When working with couples, I often find myself trying to explain the importance of doing some sort of trauma work when there is trauma present for one or both individuals. Trauma is like a landmine. Imagine this:
You buy a house in a lovely neighborhood, totally different than what you used to have. You are able to spruce the place up, add a new coat of paint, all the fun things.
You find you have a lovely neighbor with whom you like to spend time. You spend some time visiting their house, they spend some time visiting yours. Instead of using the sidewalk, eventually, you start cutting through the yard to get to each other’s homes. I mean, you are just that close now. One day you are walking through the grass to your neighbor’s home and BOOM. Landmine. You didn’t know it was there. They didn’t know it was there. But it was. So you both recover and you go back to your daily routine. Pretty soon, BOOM. Another landmine. The more you hit, the harder it is to trust that you are going to be safe visiting their home. You may find yourself not wanting to visit as often or being scared when you do. You may expect them to come to your place more so you don’t have to put yourself at risk.
In this analogy, you and your partner are your own separate beings, your own separate homes, separated by a yard. As you become more intimate, those lines blur and your partner is privy to more of the vulnerable aspects of you and your life, which are also where the trauma triggers lie, unfortunately. The more you connect and the more intimate you are, the more likely you are to step on one of these landmines, these trauma triggers. If you consistently come up against your partner’s trauma triggers, or they against yours, trust can be damaged because it is hard to know if it is safe anymore. And it’s not that either of you want these triggers, but the sad reality is that they exist because someone else put them there.
In relationship work, we spend time mapping out those triggers, so that while they are there, you at least know what to tread carefully around so as not to ignite the trigger. We also spend time on how to recover from a trigger more quickly and with less damage. Ultimately, though, the only way to dig up that landmine and retire it is to do the trauma work. Sometimes this can be done in the therapeutic process depending on you, your partner, your therapist, and the trauma, but sometimes it has to be done with more intensive individual work.
Digging up landmines is challenging, and so is living with them lurking unknown beneath the surface. There are people who care and want to support you in digging those up when you’re ready.