This weekend, I was at the Gottman Institute for PTSD and Affair Recovery. This training, in correlation with a previous training on Addiction recovery in couples therapy, is truly becoming one of the most powerful ways to help couples.
As I reflect on the couples I work with who have been affected by trauma, I realize many of them face a daily life that can feel like trauma all over again. Crisis can be devastating for any couple’s relationship, but if you’ve experienced it before the trauma can be exponential. You may be trying to simply get by, to make it through, but if you have a trauma history even that can feel impossible–like there isn’t any real hope of a strong and grounded life. After a triggering event, you can simply lose your bearings, and feel like life is spinning out of control! This can start with anything from an extramarital affair, to the much less obvious traumas such as illness, job loss or trouble with your kids.
If you are coming up against triggers like this and experiencing panic attacks, or other physical symptoms such as sleeplessness or headaches, you may be experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This disorder isn’t limited to war veterans; anyone who has had trauma in their lives can suffer from this. Sometimes, you may even exhibit these symptoms without being able to pinpoint the actual trauma in your life. Nonetheless, that PTSD will be as real for you as it is to any war veteran.
In your journey as a couple, it is important to know you can survive this together. Julie Gottman suggests we imagine the trauma or the PTSD as a bucket you carry between you: by sharing the burden together, you will be much less likely to re-traumatize your partner or yourself. Remember, there is no place for blame here. Think of it as something outside yourself that causes this disruption. When carried by you both, it can become part of your story in a healthy and manageable way. The PTSD couple are heroic and a much wiser couple because of the courageous journey they’ve endured together.