not conducive to genuine communication, and as such, cannot be used as a tool to combat any of the problems at hand.
Once this has been established and agreed upon, you’ve successfully created a firm foundation to build upon going forward. The discussion becomes easier without needing to spend energy on suspicion, second-guessing, or delusions of any kind.
Discussions in relationships often foster arguments or competition if you don’t keep your wits about you. Remembering that you’re a team and that your purposes are aligned is also of vital importance before trying to tackle any sensitive subject that’s causing relationship grief.
Addressing the Issue
To solve a problem, we have to understand it. The first step towards this goal is to broach the topic of the issue itself, and how it’s affecting the relationship. This is no mean feat, as doing so might feel like dangerous ground to tread.
If talking about a particular issue seems dangerous, that’s a good indication that it’s probably a good idea to give it a try. As a rule of thumb, traumatic events that go unaired tend to fester within the mind of the sufferer, rather than improving over time. If you’re able to gently coax them out of their shell, that would prove a priceless victory on the road to their recovery.
While addressing the issue can feel like sticking your hand in a fire, calling out the results of the aftermath of a previous triggering moment isn’t the same as making your loved one relive their trauma all over again. That is to say, raising the point won’t necessarily trigger them, even if it feels dangerous to do so. Ultimately, the first step is the hardest, and things will get easier from this point on.
Walking on eggshells is no way to live a life, and will ultimately wear you down. There’s a lot to be said for facing an issue head-on, especially when the alternative is a slow descent into perpetually unresolved misery.
Shying away from the matter at hand isn’t going to do the relationship any good. Choose your words carefully and express your desire to help. While it’s true a dug-up land mine could still explode, at least it’s above ground and you know where not to step. Unearthing the problem will stand you both in good stead for dealing with it together.
How to Behave During an Involuntary Recall
The trigger itself may or may not be known to you as the partner of someone suffering from poor mental health. It’s daunting to experience a loved one suddenly, sometimes for no apparent reason, beginning to experience intense and debilitating emotion. Without an obvious cause, it can leave you feeling helpless and confused while your partner’s attention turns inwards to protect themselves.
They may also become irritated, accusatory, or even violent. No matter their outward appearance, it will be clear they’re struggling with an intense bout of internal turmoil. It’s also common for the sufferer to block all attempts at reaching them while they fight a battle only they are privy to.
How you react is important, and it’s impossible to know how to help without having previously discussed what to do when it happens. Your initial reaction might be to embrace them, for example, to comfort them as best you can. Depending on the nature of their trauma, it’s not hard to imagine why this might be an error, despite your best intentions.
This is part of the reason why communication is so important, and why it’s worth laying your cards on the table to develop some coping strategies. Doing so enables discussion concerning strategy should the worst happen, allowing you to know how best to support your loved one without making things worse in the attempt. Knowing you both have a strategy in place can also do wonders to lessen tension in the relationship and help the sufferer feel seen, understood, and supported, alleviating much of their worry concerning potential relapses.
If possible, ask your partner to open up about their traumatic experiences. This likely won’t be easy for them, but if you explain that if you had a better idea of the cause of their distress, you’d be in a better position not to do or say anything that might trigger an episode. Arming yourself with a better understanding of the root of the problem may allow you to avoid triggering their trauma altogether.
If delving into the root of the problem proves too much for your partner, ask them instead to tell you what to avoid. Actions and phrases that may seem benign to you could be the sort of thing that might trigger an unpleasant memory. Of course, not all triggers come from without, but you can at least do your best to avoid being the cause of specific external triggers.
Internal triggers are somewhat harder to deal with due to being completely out of your control. Unbidden thoughts of the PTSD sufferer can pop up at any moment, and trigger them into a negative spiral, even when the day is going perfectly. If possible, it’s worth differentiating between the two.
For example, a good strategy is for the sufferer to explain that the cause isn’t their partner or something they’ve done if they’re experiencing an episode borne internally. This will help the sufferer’s partner understand how best to help them without feeling guilty, and the sufferer to receive a method of safe pre-agreed upon support.
With a few strategies in place, managing trauma triggers in relationships becomes a lot easier. The initial conversations might be uncomfortable, but the structure won as a result is well worth the effort.
Come to Therapie, Nashville
Intricate things tend to go awry by their very nature. As far as we know, the human mind is the most intricate thing there is, but that doesn’t mean it’s so complicated as to be beyond our influence.
At Therapie, we offer counseling and couples therapy for the kind of complicated problems we have to deal with as human beings every day, including how to deal with trauma triggers in a relationship. We’re proud to say we’re pretty good at it, too.
If you liked this article, why not book your free consultation today? We’d love to hear from you!