According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration1 (SAMHSA) more than 2 in 3 children experience at least one traumatic event by the time they turn 16. SAMSHA’s examples of potentially traumatizing experiences range from psychological, physical, and sexual abuse to national disasters, neglect, and serious accidents or life-threatening illnesses.
These examples are helpful for raising awareness. But it’s important to clarify that what “counts” as childhood trauma because the phrase is quite broad. Plenty of mental health experts contend that virtually all of us experience trauma in our early lives to some extent—from bullying to the loss of a loved one to even something as indistinct as the pain of real or perceived rejection.
Anything that makes us feel overwhelmed, scared, worthless, or helpless at a time when we are so young, vulnerable, and still developing emotionally can have a significant impact on the way we relate to ourselves and others in the future. Indeed, research2 shows that past traumas can impact brain development, bonding and attachment styles, and even our physical well-being3.
The challenge is that if the trauma a person experiences as a child is not revealed and healed, then the echoes of that trauma can follow that person well into adulthood and reverberate in that person’s romantic relationships. Could childhood trauma contribute to the challenges in your marriage today? Read on to find out what you can do to uncover and overcome these issues.
Take a Self-Inventory
It’s hard to solve a problem when you don’t realize that a problem exists.
If you’ve ever wondered whether past trauma affects the way you and your spouse relate to each other, you may start by looking back at your childhood. Being able to pinpoint a painful memory or troubling experience could be a clue that something from your past deserves some attention and resolution. Understand that there is no “hierarchy” of trauma or suffering. All of us deal with troubling experiences in our own way, and what is traumatic for one person may not be traumatic for someone else.
In addition to looking back, look around and really listen to see if you or your spouse display any signs of an intimacy hurdle that could stem from childhood trauma..
Signs of Childhood Trauma that Negatively Impact Intimacy
- Have a mental health condition such as anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, or substance use disorder?
- Have persistent self-doubt, shame, guilt, or low self-esteem?
- Experience flashbacks or panic attacks?
- Struggle with things like concentration, sleep, social skills, and self-esteem?
- Frequently feel anxious about your marriage or worry about abandonment?
- Typically respond to marital conflict by fleeing, freezing, or fighting?
- Frequently feel “triggered” by the other and don’t know why?
These and other tendencies are possible clues that past trauma is negatively affecting your current style of bonding and attachment (not to mention your self-perception and psychological well-being).
Seek Professional Help
Sifting through traumatic experiences can be scary, uncomfortable, and overwhelming. In many cases our bodies repress these experiences to protect us, but they don’t just go away. If you suspect that you and/or your spouse are dealing with unresolved trauma, consider seeking professional help from a licensed mental health provider. Professional guidance gives you a safe environment in which to explore and discuss these past traumas, and ultimately develop new skills and tools so that you can relate to each other more effectively.
In addition to working with a therapist, you and your spouse can also educate yourselves about trauma by attending support groups or workshops, reading books, and exploring other trauma-informed resources.
Make self-care a daily practice and encourage your spouse to do this, as well. Good self-care habits, including regular exercise, a nutritious diet, and supportive sleep hygiene, are essential for helping you regulate your emotions, improve your mood, and calm your nervous system.
- How Trauma from the Past Affects Our Adult Relationships
- Will My Parents’ Mistakes Affect Me When I’m Older?
- Guide to Reconnecting with Your Husband or Wife After a Fight
- Immersive Couples Therapy Retreats
- Couples Therapy to Save Your Marriage After Cheating
- Communication Couching and Counseling for Couples in Crisis
The simple healthy actions you take every day allow you to “fill your cup” as you do the hard work of confronting and transcending childhood trauma.
Are You Ready to Heal Yourself and Your Marriage?
It takes courage to address childhood trauma, unlearn maladaptive behaviors, and heal your hidden wounds. The right support system and guidance can help—and can help you and your marriage truly thrive. To schedule a consultation with our marriage counselors specializing in intimacy problems contact The Marriage Restoration Project today.
- “Understanding Child Trauma”, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Last updated August 19, 2022. Retrieved September 7, 2022 from https://www.samhsa.gov/child-trauma/understanding-child-trauma
- Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2017). “Supporting brain development in traumatized children and youth.” Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau. Retrieved September 7, 2022 from https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubpdfs/braindevtrauma.pdf
- Center for Health Care Strategies. “Understanding How Trauma Affects Health and Health Care.”: Published November 22,2016. Author Kuruna, Teagan. Retrieved September 7, 2022 from https://www.chcs.org/understanding-trauma-affects-health-health-care/