Childhood trauma leaves an indelible mark of fear on its victims. As a result, adults who have experienced traumatic events in childhood are terrified of relaying such incidents and avoid any event or circumstance that might remind them or make them repeat the situation.
Consequently, if left untreated, this affects the individual’s ability to have a sound and healthy relationship with a partner. Several studies have found that adults who had a traumatic childhood suffered from feelings of mistrust and fear, among others. This may lead to one of the reasons for divorce or separation.
A clinical psychologist, Dr Abel Obosi, said childhood trauma is an event that brings about a negative emotional response in sufferers long after the event.
The trauma could be a result of a particular event such as rape, armed robbery or the loss of a significant person in the child’s life. It could also involve illnesses that involve taking the child to several places for either orthodox or local care.
Obosi says, “Individuals can grow up having not resolved those traumatic experiences they have had. Once that happens, it becomes difficult to emotionally adjust because they keep remembering some of those incidents and this will affect their relationship with people, their ability to trust someone and the choice of places they want to go or things they want to do.”
A marriage and relationship counsellor and Chief Executive Officer, Sure Hope Counselling Clinic, Tosin Togun, also affirms that childhood trauma, if not attended to, can be difficult to manage. Research also states that adults who suffered childhood trauma would become overly controlling parents who would feel unsafe and terrified when they lost such control.
Below are a few ways spouses can help their partners experiencing childhood trauma.
Identify symptoms exhibited by your partner
It is important to clinically ascertain that your partner has gone through childhood trauma. This would prevent reaching a wrongful conclusion that might further cause a problem. “Before you ascertain that your partner is being traumatised, patiently identify the symptoms exhibited by him/her,” Toogun says.
Encourage your partner to identify trauma source
Every trauma has a source, therefore, you need to create time to listen to your spouse identify and discuss the source of the trauma.
Toogun notes, “Some traumatic experiences could be due to the following; loss of a loved one, abuse (emotional, physical, sexual etc.), bullying, dysfunctional family, poor parent-child relationship, war, poverty, medical condition, divorce by parents etc.”
Observe, identify impact of trauma
It is important to identify the extent of the impact the trauma has on your partner as this will help to know and administer the right approach and help.
“The impact of childhood trauma can be prolonged or short-lived depending on the nature of the occurrence and how it is being handled. Some of the impacts may include; unhealthy self-esteem, poor parent-child relationship, vulnerability to any form of abuse, sexual problems and so on,” the marriage counsellor says.
Help traumatised partner accept present reality
This can be achieved by believing in your partner and helping them get assurance through your actions. Your actions and words will make your partner accept the present reality once you show that you are willing to be present emotionally.
Togun further says, “You should assure him/her that you will be with them throughout the process of their healing and ask how he/she thinks you can be of help.”
Seek professional help
Also, Obosi advises partners of persons who have had a traumatic childhood to encourage them to speak with a mental health specialist to get therapy.
He said, “One thing about childhood traumatic events is that people don’t want to allow other members of the family to know about the incident. They want to cover it up and continue to live in denial. It is therefore important that they open up and seek help. Clinical psychologists are available and trained to listen to them and provide help. There are also mental health professionals that can offer therapy. But the individual must admit to needing help and would agree to the form of therapies that would be administered. This way, the person would be able to cope better with the event, talk about it openly and make progress with their lives being free of the trauma.’’
Togun advised partners of individuals battling childhood trauma to help them seek professional help to assist them recover quickly by undergoing therapy.
Bridge emotional gap
Togun states that unresolved trauma can be a reason a partner withdraws from themselves and creates an emotional gap between them and their spouse.
To resolve this, she advises, “Ensure to show your partner unconditional love and make him/her feel accepted. You can do this by first understanding his/her love language, paying attention to his/her needs; especially in the area of identified symptoms and practising openness and sincerity with him/her.”
Identify triggers, find healthy distractions
The marriage counsellor advises couples to carefully identify triggers of their partner’s negative emotions, then discover and put in place healthy distractions.
She said, “Identify and discuss the triggers of your spouse’s emotional dysfunction, and also know him/her enough to know his/her areas of interest and get involved to help him/her get distracted from the thoughts of the event or any negative emotion.”
Be patient with your partner
Learn to be patient with your partner during this process as they practise the act of letting go. This involves being patient in your actions and choice of words and giving time to listening than speaking.