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Dating Someone with Trauma: How to Support Your Partner And Yourself

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Loving supportive husband holding hand of sad wife, supporting and comforting her while sitting together in living room at home. Young couple expressing feelings and emotions in relationship

Mike Miller is a trauma specialist and the co-founder of the Yatra Center, a trauma treatment facility located in Krabi, Thailand. He brings over 20 years of experience working in the field of addiction recovery and trauma therapy to his work.

In this episode of the Ashes to Awesome, host Chuck sits down with Mike to discuss the complex topic of dating someone with trauma. As a former addict himself, Chuck knows firsthand the challenges of navigating relationships while in recovery.

Throughout the conversation, Mike shares his expertise on how unresolved trauma can manifest in relationships, causing difficulties with trust, intimacy, and emotional regulation. He offers practical advice for supporting a partner’s healing journey while still getting your own needs met.

Drawing on real-life examples from his clinical practice, Mike explains how trauma is not just the result of extreme experiences, but can stem from any overwhelming event that exceeds a person’s capacity to cope. He emphasizes the importance of educating yourself about trauma’s impact on the nervous system and seeking support through therapy, support groups, or other resources.

When you’re dating someone with trauma, it can feel like their emotional wounds are sabotaging your relationship. However, with the right knowledge and tools, you can support your partner’s healing journey and cultivate a stronger, more compassionate connection.

Full Episode

Highlights from the video below

Types of Trauma

Mike explains that there are different types of trauma that can impact a person’s life and relationships. He distinguishes between “Big T” traumas and “small t” traumas.

“Big T” traumas are the kind of life-threatening events that most people typically associate with trauma, such as sexual assault, combat experiences, or severe car accidents. These experiences can lead to symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), such as flashbacks, nightmares, and hypervigilance.

However, Mike emphasizes that trauma can also result from less obvious “small t” experiences, particularly those that occur during childhood. “We call it the difference between ‘Big T’ like capital T, which is those life-threat traumas, versus ‘small t,’ which tends to be more relational or developmental, like if it happened as a kid,” he explains.

Examples of “small t” traumas might include growing up with an alcoholic parent, experiencing neglect or emotional abuse, or being bullied at school. While these experiences might not be life-threatening, they can still have a profound impact on a person’s sense of safety and ability to form healthy relationships.

Understanding Trauma’s Impact

Many people assume trauma only comes from extreme experiences like war or assault. In reality, trauma can result from any overwhelming experience that exceeds a person’s ability to cope. “Trauma isn’t what happened, it’s what you’re left with,” Mike explains. Unresolved trauma continues to affect the nervous system long after the traumatic event, causing symptoms like anxiety, depression, and difficulty regulating emotions.

Trauma also profoundly impacts relationships. “If I’ve been betrayed by someone in the past and then I go into the next relationship, I might get anxious when my partner is not around,” says Mike. “I might want to check their phone, ask where they were – that’s my nervous system perceiving them being out of my sight as a threat to my safety.”

While these jealous, controlling behaviors can be hurtful, they are not a conscious choice. They are an attempt by the traumatized person’s nervous system to avoid re-experiencing the pain of abandonment or betrayal.

Mike shared the story of a man whose father’s alcohol use in childhood created an ongoing sense of unsafety. “As soon as his car pulls into the driveway, my nervous system just goes into response mode,” he described. Without realizing it, the son’s body was preparing to fight, flee or freeze at the first sign of his father’s return, even in adulthood. This is a common traumatic experience for those who grew up with addicted parents.

Supporting Your Partner’s Healing

So how can you support a partner with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other effects of trauma, while still getting your own needs met in the relationship? The key is to help them build new experiences of safety and security so they can feel safe.

Start by educating yourself about trauma. Watch videos, read books, and learn about how the nervous system is affected by overwhelming experiences. “When you’re the partner, it’s incredibly hard,” Mike acknowledges. “I can understand their trauma, but do I have to accept the behavior?”

Couples counseling can be a powerful resource. A skilled therapist can help you both communicate your needs and develop tools to de-escalate conflicts. They may also recommend individual therapy for your partner to process their traumatic memories.

You can encourage your partner to try regulating practices like yoga, breathwork, or mindfulness meditation, which calm the nervous system. Make it a partnered activity by offering to try a class together.

When your partner gets dysregulated, try to stay calm yourself. “Being around someone who’s calm is calming,” says Mike. “One of the ways I can affect your nervous system is to regulate my own nervous system when I’m with you.”

During peaceful moments, initiate gentle conversations about how your partner’s trauma responses are impacting you, using “I feel” statements. For example: “When you ask me where I am every hour, I feel controlled and untrusted. In the future, could you try texting me once to check in?”

Remember, neither of you are to blame for the effects of trauma. It’s a normal response to abnormal experiences. With patience and loving persistence, it is absolutely possible to overcome the impact of past trauma and build a secure, trusting relationship.

Reach Out for Support

Dating someone with trauma can feel lonely and overwhelming at times. Make sure to reach out for support for yourself, through therapy, support groups, or friendships with people who understand your situation.

Free support group options include Al-Anon, for loved ones of alcoholics, and Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA), a 12-step program that addresses family dysfunction and trauma. Hearing other people’s stories lets you know you’re not alone.

Mike also recommends the online resources of the Yatra Center, the trauma treatment centre he co-founded. They offer sliding-scale online therapy and free educational content.

No matter how challenging things get, don’t forget that your partner has incredible resilience and capacity to heal from their traumatic experiences. Your love and support are important parts of their journey. “We know that there’s a way out of trauma,” says Miller. “It’s not like it dictates everything forever.”

By expanding your awareness, seeking help when you need it, and encouraging your partner to keep healing, you can absolutely overcome the impact of trauma on your relationship. In the process, you may even discover a new depth of intimacy and love.

If we can be of any help at all please reach out to us at +66 6 1060 2888

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