The Impact of Trauma in Marriage Webinar
Trauma, in big and small ways, can be an unwelcome guest in our marriage relationship. In this recorded webinar, Kaleb Beyer discusses how to identify the effects which trauma can have on a marriage relationship as well as some of the ways a couple can begin to move forward toward healing in these situations. His encouragement and teaching are helpful for both couples who may be experiencing the effects of trauma themselves as well as for individuals who may be helping and mentoring others through this experience.
Okay. Welcome, it’s great to have you along. My name is Matt Kaufman. You can read there on the screen. I’ve got Kaleb Beyer with me. Kaleb is our marriage and family specialist here at ACCFS and does a lot of work in this area of marriages and the intersection of trauma. So, we’re glad to have you along here, Kaleb, today.
So the title is, you can read it there, is The Impacts of Trauma on Marriage. That’s what we’re going to be addressing and I just wanna even notice how specific this topic is. We’re gonna really be looking and spending the bulk of our time on the impacts that trauma has on marriage, so that we are aware of it. We understand when trauma is speaking in the marriage, you might say. Another topic, that we all have vested interest in is what do we do about trauma? And, while we may at the end, we’re gonna talk about moving forward, and Kaleb, you’re gonna touch on that. But we do want to set the proper expectation here on the outset that we’ve got lots of good resources on dealing with trauma.
I believe Ted Witzig’s got five ways to beat trauma and there’s other things out there, podcasts and such. So, there is help in that specific area and we’ll touch on that here towards the end, but I wanna say at the outset as we start the impact of trauma on marriage, how do we know when trauma speaking?
Just to set this up, Kaleb, as we go into this, sometimes the past is in the present. And I know that you and I have had conversations on a number of different topics, whereby the past is in the present when it comes to marriage. Sometimes marital struggles really stem from past. And, that should help inform us, I think, to sometimes realize that this argument that we’re having or this difficulty that we’re having is not so much about what is in front of us, but might be as much as what is behind us. Kaleb, anything that you wanna share on that aspect?
Well, good afternoon, it’s good to be with you here. And, yeah, on this topic about the past being in the present, Matt, we don’t learn how to love or how to engage in vulnerability just after we get married. We’ve had multiple interactions throughout our life, beginning in our family of origin, other relationship friend groups that throughout life we are having these interactions that are forming what it’s like to be vulnerable in relationship, what it’s like to hurt and how do I walk through that hurt. And all of those are learning grounds, if you will, as we step into the marital relationship. And so an example, Matt, I want you to think about something. And this idea of learning from the past and the way that we interact with each other actually forms expectations for how we will interact in the future.
So let’s say tomorrow morning I show up to the office, Matt, and I come in and I’m whistling and I come in your office and say, Matt, I’m so happy to see you, and I pat you on the back, and what would you think? I would wanna know the story. Yes. That doesn’t happen every day. Yeah. You wouldn’t expect me to interact with you in that way. Perhaps someone else, but I may walk by your office, say, Hey, Matt. But that is an example of, again, through these interactions that I’ve had with you, Matt, there’s certain a level of expectation for how I might interact with you in the future.
The same as, and you might say there’s a set of norms for behavior. And, we expect life to behave within those norms. And those norms have been created based on a lifetime of experiences. So for you, coming in my office like that is way outside the norm of coworker interaction in my life. And so I’m gonna wanna know what the story is. Yeah. And I think that really speaks a little bit. So what we’re dealing with here is trauma is one of these issues that in the past it’s still speaking in the present. It could still be speaking in the present. And so the past trauma is a present effect. There are other past issues that are important to unpack when it comes to marital relationships.
This particular hour is gonna be devoted to trauma because it is a past event that does speak into the present. So what we want to do is that you can see the aim there is to bring awareness to the effect trauma has. So couples can understand and support through the aftermath of trauma, again, so they can understand what is speaking in their marriage and have a little bit of bearing. Is that a good way to say it, Kaleb?
