Opening up to a partner about past or present trauma is a huge relationship hurdle to work through. We want the people we love to support us through the toughest of times, but vulnerability is scary. We may fear rejection once we reveal hardship and the more negative sides of our lived experiences. Trauma is even compounded when you’ve tried opening up in the past only to get hurt. There are a lot of reasons to be wary about sharing trauma.
However, there is a lot to be gained from explaining all aspects of yourself. It lowers the risk of any miscommunication. It can also increase the bond of love that you experience. Often we are so worried about the trauma we’ve lived with and through, we forget that it is just a part of the human experience. It is highly likely that your partner has their own set of issues. Opening up gives them the opportunity to share as well.
How a Loving Relationship Helps
Ultimately, a loving relationship is based on trust and mutual respect. You can foster trust and mutual respect through effective communication. If you do not communicate around your trauma, you are missing a fundamental opportunity for relationship growth.
In order to talk to your partner about your trauma, we recommend:
- Establishing trust
- Acknowledging how your trauma manifests
- Setting up mutual understanding around key topics
If you do those three actions, you will likely find yourself in a deeper and more meaningful relationship.
Remember that you cannot control how someone else is going to respond to your hardship, but that you always have choices. If you feel invalidated or misunderstood after sharing, it may be time to move on. If you’ve taken the time to get to know the person and have observed their handling of other situations, now may be the time to take the next step. Before doing so, ensure you have first established trust.
Evaluating the trustworthiness of your partner is a vital part of this process. Ask yourself the following questions about your partner:
- Has he or she kept a secret for you before?
- Does he or she respect your boundaries?
- Does he or she express empathy to others on a routine basis?
Consider asking your partner how they feel about the topic that most relates to your trauma. If the topic is controversial, see where they stand before making the decision to trust that person with this information about yourself.
It may help to set a dedicated time for the discussion once you have established trust and decided you want to share. You don’t want to spring big news on a partner without preparing them for the exchange. Consider saying “I have something important I want to share with you. It is traumatic for me, but I want you to know about this as my partner. Is there a time or place when and where you would prefer to discuss this?”
Express your gratitude for the person and establish trust in that first introduction: “I want to share this with you because I trust you. I feel comfortable around you and I am grateful for you. I think it’s important we have open communication around this topic. Does that sound good to you?”
Acknowledge How it Affects You
To prepare for the conversation, acknowledge how your trauma manifests. Is there something in particular that reminds you of your trauma or triggers you? Do you have reservations about the relationship because of the trauma? Do you worry about how “worthy” you are of your partner because of your trauma?
These all could be ways your trauma manifests. That is normal and it takes cognitive restructuring to work through a lot of these issues. Be open with your partner about these issues. Take the steps you need to take to support yourself. You may need to see a counselor to grieve in addition to simply sharing the information with your partner. That may set you up for success as you take the necessary steps to address the trauma as an independent individual.
Set Up Mutual Understanding
Make sure you and your partner are on the same page about how you want to handle your trauma. Since you went through the hardship, you get to decide how it is handled. Set up a mutual understanding around triggers you may want to avoid. Discuss together how you prefer to talk about the trauma. Explain if you feel comfortable with your partner bringing it up at times. Decide if you want a trained professional to intervene to help you manage.
Go into the conversation without expectations. You never know how someone else is going to react to your sharing your story. Set up additional support before and after the conversation. Make sure you have your people in place. Chances are that your partner will be grateful you have shared, especially if you took the first step of establishing trust.
Talking to a partner or significant other about past trauma may seem like an insurmountable obstacle. Or maybe you are afraid your partner will consider you “unworthy” or “damaged” after they learn about your past. When you take the time to establish trust in a loving, supportive relationship, revealing the past trauma can set up a whole new level of understanding between two people — it can actually make the relationship stronger. If you are ready for that step, be honest with yourself. The right people will support you through all of life’s adversities. We can help you have the hard conversation with your partner at Valiant Living. We are a men-only treatment facility in the Denver area dedicated to assisting people who are struggling through addiction and concurrent mental health concerns. We can be your support before and after the conversation. Contact us today at (303) 952-5035 to learn more about the services we offer.