Supporting Your Partner Through Crisis or Trauma

Supporting Your Partner Through Crisis or Trauma

Things had been going great in the relationship and all of a sudden crisis or trauma occurs for your partner.  

During this crisis or experienced trauma, your spouse is acting differently and you don’t fully understand your partner’s emotional reactions, behaviors, and you are unsure of how to support them.  

Does this sound like a familiar scenario for readers?  If so, you are not alone.

In this article, I will share 5 steps you can take to better support your partner.

Crisis and trauma experiences have the ability to bring out the worst in us, especially if someone has experienced multiple crises or traumatic moments in their life.

To briefly define the terms, crisis is defined as “a paroxysmal attack of pain, distress, or disordered function” while trauma is defined as “a disordered psychic or behavioral state resulting from severe mental or emotional stress or physical injury”.

5 tips you can use to better support your partner and yourself:

1. Identify feelings that your spouse might be experiencing

These are some possible experiences and feelings that your spouse may be having: Feeling triggered by an identified stressor, angry, frustrated, sad, lonely, depressed, anxious, vengeful, distant, aloof, shutdown, or scared.

2. Ask yourself, how can I communicate empathy with my partner?

If you can ask yourself this question, you are showing to both yourself and to your partner that you want to understand how they are feeling at this moment in time.  

Often times there can be a fear of: What if I say the wrong thing during this time of crisis or trauma?  

If you are acting from a place of empathy, two things will likely happen if you say the wrong thing:

  1. Your partner will recognize that you are acting out of kindness and empathy
  2. They will most likely correct you if guessed an inaccurate feeling or experience that they are having.

Sometimes during couples counseling, one of the partners will say to me: What if I don’t feel empathy for the other person at that moment?  

It is a wonderful question, my answer would be: then you need to walk away from your partner and take some time to focus on self-care strategies for yourself.

If you are not grounded and in control of your thoughts and emotions, you will not be able to effectively communicate empathy for your partner.

Ask yourself, how can I communicate empathy with my partner?

3. Ask yourself, how is my partner’s experience impacting me?

I firmly believe that people’s intentions are good when someone is trying to communicate upset feelings relating to an experienced crisis or trauma.  However, this does not mean that our emotional reactions from an experienced crisis or trauma will always evade our partner.

If your partner’s experiences and feelings are negatively affecting you, you have a duty to yourself to respond to your own emotional reaction to your partner.  

You can choose to focus on strategies or activities that will put you in a more relaxed mindset (such as yoga, exercise, reading, watching tv or a movie, guided meditation, visiting a friend, grabbing dinner with a co-worker, etc), so that you can be more receptive to your partner’s emotional pain.

You can also choose to kindly and compassionately let your partner know that their feelings and experiences are negatively affecting you, even if you do want them to communicate their concerns with you.  

If you take this option, be sure to be direct and clear as to how your partner is affecting you currently (do not bring up past events/sources of frustration) and then offer alternative sources of comfort or support that they can turn to as needed.  

Most importantly, reassure your partner that you DO care but you can’t always be the person they turn to for support because you only have so much energy to dedicate to the problems of others.

4. Are you and your partner reacting logically or emotionally?

Differentiate if you are reacting logically or emotionally to how your partner is acting.  Also, seek to understand if your partner is reacting logically or emotionally to their identified crisis/trauma/stressor.

If you and your partner can identify if the emotional side or logical side of one’s brain is being used currently, this can help educate both of you on how to respond at the moment.  

Keep in mind that the most effective communication can take place in the relationship when both partners can be using logical sides of their brain and not acting or speaking based on emotions.

5. Plan for the potential stressors that can create similar situations

The more knowledge you have, the better you can prepare together for unpleasant experiences.

Hopefully, these tips can provide some comfort and allow for some growth in your relationship.  

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Steven Spatz
Counselor, LPC
Steven is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and has been practicing counseling for 7+ years in the field. The majority of his clinical background has been focused on child, teenage, and young adult issues.  In his work with children and teens, he feels it is his responsibility to make sure that a child or teenager has an advocate and someone to make sure that their voice is being heard. Recognizing that there are multiple sides to every situation, he provides services to children and teenagers. Additionally, he is happy to provide parent consultations as appropriate and also provides educational workshops throughout the year.

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