When the One You Love Most Hurts You: What to Do

Partner Trauma - Cluff Counseling - Denton TherapistIn over ⅓ of marriages, one or both partners admit to cheating. At the same time, 40 million Americans regularly visit porn sites (⅓ of them being women). While readers focus on these statistics, I think about the partners to these individuals who are struggling in the wake of partner trauma–having been betrayed by the person they trust most. What do you do when the one you love the most is the one hurting you? While the most common trauma response is to freeze or disengage, that is not sustainable. This post focuses on six practical steps for you to take if you are the victim of partner trauma.

In the coming weeks and months, I will continue to address the important topic of sexual addiction, from the standpoint of the partner, as well as, from the addict. Today, I want to focus on you, the person left in the wake of your partner’s addiction or betrayal, because YOU MATTER. I have seen too many times where the addict is the focus of counseling sessions, and the partner’s needs were put on the back-burner. I strive to give my attention to both the addict and the partner–because both need help, healing, and an advocate in order to fully process and move on from something as relationally-trying as partner trauma.

In case you are just tuning in or are unfamiliar with what partner trauma is, let me summarize. Partner trauma is when the person you lean on for connection, comfort and support is the one you feel abandoned by.  Partner trauma (commonly known as relational trauma) has many faces: your partner could be ignoring your needs at a time when you most need him or her (such as a miscarriage, or loss of a job, etc), could be an addict (to alcohol, drugs/other harmful substances, pornography, etc), or could be involved in an affair. All of these things cause great disconnect in your relationship.

Let’s first talk about how you feel. You may have felt hurt, betrayed, of little worth, isolated, and insecure. And you are justified in feeling this way! Additionally, depending on how you found out about the betrayal, how long it has been going on, and your past history will all play roles in the severity of trauma you will experience.  The following are other common trauma symptoms experienced by partners (but surely not a conclusive list): fear, anxiety, outbursts of anger or rage, irritability, ruminating, denial, withdrawal, shock, feelings of self-blame or responsibility, codependency, arousal, and preoccupation with body image.

The above feelings or symptoms that come as a result of relational trauma are real and merit attention in order to be helped. So now let’s talk about the steps or action you are going take. What do you do? Where do you go? With whom do you talk? What do you need–for yourself?

Because I work with this often in my private practice, I have the following suggestions for specific actions that can be made should you find yourself a victim of partner trauma:

  1. Process emotions. Grieve. Be angry. Be sad. Cry. It’s healthy to let your emotions take their natural course. Let them course through you naturally. Suppressing them creates a volcano-effect; you are sure to explode later on when triggered.
  2. Communicate with your partner. Even though it’s hard, try to have calculated words with your partner. Tell him or her how you feel. Examples include, I feel betrayed. I feel sad. I feel rejected. I feel angry. Similarly, communicate your actions to him/her. Examples include, I need time apart. I need to think. I need to know all the details. You will be sorely tempted to storm out (or kick your partner out)–and that may be necessary!–but try to avoid the silent treatment.
  3. Connect with a trained therapist. When you break a bone, you see a trained, experienced doctor for treatment and a recovery plan. I am your emotional doctor. I will never act like I know exactly how you are feeling because I do not! But I do know what it takes to find lasting healing. I know the appropriate steps and measures to set both you and your partner on the right track, hopefully together. Our sessions will serve as a safe place for you to confidentially express yourself; you can trust with me with this most tender and intimate issue. Sometimes bones heal on their own, but it is so much easier, more effective, and long lasting when a trained, experienced professional assists you. Schedule your first session today.
  4. Be judicious in choosing your confidants. Aside from communicating with your partner and a trained therapist, be careful fully divulging your situation to friends, family, neighbors, and acquaintances. Do not fully disclose your situation to casual friends or people who will take lightly or not respect your situation. I once heard of a man who yelled out to all of his neighbors in the street and told them that his wife was being unfaithful. Although his anger and sadness were completely justified, he was acting emotionally, and now wishes more than anything that he had not made that information public. On the same vein, do not isolate yourself! You need a support system–people you can confide in outside of your therapist. This will likely be your family and closest friends. Let them aide you and give you company during this difficult time.
  5. Remember that forgiveness and healing take time. Do not expect it to happen all at once. Just as broken bone may need a splint/cast and several weeks (or months) to fully heal, give your relationship time. It will also take consistent effort on both of your parts–both to avoid relapses as well as to move forward instead of dwelling in the past. It will be difficult, but I will help you through it. As I said when I first started this blog, I will be your cheerleader!
  6. Practice soothing and self-care. The Center for Growth shared an insightful article about the need for self-care for surviving partners of trauma. Fort Garry Women’s Resource Center defines self care as an act provided “for you, by you.” This is where you identify your own needs and take the necessary steps to meet them. Soothing includes taking the time to relax, calm down, and escape the issues you face to reduce pain/discomfort. Self-care includes participating in activities that nurture you, like taking care of yourself and treating yourself as kindly as you treat others. I am a firm believer of self-care! I write about it on this blog once a month, and I know that taking care of both your body and your mind will aid you in your recovery process. If you are unfamiliar with self-care, please click on this link to learn more.

