Note: We are currently in a series called “The List.” The List refers to a list of ways you can lose your marriage and is based on information gleaned from over 20 years of counseling records.
According to an article posted on unicef.org/ukraine in 2020, land mines were the leading cause of conflict-related child casualties in Ukraine in 2017. At that time, they accounted for about two-thirds of all recorded deaths and injuries to children. Think of that! two-thirds of children were killed or injured by something that was hidden and they couldn’t see.
I mention this because unprocessed trauma is much like a hidden land mine. If you don’t deal with past trauma in your life, it has a way of blowing up your life at a later time…usually when you least expect it. Your reactions to past trauma will not only hurt you but also those around you. And if that past trauma is left unaddressed, it can be one of the items on the list of things that can cause you to lose your marriage.
WHAT IS TRAUMA?
According to the American Psychological Association…
“Trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape, or natural disaster. Immediately after the event, shock and denial are typical. Longer-term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships, and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea. While these feelings are normal, some people have difficulty moving on with their lives.”
Some of the events that can produce trauma are…
- Physical abuse.
- Emotional abuse.
- Sexual abuse or assault.
- A terrible accident.
- A natural disaster.
- Physical or emotional abandonment.
- Even the sudden and/or adversarial divorce of their parents.
When this happens, the victim often unconsciously tries to put the trauma behind them as quickly as possible. They may…
- Act like it didn’t happen.
- Act like it was not a big deal.
- Try hard to forget it or not think about it.
- Stay busy with other things, so as to not think about the trauma.
Such tactics may appear effective; especially for children. But these tactics don’t make the trauma reactions go away. They only serve to push the reactions to the trauma underground. But, like a rock in your shoe, the trauma continues to cause mental, emotional, and relational problems that increasingly interfere with life and marriage.
HOW PAST TRAUMA CAN HURT A MARRIAGE.
Trauma attacks the very core of a person and thus tends to destabilize them and their relationships. Depending on the specific type of trauma experienced, trauma can…
- Make it hard for a victim to trust others.
- Leave a victim feeling unsafe…even when they are safe.
- Bring up memories (mental and tactile) of the past trauma.
- Leave the victim with residual and disruptive anger or fear.
- Make it difficult for a victim to open up, trust, or be vulnerable.
- Create a strong need in the victim to control situations, possibilities, and even people.
- Leave a victim in an ongoing state of hyper-vigilance.
- Create low self-esteem at best, and self-loathing at worst.
- Leave a victim with ongoing issues of depression, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorder.
- Cause a victim to view sex in marriage as unwanted, unwelcome, and even threatening.
- Make it difficult for a victim to recognize, identify, or even express their emotions.
- Cause a victim to emotionally check out when things feel hard or threatening.
- Make a victim over-protective of their children, themselves, and other loved ones.
- Lead a victim to take things personally and/or offensively.
- Make it hard for a victim to know what’s appropriate and what isn’t…especially when it comes to setting boundaries.
You can see how these things could work against a strong marriage and cause it to deteriorate. And even if they don’t cause you to lose your marriage completely, they will cause you to continue to struggle in marriage and lose the strong and healthy marriage you desire.
WHAT CAN YOU DO IF YOU HAVE TRAUMA IN YOUR PAST?
Trauma’s effect on a person is complex and deeply rooted. It affects a person’s sense of self, their view of the world, their tolerance for closeness and intimacy, their sense of safety, and even their views of God.
As such, the victim can rarely heal the effects of trauma on their own. They will need the combined help of a trained counselor, a loving spouse or friend, and even a non-judgmental pastor. The residual effects of depression and/or anxiety may even warrant the need for appropriate medical help. It takes a concerted effort on multiple fronts to help a trauma victim heal and rise above the effects of their trauma.
But healing is possible and even probable with such work. As someone who has worked with survivors of sexual abuse for thirty years, I can attest to the fact that you can learn to not just survive your trauma. You can learn to thrive in spite of it.
A FINAL THOUGHT…
The effects of trauma can be detrimental and even devastating to a marriage, and it will require time and effort to overcome. But if you have past trauma in your life, you owe it to yourself to do whatever it takes for as long as it takes to grow past and beyond the trauma. Because the effects of past trauma could cause you to lose your marriage. Remember…it’s on the list!