It is. In my experience in working with couples that walk through trauma, Matt, one of the initial steps is just understanding what it is and how it impacts me, how it impacts our relationship, so that there’s an understanding because if not, it tends to decrease the safety in the relationship that we feel with each other and also what we’d call the sanity, right? It can be a bit more chaotic and it’s difficult to make sense of it, but if there’s an understanding and awareness of how it both impacts me individually and our relationship, that in itself can reduce sanity and increase safety and providing a bit of explanation for the experience that we’re having.
Let’s look now, I think we need to go to trauma and define it and look at that. What is it that we mean by trauma? And I know something that both you and Ted use is this lowercase t trauma, uppercase T trauma. And so we’ve got a spectrum here. You wanna paint that, fill that out a little bit?
Sure. So that spectrum basically speaks to the fact that the trauma is when we use the word globally trauma, that can mean different things to different people. So big T trauma would be experiences like childhood sexual abuse, rape, certainly natural disasters being in the midst of that, or a serious car accident, sometimes medical procedures that really go wrong, could be considered big T traumas. Okay. And in under the Big T trauma, we would also say that what we refer to as complex trauma, which is multiple experiences of traumatic incidents in childhood. When our brains are forming there’s maturing that happening and trauma gets woven in that experience developmentally would be in the big T category.
Now, on the other end of the continuum, as you can see here, we would refer to as little t trauma. It’s important to remember that just because it’s little t doesn’t mean it’s smaller in injury, it’s just more difficult actually to recognize and to make sense of at times. And so a little t trauma, for example, Matt, could be bullying in school as a young girl or boy that happened repeatedly. But wasn’t abuse in the sense of direct physical or sexual abuse. But there was certainly some perhaps emotional abuse. A little t trauma can happen relationally in our marriage relationships when we refer to ’em or in marriage therapy as what’s called attachment injuries.
So experiences where maybe you shared, so let’s say a couple. One was diagnosed with cancer and they went to and their spouse was not there when they were diagnosed and when they shared that they weren’t received with empathy. That would be an attachment injury because we think about the vulnerable relationship of a marriage. It is one that you feel safe and that you can go to your spouse to be soothed and comforted.
I’ve got a question, Kaleb, I’m curious, is trauma always events? I mean the examples that you provided, being bullied, sexual abuse, this moment in the operating room where so-and-so wasn’t present. And so I’m just curious, are trauma events or could a trauma be, I grew up in poverty, for example, somebody growing up in poverty. Not, that’s not really an event. But it was just a present reality for that person. It certainly has an impact on their life. I’ve thrown a curve ball here. I’m curious.
No, that’s a good question. So the answer is, it’s both, right? It can be both. So that the example you gave of poverty, it is a reality of neglect. And so it isn’t like in one situation or one circumstance or one event per se, that led to that overwhelming emotion, right? Or, what we call as trauma, but a continual kind of neglect. Whether it be emotional neglect in this, physical or financial neglect could be traumatic. Now, with each of these, Matt, we have to keep in mind that just because one event was traumatic to one individual doesn’t mean necessarily it is traumatic to another. There are factors. So we’re just saying that it may lend itself to be an experience that is traumatic that affects them emotionally, relationally.
So, you definitely have that with children coming out of the same house with the same experiences and some traumatized by perhaps the behavior of a father and another one able to process that or took it in a different way. You provide some more details around I think trauma and what trauma is with these contributing variables. Why don’t you speak to those?
So, there’s a couple themes that are common among, what we call traumatic events. And so one is intense, overwhelming fear. Okay? It’s important to keep in mind that it doesn’t necessarily mean that it actually even happened to you. The event happened to you, for example. It could be, for example, someone close to you that you were aware of being in a serious accident, for example, but your system, meaning your nervous system, was overwhelmed with intense fear, and shocked your system, so to speak. The second piece is a sense of helplessness, that in the midst of that fear, there is an inability to respond. One feels helpless, one feels outside of the ability to have control over a situation or a circumstance. Again, this doesn’t mean a specific necessary event, it could be threats.
