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!
Just recently we lost our amazing 28 year old nephew ad then 10 days later we lost one of our best friends. We are still going through the grieving, hurt, and pain, but each evening we try to connect and talk about what we are going through. Even though we handle things as differently as it gets, we try to help and just be there for each other. Sometimes we don’t talk at all…we just hold on to each other and know that together we are stronger than if we were coping separately.
….and let’s not forget that having to let your Furry Best Friend go after 17 and half years is certainly traumatic. Not sure how long it will take to stop looking for her every morning and taking care of her through the day. Thank You for sharing. We had already begun several of the suggested healing tips and will focus on using a couple of others.
My husband and I were jointly targeted and spiritually abused at a prior church where he was the youth pastor. It went on for two years until they finally fired him. We stayed because God continually told us that the fight was bigger than we realized and it was His battle, we were to stand firm and take the beating. In the four years since we left, we have seen the bigger picture and understand why God had us stay. However, that doesn’t change the trauma response we have both had in the the aftermath. We have also come to realize that we are suffering a form of PTSD from the experience and our trust in others (aside from those who stood by us during the experience and after), is very low and takes a lot of time to establish. It has been four years, and while we are serving as youth pastors at another church, we still find ourselves expecting the worst from our senior pastor every time we hit a challenge. Thank God that our senior pastor is a great person who constantly gives us the best! He and his wife have done much to aid in our healing and recovery from that past experience.
My Husband and i have been abused and deceived by a fellow believer in whom we had become partners with. As soon as we were “sucked” in he, his wife and daughter, turned out to be people who do this for the money. When we started refusing to pay they turned out to be crocks, thieves and aggressive. We saw in it coming in the end but not the aggressive part and the hardship in which we were treated. It was in Israel so being in a foreign country made it worse, and us fonurable. With the Grace of the Father we had made friends there and they they noticed it going wrong and sprang in on our behalf….which saved us and helped us to be able to take our personal stuff. All the investment we had to leave behind.
At first we walked on his Grace but later it hits you what happened and how bad it was.
We both had to take therapie to deal with it.
But we did learn from the situation but still are having trouble trusting believers again. This is fresh so it will take time and I know HE has his reasons and that He really does take care of His children which I am very greatful for and it will make our marriage in the end STRONGER,
THANK YOU SO MUCH for sharing and also the responses are great to read. It is encouraging.