Trauma and Marriage: Seeking Hope Together

Dealing with unresolved trauma in marriage

In a broken world, each of us is bound to bring baggage into our marriages. Sadly, there are also those of us who bring trauma to the alter. If this tough reality is present in your relationship, my whole heart is with you. The truth is, navigating trauma with your spouse requires tremendous vulnerability no matter the kind of trauma that was endured or when it occurred.

Healing is often messy, uncomfortable, and even scary. The silver lining? Vulnerability breeds intimacy. The courageous act of choosing to heal together may be the very step that changes everything in your marriage. Will you bravely take a step with me?

Trauma in marriage doesn't have to be the whole story | The Dating Divas
A couple holds hands as they work to overcome trauma in their relationship

PLEASE NOTE: It is recommended that any situation-specific trauma work be done 1-on-1 with a therapy professional.

Though the topics we cover in this post are non-specific and are intended to be generally non-triggering, if at any point you begin to notice signs of distressing sensations in your body, be sure to give yourself a break. We recommend a grounding activity like a short walk or looking out your window for a moment.

As one of my favorite trauma-informed therapists says, “I want you to feel safe here. Please listen to your body and proceed at the pace that feels safest.

Healing from trauma requires navigating back through it

Something I wish I had known earlier in my marriage is something my counselor ended up telling me: ‘The only way to heal FROM IT is to walk back THROUGH IT.’ I think for the first five years of our marriage, I tried to dance around it and act like I was okay, that my trauma couldn’t touch me…until it did. And the only way for our marriage to get healthier was to walk headfirst into it and to heal.” -Paige F. {adolescent trauma survivor}

If you are reading this post because you ARE the spouse that brings a traumatic history into your relationship, you may resonate with Paige’s words above. The hardest part of working up the courage to face our trauma is the mental and emotional preparation. It is not uncommon for trauma survivors to begin their journey to recovery with a false sense of strength. When we’ve experienced something traumatic, it feels easier to assume we are capable of white-knuckling our way through healing, but the truth is, this strength contest is not true healing.

The Reality? You were traumatized, and it re-wired you.

We know from well-documented research that trauma is so much more complex than we once thought. It impacts every part of the body and is even proven to have very physical consequences in our bodies.

For example, people who have endured adverse childhood events (ACE) are shown to be at an increased risk for heart and liver diseases. A book regarding this groundbreaking research is transformative for many as they struggled to understand the impacts of trauma in their mind, body, and relationships. This book is called The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van der Kolk, MD. So, if you or someone you love carries trauma, be sure to check it out.

Strengthening your marriage may involve trauma therapy | The Dating Divas
Unresolved trauma can cause disconnection and the erosion of vulnerability in marriage.

Before we get too carried away convincing you of the importance of trauma therapy and professional intervention, let’s pause. If you are reading this post because someone you love has endured trauma, we urge you to truly hear and empathize with how terrifying it can be to look a traumatic past in the eyes. You could stack a whole library filled with books that prove the importance of seeking help and still receive resistance from the trauma survivor in your life.

feeling resistant to trauma therapy is normal

For many survivors, the avoidance of healing from an unresolved traumatic experience is not because we do not desire to see a life beyond it, but because we may be acutely aware that to experience that sacred freedom, we have to travel back through the trauma. No one wants to open old wounds. It hurts.

If there was ever a reason to feel a sinking knot in your stomach it would be THAT. Enduring something awful and then having to relive it again just to get over it. There is so much compassion needed for the wounded in our lives. This trauma business is so difficult, and nobody asked for it.

When I was first prompted to get help, I wanted my loved ones to see that I so badly wanted to heal, but even then, I didn’t realize how much of my life and relationship was being impacted by my trauma. I think I also felt like I had finally achieved this balance. The trauma was over, I was safe, and everything emotionally was sort of a big game of Jenga. I was one false move away from the whole thing crumbling, but also, I had worked SO hard to get to that balance…even if it was a crappy or false sense of balance. I was scared to get help because I knew rearranging anything meant all of these blocks I had barely standing and resting on each other would end up just crashing down again. At first, I wasn’t sure I could handle it. I also wasn’t sure I could trust my loved ones to deal with me through that ugly unraveling.
– Anonymous {childhood trauma survivor}

Feeling scared to begin digging through trauma therapy is absolutely valid. A dear friend and fellow childhood trauma survivor shared above how hesitant she was to begin the deep healing process during a recent vulnerable conversation.

is unresolved trauma rearing its ugly head in your marriage?

I knew it was time {to pursue professional help} because I always felt like I had a tight grip on control over my life and my emotions surrounding my trauma…until I didn’t.
It was exactly like the wrong block was taken out from the Jenga tower & I no longer had control of my trauma responses & emotions.” – Paige F. {adolescent trauma survivor}

The physical effects of trauma on the body are undeniable. Beyond these unfortunate symptoms for the survivor, there are also several ways that unresolved trauma can greatly impact a marriage. Anastasia Pollock, LCMHC, Post Traumatic Stress Expert, notes that in her practice, she has observed the following:

  1. Avoidance of and decrease in emotional and physical intimacy
  2. Social and emotional isolation or loneliness
  3. Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness (in both partners)
  4. Feelings of frustration, anger, confusion, and sadness
  5. Increase in anxiety (in both partners)
  6. More frequent arguments and difficulty finding resolution to problems

As you can see, unresolved trauma changes the entire experience of marriage for both partners. Conflict flourishes in an environment where vulnerability and emotional intimacy have been threatened and made more challenging to achieve.

Pete Walker, a licensed psychotherapist, specializing in childhood trauma and PTSD, began noticing a theme when couples affected by unresolved trauma would sit in his office and attempt to unpack marital conflict.