So for example, in situations where there is abuse in relationships, even threats of violence can be considered traumatic. Even though, for example, domestic violence didn’t happen, right? Because there’s an intense fear, there’s a sense of helplessness to control or to stop even when the event didn’t occur.
And the third component there is a sense of aloneness. God has created us to be in relationship and really what they find, it’s interesting after traumatic events, those that have a sense of others around them to comfort and soothe are able to overcome much more quickly than those that feel alone and that have a sense of aloneness. So that idea of being alone in the fear is what is also so overwhelming and what leads to trauma. And Matt, it doesn’t mean physically present, right? When we say aloneness, someone could be present, but they’re not responding, they’re not engaging and protecting, and with me emotionally. Does that make sense?
So let’s look at what does trauma look like in marriage, and what are the effects of trauma on marriage? Now we’re gonna split this into two parts. The next slide is gonna talk about between spouses, but this first slide here, Kaleb, there is an understanding effect that it has within one’s self. And so you’re gonna focus now in on the individual. And, then pretty soon we’re gonna look at the couple. So for the individual that has experienced trauma either within the marriage relationship or prior to the marriage relationship, or in the case of, for example, a natural disaster or a car accident that the spouse wasn’t there but they experienced a traumatic event. We would expect these. So the first is re-experiencing, meaning there is a playing over and over, whether it be images, whether it be emotions internally, whether it be reoccurring intrusive thoughts and fears that can flood the system.
This can come in the form of dreams or nightmares. That’s not uncommon after a traumatic event that they can experience thoughts, internal just times when they’re caught off guard by flooding emotions, when they’re re-experiencing, for example, if it’s a car accident, that they’re near the site and they’re re-experiencing going through that same kind of event.
Again, trauma really makes such an impact to the brain, such an impressive impact to the brain that that affect lingers. And it forms maybe the way we think about things, the reactions we have about things, the pathways our thoughts go regarding. It does. There’s a part of our brain that is responsible for moving short-term memory to long-term memory. And when a traumatic experience happens, it creates a barrier such that that memory continues to be in the short term. It doesn’t mean it’s explicit that I know it, but it overwhelms the brain such that it, the brain’s work is to put it in a filing cabinet. When you and I have an experience, that it’s like, oh, we can put this in a filing cabinet and retrieve it at any time.
Well what happens with a trauma memory is it pops up even when we don’t ask it to pop up. Right. It just pops up. And that’s representative of a traumatic experience or memory. The next is numbing and avoidance you could imagine what it’s like internally, right? When we’re being bombarded by intrusive thoughts or images or feelings that come in uninvited that our system can get overwhelmed.
And so the tendency is to avoid anything that would lead to that, right? That’s a natural response. And so even, so for example, in the case of marital relationships, if there was prior physical or sexual abuse, even those things that in relationships where there’s no trauma, physical touch, for example, can lead to something that’s avoided because of the hyper arousal or the triggering and the unwanted memories.
So speaking back to your metaphor of putting those memories into long-term files storage, which is the healthy way to deal with life. Our shortcut reaction is to simply numb or to avoid and that’s a way to cope since we can’t get things into the proper filing mechanism. Is that a fair metaphor there?
It is fair. And, unfortunately it doesn’t work well cuz emotion in itself, by the way it’s designed is too emote. So there’s a conscious decision of suppressing that negative emotion, which is a really difficult dynamic for someone who has walked through.
So what you’re really having to do in order to numb and to avoid is we have to turn off other important parts of ourselves. Emotions, for example. Which is not gonna bode well for healthy relationships because now I’ve gotta dial down those things that I need present.
The next piece is just affect dysregulation. So that’s related to just emotions in general. The way our system works, Matt, is that we have an autonomic nervous system. So it’s responsible even as we’re engaging right now, if I ate prior to this some and it’s digesting my food, I’m not telling it to do that. It’s doing it automatically. Well, our stress response system is also part of that. And what it means is the stress response system has three kind of categories, if you will. One is a calm, so we feel calm and soothed. One is what’s called fight or flight, which you’ve probably heard of and another is called freeze or immobilize. So we have three states and in individuals that haven’t experienced trauma, we move through these states, what’s called flexibly. But what happens when trauma takes place in individual’s life, it’s stuck in the fight or flight.