I have seen far too many cases where the individual experiencing partner trauma overlooks his or her issues, and solely focuses on getting him for the addicted partner. This is dangerous. You, too, have been hurt and need proper treatment. You, too, need healing in order to move on and be able to love, trust, and live wholly. Of course your partner does, too! You both can receive the helpful and necessary direction to overcome relational trauma. Please, if you have been involved on either side of partner trauma, contact me today. You cannot cope with this alone; you need help. I am here for you! I will be your advocate through this very real struggle you are facing.

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

 

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When the One You Love Most Hurts You

Partner Trauma - Cluff Counseling - Dallas TherapistWhat happens when the person you would normally turn to is the one who betrayed your trust? You understandably feel deeply hurt, a great level of sudden distrust, and the desire to increase distance between you and this significant other. Partner trauma is real and it requires help in order to heal–both individually and in your relationship. If you or someone you know is experiencing partner trauma, help is available.

What exactly is partner trauma? Let’s begin by defining trauma. Trauma is the unique and personal experience of an event, a series of events or a set of enduring conditions that has the effect of overwhelming the person’s ability to integrate and regulate his or her experience at the levels of sensorimotor (body), cognition (thoughts), and emotion (feelings). In order for me to adequately explain the specifics of partner trauma, we need to take a step back and evaluate connection and our need for healthy, stable relationships.

At our core, we are all wired to connect with others; we begin as babies where we are entirely reliant on our caregivers. As we grow and gain independence, we look to others for comfort, guidance, support, and love. The children in Romanian orphanages, who are not given the opportunity to form meaningful relationships with caregivers and are deemed “unable to thrive” by healthcare professionals, are examples of how the lack of connection with others affects us greatly–physically, mentally, and physiologically.

We never outgrow our need for connection; adults need connection as much as small children do. As stated in my previous blog about connection, humans are wired for attachment! Answer the following questions about a significant relationship in your life:

  1. Will you be there for me when I need you the most?
  2. Can I count on you?
  3. Do I matter to you?
  4. Am I a priority in your life?
  5. Will you value me and accept me even with my imperfections?
  6. Will you stay close to me?

Answering yes to any of the above questions signals healthy attachment; whereas responding “no” to one or several could be indicative of relational trauma. When the person you once relied on, cared for, confided in, trusted and/or loved, no longer fills that role in your life, due to their actions, you are experiencing partner trauma.

Partner trauma (commonly known as relational trauma) has many faces; your partner could be an addict, involved in an affair, or ignored your needs at a time you needed him or her the most, such as a miscarriage, or loss of a job, etc. The common denominator, though, is that the stressor causes a traumatic attachment injury for one of the partners. The person you have leaned on for connection, comfort and support is the one you feel abandoned by. These feelings disrupt your relationship and your entire life. The person you have been the most vulnerable with may suddenly feel dangerous and unsafe. Relational trauma overwhelms the coping strategies you have in place and if not attended to, can appear to define you and how you see the world.

It is important to note that in the majority of cases, the person bringing the hurt into your life is not doing so intentionally; he or she is not trying to cause you emotional harm, although their actions have directly negatively impacted you. The deeper your relationship is with the one who hurts you, the more traumatic the experience and lack of trust will be. How you find out about the betrayal, how long it has been taking place without your knowledge, and your trauma history also factor into the symptoms you may experience. The following are some of the most common symptoms of trauma: fear, anxiety, outbursts of anger or rage, hypervigilance (excessive alertness or watchfulness), irritability, worrying/ruminating, intrusive thoughts of the trauma, tendency to isolate, difficulty concentrating or remembering, feelings of panic or being out of control, increased need to control daily experiences, difficulty trusting, feelings of betrayal, feelings of self-blame or responsibility, numbness, feelings of helplessness, minimizing the experience, feeling detached, concern of over-burdening others, under- or overeating, shame, shock, diminished interest in everyday activities, withdrawal, and preoccupation with body image.

Although relational trauma is not as visible as physical trauma–like being a victim of rape, bullying, or domestic violence–it leaves scars that take a great deal of time to heal. Relational trauma causes a ripple effect in all aspects of your life and influences how you see and treat people, yourself included. It is important to resolve relational trauma and work through it (both with your partner and also on an individual-basis) alongside a trained, experienced therapist. I have counseled many couples through varying degrees of relational betrayal and, while it is never easy, I can attest that couples that come out on the other side have some of the strongest marriages that I have seen. Everyone makes mistakes and we all need second chances. Healing is possible. Please contact me today to schedule your first appointment.

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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