Sometimes, relationship problems fly under the radar, but other times we deliberately look the other way. Here, we’re breaking down why we do this and explore what happens when we face tension head-on
As well as traumatic things that happen to you – like physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, or the betrayal of your trust via an affair – trauma in relationships also includes what isn’t happening, and examples include a lack of attunement, emotional unavailability in the other person, and no safe container for your emotions and experiences. Sometimes they go unnoticed, sometimes they are ignored.
You might be familiar with tolerating, even denying, some degree of trauma so that your relationship can continue as it is. For example, it may have become characterised more by criticism, complaint, and resentment than the love you want, but you shield yourself from what’s really going on, or just ‘get on with it’. Which begs the question…
Why do we do this?
An answer might be found in each of three important parts of you:
When you attach to someone, this part can get triggered at the thought of the relationship ending. Because your fear ensures your survival, it can make a potential ending feel like a life or death situation. If your body believes your survival is at risk by moving on to an uncertain future, it’s easy to understand why you’ll tolerate distress to avoid it. That said, the longer you stay, the more fearful you become, the more your trust and self-esteem drain away, and the tighter you grip the relationship. You’re caught in a vicious circle.
This includes your innate drives to acquire more possessions, status, money, sex, and to ‘win’. These are powerful motivators, and some of the main reasons humans have been in existence for so long. Reward can make status, wealth, a great sex life, and a need not to ‘lose’, ‘fail’ or look ‘less than’ others, compelling reasons to stay – despite you rarely actually feeling good.
3. Connection and love
Love is presumably where you’d hope to spend most of your time in a relationship, but, an ending – whether of the relationship or your trauma denial – might lead to you experiencing grief; love with nowhere to go. Grief is one of the most painful feelings and it’s understandable that we, therefore, try to avoid feeling it. You’ll of course be driven to accept, forgive, and empathise with and be selfless when you love someone. These are all great, loving qualities.
Taken too far though, they’ll overlook and accept problems and put empathy for the other person above empathy for yourself. Knowing your loved one has such potential for growth also leads to living in hope that they might eventually see and hear you one day, even without any real evidence it’s happening.
With such a range of compelling parts in play, you can understand why you might endure, or deny, relationship trauma. A compassionate view of yourself is key here, because any frustration, or shame, you feel towards yourself for doing it simply leads to more fear and therefore more rigidity, making you cling even tighter.
Try to couple this empathetic understanding with a