And so that is scanning. All of us are constantly scanning the environment to say, are things unsafe? Well, what happens when trauma takes place, that system’s stuck in a constant fight or flight. And so it doesn’t feel safe. The subjective felt sense is it’s not safe. And so therefore there can be increase in irritability, increase in sleep disturbance, even shutting down, immobilizing if you will.
And that being in that fight or flight then brings the past into the present, doesn’t it? Yes. Even though that occurrence was in the past, perhaps, it now is very present with us because we are responding in fight or flight. And then finally you move on here to the last point about having a view of ourselves. So there is a real impact here on how a trauma victim views themselves. So, in two ways there that I’ve put on the slide and that is the view of myself as being in certain traumatic experiences. It’s defectiveness as lovable or a failure. And so shame is an experience of trauma that flows out of trauma events as well as distrust. Distrust in myself. When my system is chaotic internally, can I even trust my own emotions, my own intuitions and perceptions as well as those around me, because trauma shatters safety and the trust of others and trust of self. And so those are strong kind of components for traumatic experiences.
And I think this leads very nicely to the next part of this. Remember, we’re addressing what are the effects of trauma on marriage. This first slide here really deals within one’s self. So this is something that’s stirring within us, but if distrust is a part of that inward experience that’s gonna impact marriage quite directly, right? It’s gonna impact relationships. So as we look at this next one now, what are the effects of trauma on marriage? Now, let’s look at between spouses here. You’ve got a lot to say about that, Kaleb.
Yeah, so the first one there, emotional eruption, seems quick and chaotic again as we’re thinking about the impact of the individual and how their system has been impacted. One of the things that we notice as a theme within marriages where there’s been trauma is that there’s a sudden or chaotic kind of response. What we would see would maybe on surface level seem out of proportion to what happened, right? The intensity of the emotion that comes perhaps seems out of proportion. But in context it certainly isn’t as we account for the past and the things that have happened. Now, this doesn’t, yeah, go ahead.
When we think of being unreasonable. Which, in a relationship, in a marital relationship, very often. Honey, this is unreasonable. You’re being unreasonable is certainly one of those things that come to the surface. And you’re suggesting that would be very typical of coming from a traumatic past.
Yes. Even so, if I were to give an example, Matt, a couple where one spouse experienced what we’d consider trauma in their childhood, where there perhaps was their primary care figure, individual mother or father wasn’t present and emotionally wasn’t there for them. So they didn’t experience that sense of they actually experienced abandonment emotionally. So what happens when their spouse comes home 15 or 20 minutes late? What might happen is intense feelings of rejection that perhaps stem from child and therefore the intensity of the emotion that flows out of the present seems out of proportion for their spouse being 15 minutes late.
But in light of the context of what happened, certainly makes sense. So, and let me give you another example when it comes to betrayals, because again, trauma can happen within the relationship. So let’s say pornography, okay? Let’s say one spouse has been either addicted or engaging in pornography or acted out sexually in some way. And so what can happen, again, present triggers of seeing a spouse looking on the phone, for example, right? Can lead to a trigger that either externally leads to anger, externalizing and emoting, pretty intense emotions and fear. Or on the other end just locking up, shutting down internally.
And so that’s that emotional eruption seems to be so trauma affects how we make meaning of our present. What does it mean to see my spouse on his or her phone? What does that mean? Is going to be affected by that experience. Absolutely. And that’s just one example out of a thousand.
Next, feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. So again, if you think about, particularly, Matt, when the trauma has impacted in the marriage relationship, there is no relationship where there’s higher amount of vulnerability than in our marriage relationship. And what feels so helpless and hopeless in those situations when I’ve been injured or wounded or the trauma has been borne from my spouse, is that is the same place that I go for safety, for comfort, for soothing. That also is the place of danger. So that dynamic in itself sets up a bit of feeling of helplessness, really for both, individuals. But, you can see that it feeds certainly too that internal kind of belief or shame that one feels when trauma is at play in the marriage relationship.
