What the heck? Super Bowl and Valentines Day one day apart this year?
And just a disclaimer: this blog is about relationships cuz it’s Valentine’s Day. I know that this holiday can be even tougher if you’re not actually in a romantic relationship right now, so if that’s you, maybe sit this one out and come back and read my next blog?
Disclaimer #2: I’m talking about normal relationship conflict here, not abusive relationships (emotionally or physically). That would be another blog altogether.
Anyway, if you’re still here, it seems to me like this could be a weekend to be reckoned with in terms of potential for stereotypical relationship conflict. Conflicting needs, expectations, etc. One partner seeks romance, connection and feeling valued, while the other wants to be able to watch the game without being disturbed. I’m not saying who’s who. But I think it’s fair to say that these two days can often lead to many differences in needs and expectations for different people. It can cause a lot of conflict and a lot of hurt feelings. Maybe things will be fine for you, but regardless, this seems like as good a time as any to talk about relationships.
More specifically how trauma can impact your relationships…all of them but in this blog I’m talking about romantic ones.
Believe it or not, even though I am not a couples’ therapist I work on relationships with my clients all the time. Because my practice tends to be fairly traditional and female-centric, it’s usually women who come to me feeling really stuck in their relationship. They come because they feel powerless to change things and so dissatisfied with their lives because as women we often measure our sense of worth based on the quality of our relationships while men evaluate their worth based on achievement. This is a generalization but has born out in a lot of research.
Clients will often feel like there is nothing she can do to help her relationship because her spouse is not willing to seek therapy.
But the truth is there is so much we can do by taking steps to heal our own underlying trauma that can help completely shift the dynamics of any relationship.
Now remember from the last blog how I define trauma is a lot different than you probably think of it. In my theory, it is not based on the size of the event, it’s where the memory gets stored. If you missed that blog please check it out here Take me to the blog!
I know most of you don’t think of yourselves as being impacted by “trauma” per se, but we all are! And when we begin to think of our lives from this “trauma-informed” perspective it opens up tons of possibilities for healing that just weren’t there before.
What makes relationships, especially romantic relationships really difficult and challenging is that our partner’s behaviors activate or trigger our unhealed trauma memories from our past that are stored in the limbic system of our brain.
These triggers can be fairly innocuous behaviors that set us off.
Think back to the post war veteran who hears the helicopter and hits the deck. The helicopter is an innocuous stimuli, but it sets off a huge reaction in the veterans brain.
Innocuous stimuli in our relationship can be simple things like our partner talking to us in a certain tone, forgetting to take out the garbage or inviting people over for a super bowl party without asking us! When it triggers our trauma, we can’t see the trigger as innocuous. It seems like we are being treated with a huge lack of respect and we become outraged! But I’m here to tell you that we are only outraged because some buried trauma is getting triggered. This is why two husbands can behave in the exact same way and one wife will be fine with it while another wife will fly off the handle and go into a rage! This is because we each have a unique trauma history and profile and completely different triggers.
If we can understand that unhealed trauma shows up as a reaction to what happens in our lives, not as a memory of an event. We can find unhealed trauma in basically ANYTHING that REALLY bugs us.
When we can begin to understand our strong reactions to things in our relationship as OPPORTUNITIES for deeper healing instead of as a problem with our partner, it opens up so many possibilities for healing. It also allows us to see our partner’s undesirable behavior as a possible trauma response in them, so that we can have more compassion when our loved ones don’t behave the way we think they should.
We can then take steps to heal the trauma rather than blaming our partner and getting into a big fight about it.
We can still ask for what we need and hope the undesirable behavior will change but it won’t be so activating that we paradoxically give up our power in the relationship by overreacting. We can calmly set boundaries with our partners instead of becoming so angry or upset that we are not taken seriously.
I’m also not trying to blame you for the reaction. The reaction is biological and somewhat beyond our control when we have unhealed trauma memories. Hopefully this information will make you even MORE forgiving of yourself for how upset you get sometimes!
The only reason it is helpful to heal YOUR trauma instead of trying to change your spouse’s undesirable behavior is because you can really only control yourself. It’s just more effective to start with yourself. It doesn’t mean that anyone is more in the right, it’s just about prioritizing the realm where you actually have the most influence.
We simply can’t control other peoples’ behaviors. We can only work on how WE react to their behavior so that we reclaim the power to change the dynamic in the relationship.
Healing your own undigested trauma is the fastest way to get unstuck and begin to change the dynamic in your relationship. In fact, may I be so bold as to suggest that THIS is real self care??
My next blog goes into more detail about what it means to actually heal undigested trauma memories and how to do it. So stay tuned!
Hope that’s some food for thought for your SuperBowl/Valentines’ Weekend! Hope you and your partner are so in sync that none of this stuff even comes up for you!
Peace, Love and Reiki,
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