The composition of most conflicts that I witness in my office eventually prove to be 90% re-experienced pain from the past, and only 10% of what ACTUALLY just happened. Said more simply, conflict flashes {the wounded} individuals back in a way that makes them emotionally and unconsciously view their partners as if they are their abusive, neglectful parent {or abuser}.
Tools for Lovingly Resolving Conflict by Pete Walker, MA, MFT.

Relational healing with your spouse is the most effective method to dealing with trauma | The Dating Divas
Resolving traumatic experiences with your spouse creates transformational trust.

You don’t have to let trauma work against your marriage

Though unresolved trauma creates the breeding ground for toxic communication patterns in our most intimate relationships, it doesn’t have to end this way. Relational healing is the most effective form of healing from trauma. Showing up to your relationship with vulnerability and bravery is the exact formula to discovering a deep and fulfilling intimacy with your spouse. The work you put in with your sweetie WILL pay off!

Dr. Tanner Wallace says on her show, The Relational Healing Podcast,

“{Relational healing} is where trust and intimacy grow into rich context for minimizing future regret, for achieving things that you can’t achieve alone… It is the transcendent call in a life partnership of trauma survivors to break cycles. It is the highest calling of an individual human to relationally heal in an intimate partnership. It is what I want for all of you.” – {Podcast Episode 16}

The tough questions

Are we not EXHAUSTED being one Jenga move away from crumbling? Have we considered that our healing is not a matter of being strong enough to hold everything together but rather being brave enough to let someone else guide us through the rebuilding of our minds and its trauma-trained neuro-pathways? Have we considered that the trauma we endured {though extremely unfair and undeserved} can actually be used as a beautiful tool in our relationships that fosters an emotional intimacy most couples have not dared to venture to?

I knew it was going to get messy and I wasn’t sure if I could handle that. I wasn’t sure if my spouse could handle that. Now looking back I see that everything needed to crumble before I could build it back stronger and more secure. Holding on by a thread was taking such a toll on my body. My stress levels were so high. I had symptoms I didn’t even realize I suffered from until they were gone. Now I know that doing this healing and rearranging work with my spouse was priceless. I deserved to not be one move away from crumbling. My husband deserved that from me too. And tackling that scary rebuilding work together… it absolutely strengthened our marriage in the best way.”
– Anonymous {childhood sexual assault survivor}

We could never summarize everything we want to on this topic of traumatic experiences and all the ways marriages are impacted. If any of the topics that were glossed over caught your attention, please look through the 14 resources linked below for a more inclusive dive into each season of the trauma healing process.

And ultimately? We are SO in your corner. The human body was built to be resilient. Healing is possible and beautiful. It will be worth every tear. So lean into your spouse and let your love grow around the trauma you experienced until it is nothing but a mere dot in the jar of your memories. It will come sooner than you think, we promise.

how to find professional help for your trauma

If you are ready to take the next step for your marriage and find professional help, Nate Postlethwait has an all-inclusive list of therapy resources on his website HERE. It is Nate’s goal to help others find trauma-informed therapy at very little cost.

If you are unable to pursue in-person professional help at this time because you are not ready to dig deep or do not have the financial resources available, we highly encourage you to check out Matthias Barker’s workshop on Trauma HERE. This is a low-cost resource that can supplement professional intervention. Matthias Barker is an incredible licensed therapist specializing in childhood trauma and has a clinical practice in WA. You can even do this with your spouse!

Please note: You will NOT be asked to recall traumatic memories since the above-mentioned is an at-your-own-pace digital workshop. Unpacking your trauma should always be done in the presence of a trained trauma recovery professional. However, you CAN use this trauma-informed workshop as a supplemental tool to help better understand emotional responses, give you insight regarding how trauma affects your physical body, and receive some practical coping methods to put to use while you wait for one-on-one therapy with a professional in your area.

dear friend, before you go…

If you leave with only one thing, I want you to know that if you carry trauma, you are NOT alone and there IS HOPE. 

Being married to a safe man after experiencing abuse as a child was discombobulating. It almost felt as if choosing a ‘mean man’ would have felt more ‘comfortable’ or ‘normal’. It was so new to my brain to be loved that I would find myself testing the waters to see if he would someday just blow up at me like my abuser had. Of course, my husband hasn’t been perfect but he HAS been a safe and healthy place for me to heal. Our marriage has definitely been hard at times but it has mostly been healing. I want women to know that the first few years of being married with abuse history can feel very hard and confusing, but it does get better. Seek good community and counseling, healing is worth it.” 
Gwen H. {childhood trauma survivor}

It does get better.

healing is worth it.

Book resources

podcast resources

Instagram resources

  • @matthiasjbarker Matthias B.; Licensed Mental Healthcare Associate & Psychotherapist specialized in Childhood Trauma & Marital Issues
  • @mikaross.therapist Mika R.; Therapist & Relationship Coach, Relatable Wife & Mom
  • @unstuckologist Jaime G.; Certified Transformational Coach & Enneagram Lover
  • @nate_postlethwait Nate P.; Childhood Trauma Survivor helping other survivors without financial means find trauma-informed therapy at little to no cost.

EMDR THerapy Resources

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Mikayla

I am a 5'2" girl living in my 6'2" husband's world and loving EVERY second of it! I am the proud dog mom to our beautiful Corgi Australian Shepherd mix, Kobe. (Lovingly named by my hubs after his favorite LA Lakers Basketball legend Kobe Bryant.) I've been told I am the vibrant intersection where the right brain meets the left. I am an introverted extrovert...or was it extroverted introvert?! I live for good music, challenging books, ALL forms of the glorious and ever-versatile potato, any DIY project that requires a big-girl powertool, binge marathons of The Office, every home reno show that exists on a streaming service, and moments in time that are filled by nothing but loud, lawless laughter.

Learn more about Mikayla
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