That makes, that makes a lot of sense. Move along here to the arguments without resolution. I think that is something that we can all understand at face value, but say a little bit more about why that is.
Yes. So it goes back to what we were talking about, a little bit about the fight or flight. And so what happens is when trauma’s at play, arguments can turn into wildfires pretty quickly. Okay. So if we think about the system being caught in fight or flight, meaning they’re scanning the environment for any type of danger.
So there’s part of our brain, the amygdala, which is the emotional center part of our brain. If there’s a felt sense of danger, not physical danger, always it could be, but emotionally not feeling safe with my spouse, then the alarm system goes off. And when the alarm system goes off, it floods the body of the individual with intense emotions or shuts it down.
And so what happens when arguments come up and it’s a kind of a flashpoint, if you will. It’s difficult to move through those in a way that leads to resolving or making sense of. Because the other factor here, Matt, is when we’re in that fight or flight, it affects our perceptions, right? And the way that we’re making sense out of what just happened as well as is the individual that doesn’t experience trauma is they perhaps feel caught off guard or they’re wondering where did this come from? And so, even thinking about stepping into the conversation again, let’s say it’s about finances, brings already a revved up feeling moving into the conversation. Right, which inhibits the ability to process information in a way that we feel safe and that we can have flexibility. Right? Yeah. We can see multiple perspectives.
Yeah. I really appreciate this and I appreciate this list. And, again, going back to our aim for this particular webinar is really to bring awareness to the effects that trauma has on marriage. While we want to know how do we remedy all of this? How do we stop this, correct this, do all of this. At this point in the conversation, we’re just bringing awareness to say, ah, this is what might be going on. And I can see very easily how arguments do not have resolution when we think there’s two people arguing when really there’s other events, and there’s past voices in this argument, but we can’t see them. And so there’s a lot more at play there than just, an impasse of two individuals on a very local and present topic.
If we skip down next to the decrease in emotional and physical intimacy, so one of the things that trauma, the way it impacts individuals in relationship is there’s a feeling of aloneness even though we’re in relationship. Okay. And so, as a result of that, it is a painful thing to feel alone in relationship, Matt, to have the felt sense that I’m in relationship, but I feel I’m on my own. And so, going back to sometimes when the trauma has happened in the marriage relationship, even thinking about moving towards intimacy, sets the alarm off, particularly when vulnerability was used in the past in a way to manipulate or control. Why would I go and step into being exposing myself to that type of hurt when that type of vulnerability has led to such hurt, right?
Yes. And so you’ve really approached this particular bullet, again from the perspective of the one who has trauma in their past. So if we want to say that, let’s suppose we have a couple with one that had trauma, the other one that didn’t. You’re suggesting that the person with trauma is more likely to have this decreased emotion, and intimacy, or are you saying that this is a byproduct that happens with both parties?
It’s a byproduct that happens. So it’s what happens in the marriage relationship because of the dynamic of trauma for the individual that has experienced trauma, that may lead to increased fear. And if the spouse that doesn’t have trauma doesn’t understand or make sense of that and they’re continuing to move close and even at some sense pressuring to move close, that can feel very similar to the experience of what happened in the past. And so it can lead to a cycle or a dynamic in the relationship that actually leads to disengagement rather than engagement and connection. Sure. Does that make sense?
Yeah. Which would then make the final bullet there a easy corollary, right? Difficult receiving love. Especially when, back to the shame piece, when the individual that experienced trauma has a high amount of shame and the felt sense is they are unlovable. The spouse that doesn’t have shame can speak cognitively to that, but it doesn’t change their felt sense, the feeling in their body, in the sense, which can be difficult for both spouses. Because the spouse that doesn’t have the trauma, or is the perhaps betrayer in the relationship wants to show and express love to their spouse that has trauma, and yet as a result of shame, that hangs on, it’s difficult for them to receive it, to take it in to find rest and comfort and soothing in that place.
