We often hear stories from couples where one spouse is struggling to recover after a prolonged trauma or a traumatic event, and their partner needs advice on how to help them through it. Sometimes, though, both husband and wife are dealing with trauma, and they don’t know how best to support each other.
Perhaps you shared a traumatic experience like a health emergency, a car accident, or the loss of a loved one. It may have been an event that happened relatively quickly, or it could have been a sustained crisis that went on for an extended period of time. Whatever the case, you were both left reeling.
No two people respond the same way to a traumatic experience
Navigating recovery from trauma is challenging, and it looks different for each individual. Trauma manifests differently in each person, and recovery is equally unique to them. Because of this, it can be especially tricky to know what to do when you are both hurting.
Additionally, what might serve as a comfort to you might not be what your spouse needs to receive from you. For example, what if you prefer to process the trauma internally, but your spouse wants to talk through it? Or what if you are craving your spouse’s comfort, but they’re feeling so depleted they can’t offer much support?
It is always helpful to know one another on the deepest level, but even when spouses know one another well–especially those who have been married for many years–they can be blindsided by how they respond to trauma.
Shared Trauma Creates Secondary Crises
Shared trauma can create other crises after the initial event has passed, especially during recovery. Acute stress disorder, PTSD, anxiety, depression, mood swings, and other issues sometimes arise during the recovery process, hindering a person’s ability to truly bounce back like they might wish to.
Other issues can alter your ability to communicate well with each other in the aftermath. For example, trauma makes some individuals more empathic and able to walk in one another’s shoes. This can be incredibly helpful during the healing process.
Other people withdraw into themselves. In extreme cases, it’s possible to become selfish and unable to offer your spouse comfort or emotional support after trauma. If you can’t be there for one another in a healthy, nurturing way, you risk adding to the emotional load and prolonging the pain.
When you can’t be there for one another, or when one person feels more isolated because their spouse can’t be there for them, it’s important to have objective support when you’re hurting. That help could come in the form of your marriage mentors, a trusted pastor, another couple who has walked a similar path, or a licensed mental health professional.
Tips for Helping Each Other Heal After Trauma
It’s critical to spend time together and to talk with one another while you recover, even though it may be difficult for a little while. Leaving communication closed indefinitely after a traumatic event can strain your marriage.
Here are a few tips for helping each other heal together after a traumatic experience:
- Don’t spend all your time and energy talking about the trauma. That may sound counterintuitive, but it doesn’t always help to hash bad things out over and over again. Instead, find positive and happy things to share with one another.
- Invite your spouse to talk openly about their trauma if they want to, but don’t nag or push. Trust that they’ll open up when they’re ready.
- Cultivate self-awareness for your spouse’s emotional state, and your own. Check in with one another and ask, “What can I do to make today easier for you?”
- Lean on your support system, comprised of trusted family members, close friends, and possibly even your small group at church. Start building a support system if you don’t already have one.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help! Every couple will face hard times.
- Be kind to yourselves and to one another. Trauma can alter your responses to everyday events and make your normal routines feel difficult. Give yourselves grace!
- Work together to determine whether one or both of you needs to seek professional counseling and/or medical attention to help support your recovery.
Throughout your healing process, be there for one another and trust that things are going to get better. Healing requires time, patience, grace, and effective communication, so hold one another close. Although the aftermath of trauma might be painful, you’ll come out on the other side stronger if you act as an anchor for one another.
Have you and your spouse ever experienced a traumatic event or season together? How did you support one another? When you came out on the other side, how were you stronger? We’d love to hear from you in the comments section!