While every marriage has to work through inevitable tensions and stresses, the toxicity that comes with trauma can saturate a marriage with a disastrous cocktail of chronic misunderstandings, alienated individuals, and hopeless hearts. But you can help to turn the tide and be an active participant in God’s redemptive work in your marriage. You can help to bring health and restoration to your family. Here are a few key ways to pursue health in a marriage plagued by complex childhood trauma.
- Learn your spouse’s story. Be a listening ear whenever your spouse is willing to share his or her story. Listen actively and empathetically. Avoid criticizing. Instead, offer words of compassion and affirmation (affirmation regarding the pain and struggles of their experiences, not affirmation of their poor choices or toxic behavior.)
- Ask your spouse what he or she wants. Because of impaired attachment, many trauma survivors will not ask for what they want. You can begin to help your spouse develop healthy emotional muscles and build bridges of attachment by inviting him or her to share what he or she needs from you in a given situation or dynamic.
- Grieve. Being in a marriage affected by trauma means you have sustained many losses. There are things you hoped for relationally and otherwise that your spouse may just not be able to give you. You need to acknowledge and grieve the pain of those losses. One day your spouse may be able to give you those things that your heart rightly longs for.
- Get help. Simply put, this is a tough road to walk! Getting marriage counseling from an experienced counselor who knows how to recognize and treat trauma is key. That counselor may also be able to encourage your spouse to get the individual therapy he needs so he can begin to truly heal and experience a much richer life. And reach out for individual counseling yourself, whether it is every week, once a month, or from time to time. Family counseling may also be warranted.
- Express your needs. Whether or not your spouse is capable of meeting those needs, hearing the needs expressed puts them on his or her radar and can help create an awareness and motivation to pursue healing and growth.
- Build the family you desire. When you are married to a trauma survivor there is a great deal to navigate. And what you envision for your family might seem like an impossibility. But not every hope and dream has to be a casualty of trauma’s realities. Create the memories and traditions you believe should be a part of your children’s experiences. Instill the values you want them to have. Be consistent with discipline, instruction, and nurture. It will not always be easy. It will not always go according to plan. But build anyhow! It will be worth it!
- Listen to the Lord. This is listed last, but is certainly not least! Though you may not know all of the ins and outs of your spouse’s trauma journey, God does! He is able to guide you each step of the way, and He is ultimately the only One who can redeem the ravages of trauma. Let Him be your Healer, your Comforter, and your Guide.
There is no doubt about it, being married to a survivor of complex childhood trauma is not easy. But it is possible to anchor yourself in the midst of the tumultuous waters. Your life may feel like it constantly shifts, but you as a person can have a strong, resilient internal fortitude that can foster a measure of stability for your family.
You do not have to journey alone. For additional help, visit us here.