Sure. You know, as I look through this list, I think it really paints a vivid picture in the last slide as well, what trauma looks like within ourselves. Would you find working with folks that people know if they’ve been traumatized, is that an easy question or do you find that people need a bit more introspection to really place their finger on whether it is they have or have not? You know what I’m asking?
Yeah. No, that is not my general experience. I think this is becoming less and less true, Matt, as the years go by, but is that individuals come into counseling or I’ll speak with them and there’s not an awareness of what trauma is or how it’s impacting me or our relationship.
We tend generally to minimize the painful experiences in our life. That isn’t always true, but the tendency is to go there and so to see, and experience a traumatic when, for example, people are starving in Africa or this didn’t, being able, comparing a really what seems significant event and then minimizing one’s own experience as traumatic, then there’s not language for that. So I think a big part is identifying what is trauma, and it is what impacted us or me, is that trauma?
I think that’s helpful. Could you even say that all marriages at some level are dealing with the effects of trauma? Now maybe we fall under the weight of definition here as you’ve painted large T to small t. At the very minimum, unhealthy brokenness that has wired our false realities and then given us unnatural norms that we resist in marriage and in healthy relationships. I don’t know, I guess my question to you is this, Kaleb, is this type of understanding more expansive than just this limited group of people that have gone through trauma and they know it?
I think for all of us, just an awareness of trauma and what it is, is helpful. Often I think, I don’t know if I’d say every relationship has trauma. Certainly there’s injuries and what we’d refer to as I’ve said it in this webinar, attachment injuries. So for example, moments when I was vulnerable with my spouse and it led to hurt rather than connection. Those certainly happen and that certainly impacts the way that we relate to each other and the vulnerability that we have with each other.
Yeah. So on the next slide here, Kaleb, you really go to look at what this effect looks like. The way this slide is laid out, it, it appears like there’s something cyclical going on. Maybe some cause and effect, between some of these elements. Why don’t you unpack that?
Yeah, so this is a cycle, as you can see on the slide. So if we walk through this within a marriage relationship, and starting at the point of the lack of connection, okay, so there’s a sense again of increased feeling of aloneness. Perhaps that leads to triggering or engaging in ways to cope with that. That’s not bringing it into relationship, but in the sense of a lack of connection, what it does for individuals with trauma is it triggers traumatic stress, right? It triggers the system to be hyper aroused, perhaps to re-experience other times when they felt alone or vulnerable and on their own increases fear, perhaps avoidance. All of those things that we talked about earlier that how trauma affects an individual, which then leads to relational distress. The way it plays out in relationship is that it leads to relational distress, which leads to what? Lack of connection. Objection. Right.
And so one of the really important pieces in working with couples is to begin to identify how is trauma at play in our relationship? How does it play itself out? How do we get caught in this cycle because trauma is the enemy, not our spouse. How is it that a couple that loves each other so much gets in a pattern where it leads to what seems to be more and more disconnection, which is painful. Right. And so again, back to the awareness piece and understanding how this plays out and how it can be frustrating and a sense of helplessness for both in the relationship, I think, is an important piece.
I think that makes a lot of sense in the word. The phrase that comes to me, Kaleb, is that we start reacting from reactions and instead of a main cause, let me give you this example. If perhaps a husband withdraws and what that withdraw says to the spouse is that I don’t love you, even though that’s not what he’s trying to say. And how she responds to the message, I don’t love you, might be, I’m gonna make this up, frustration and criticism and what he hears from that is you think very little of me. And then that might cause more withdrawal, which makes the message of, you don’t love me. And, all of a sudden we’re in a conversation saying things that we never intended to say and really are not saying, except for that’s the way they’re being read. And, we get in a reactive cycle that’s not helpful. Does that make sense?
Yeah. Absolutely. It is, back to your point of reacting to a reaction, right? Reacting to one’s distress that maybe comes out in a way that’s misinterpreted. One of the things that trauma does is mix the signal.
