Post-Traumatic Relationship Syndrome: The Signs and How You Can Help

All trauma is created differently, and it can be caused by a variety of sources. While there is often a picture that first comes to mind when we discuss trauma — big accidents or witnessing something disturbing — it can be from anything big or small. Relationships are often the most common and deeply held sources, and being in an unhealthy relationship can cause an impact, whether you realize it or not. 

Trauma impacts how we think, behave and see ourselves. You or your partner could very well be experiencing trauma from a past relationship, and just because a relationship wasn’t abusive doesn’t mean you won’t be affected. Everyone is different and experiences various hardships. Luckily, there are a few ways to break it down and process.

The Signs of Post-Traumatic Relationship Syndrome

There are a few ways you can tell if you or your partner are experiencing trauma from a past relationship. You may have to dig deep and ponder your feelings and experiences. When it comes to your partner, it helps to learn how they communicate best and pick up on the signals they put out consciously or unconsciously. While everyone is different, these can be some telltale signs of relationship trauma.

1. Isolation

Isolation can come in many forms, whether someone avoids social situations or a partner specifically. If you notice yourself or your loved one pulling away and becoming distant, it could be worth examining.

2. Extreme Insecurity

Insecurity can often come after being broken down by a past partner. Someone may feel bad about themselves or the current relationship, which can be a sign of trauma.

3. Fear of Intimacy

Emotional trauma can cause fears around physical as well as emotional intimacy. Both require trust and vulnerability, and if those things were exploited in the past somehow, it might be difficult to open up again.

4. Fear of Commitment

Trauma can cause people to feel like they can’t trust others, which can lead to commitment issues. On a core level, it can be difficult to believe that someone else will be there for you if you’re still processing the harm someone has caused you by not being there.

5. Psychological Distress

A more obvious expression of post-traumatic relationship syndrome is when that trauma or those experiences actively cause distress. If you and your partner can’t shake those feelings or memories and it causes constant issues, it could be a sign of larger problems.

6. Anxious Attachment

Those who haven’t been treated well in the past can often latch onto people who show them care and affection because they crave the pleasant and unfamiliar feeling. If this sounds like you or your partner, it could be because you’re trying to find what was missing before.

7. Irrational Fears

Much like anxious attachment, trauma can sometimes cause irrational fears and emotional insecurities within the relationship. Worrying about breakups, cheating or abuse are often tied to past partners who engaged in those behaviors.

8. Guilt or Nervousness

Post-traumatic relationship syndrome can sometimes cause a sense of nervousness, guilt or second-guessing in everyday behaviors. Apologizing for asking for anything or expressing normal human emotions, not wanting to step on anyone’s toes or constant anxiety can be a result of an unstable relationship in the past.

How to Help

If your partner is experiencing past relationship trauma, there are ways you can offer help so they can process and move past these experiences. This will allow your relationship to become healthier as a result of your mutual growth. 

1. Talk About It Together

One of the best ways to process and work through trauma is having open, frank discussions about your feelings and allowing a safe space for vulnerability. Talking through the issues can help air things out and settle expectations. It can also indicate how to best support your partner and what they need to grow from their experiences.

2. Offer Support

Offering support can take many forms, from verbal affirmations to physical affection to doing something kind for your partner. Often, healing from trauma is about knowing you are safe and secure, so reminding them of that can help cultivate those feelings within the relationship.

3. Practice Mindfulness and Grounding

Remembering where you are and reminding yourself that you are safe and secure can be a great way to center yourself and create good self-talk habits. This can be part of a mindfulness practice, which is all about staying present in the current moment to calm the mind.

4. Practice Self-Care

Self-care works for couples as well as individuals. Spending quality time together and reminding one another that your relationship and connection are important while engaging in beneficial practices can be a great way to connect. Go on date nights or watch your favorite movies. What you do is up to you.

5. Make Time for Healing

One of the most important ways to help someone process and heal is realizing that it takes time. One therapy session, supportive action or self-care day can’t make trauma go away. It’s a process and a journey, and patience is a part of the game.

Work Through It Together

Trauma is difficult, whether it’s big or small, but working through it is a part of life. Eventually, you can come out the other side stronger than ever before.