The first anchor is being able to understand the nature of the issue. If you do not have at least a cursory understanding of trauma, you will likely weary yourself mentally, emotionally, and even physically trying to out fires, establish rhythms, and solve problems. Trauma issues in marriage need more than good communication skills and weekly date nights to solve the problem – though communication skills and date nights are important, too! Trauma issues need, among other things, understanding.
So what should you understand about your spouse and the complex childhood trauma he or she has suffered? For one thing, know that traumatic childhood experiences are far from superficial. Traumatic childhood experiences go way beyond feelings and actually change the structure and function of the brain and nervous system. One of the complications of this is that the survivor’s brain is virtually always in a state of hypervigilance, constantly scanning the environment for threats. The overactive fight, flight or freeze mode lends itself to the body’s nervous system being easily activated. This is taxing to the mind and body of the survivor.
If you are the spouse of a trauma survivor it is important for you to note that your spouse may not appear to be hypervigilant, but there is tremendous hypervigilance going on internally. This has profound implications for your marital dynamic, and it explains why gaining emotional and relational traction may seem so difficult. Your spouse, due to the trauma, lives in survival mode. Building lasting marital intimacy in survival mode is quite a feat.
Understanding the nature of complex trauma and its physiological impact on the survivor helps you to put your spouse’s actions and reactions in an appropriate and constructive context. You are then better positioned to engage with him in helpful and meaningful ways.