So have you ever played that communication game where you tell the next person down the line this, and by the time you get to the end, it’s? That’s what trauma does to communication in a marriage. Which is really difficult for both spouses. And I think when we’re aware of that there’s something else at play it can be, yes, that can be hard and painful, but it can be helpful to say, Hey, this isn’t about you or me. This is about something else that’s at play, that’s going on. How can we come around to make sense of what sets it off?
Okay, so now we’re getting to that moving forward part. You know, as you talked about having a conversation about this, and really this webinar is really about everything that you laid out here, Kaleb, the impacts of trauma on marriage. Can you taste it, smell it, see it? Does it make sense? Do we recognize that even though this is a two-way argument, there’s actually a third person here and it’s called trauma and so there’s a lot of confusion, but you’ve just mentioned this concept of what moving forward looks like. And we desperately want to know what moving forward goes and looks like. And I’m gonna paint two different categories, two different bins. Bin number one is dealing with the past trauma, going back there, grabbing ’em by the lapel and figuring it out. And then number two being, I don’t know, it was back there and moving past the trauma or coming to a place of acceptance. Do those two bins make sense? And so why don’t you give us just some counsel here about what that looks like in those spaces.
Yeah, so the first bucket there, dealing with the past trauma, this is the sense of really stepping into and engaging the process of moving through trauma, in that sense. And so there’s a couple things that we put on the slide there, education again, what we’re talking about here. And there’s a plethora of great resources, books, other resources that are available when making sense and understanding trauma. But also professional counseling in the area of just being able to step into some of those things. And there’s many methods which engage in professional counseling. One we would call top down or through changing schemas, or thinking. But the other that more and more is becoming popular is what’s called bottom up, which is about engaging the body, the emotion, and through finding ways to build coping skills, to move through the distress. So, does that make sense?
Yeah, that’s helpful. And let me ask you this question, Kaleb, just out of total curiosity, if a person’s gonna really deal with the trauma in their life, do they have to take it head on? Is ignoring it a possibility or is the way forward dealing with trauma is to say, I need to take this sexual abuse that I endured and I’ve gotta deal with it head on, and we need to get the right people involved to really lay this at rest? Does that make sense? Is there a passive way through trauma, is my question, Kaleb?
It depends on what kind of life that you’re looking for and what impact that is that isn’t. That’s a beautiful response that needs a lot of explanation, Kaleb. Okay. Well, what I mean by that, Matt, is so, in answer your question, I would say no, we can’t take a passive response to trauma because to do so is to ignore that it’s present. Okay? Right. Now at the same time, everyone that experienced trauma doesn’t mean they necessarily need professional counseling. In fact, the way God has designed relationship, ideally within the marriage relationship when there is safety, that some of those pieces can be worked through. However, we’d also say that some of the roots of traumas are sometimes so deep, that actually stepping into professional counseling to move through those can be a helpful thing. But, passiveness, I don’t know that it can be engaged, but it doesn’t work real well.
Right. Thanks, you answered my question. Let’s look at bin 2 then, accepting the trauma of the past. And so we’re looking at a situation that says, okay, is my life tied up in solving this thing? Or is there a way that we can move forward today, right now, can we move forward today at some level? And what does that look like, even though we’ve had trauma in the past?
Yep. So the first thing that we would say, in this area, Matt, is awareness. Okay? Part of the reason for even this webinar is to bring awareness for what trauma is, how it impacts me, how it impacts my spouse. And so awareness is both individually within myself, as well as how it plays out in our relationship. Now, this isn’t just cognitive, this isn’t just fueling my mind with information about trauma. Yeah, it is awareness of what sets it off. What’s the cue either in myself or in my spouse that leads to these kind of flashpoints. Yes. That leads to trauma showing up.
And can I maybe even fill it out with an example based on what you’ve said there? Understanding that in intense argument, for example, that there’s more happening here than just what’s present here. And having that awareness is helpful as we work out disagreement or are recognizing, that I am gonna withdraw. And understanding, withdraw on what that means of my spouse and recognizing that it’s not malicious as much as it might be prompted by other things, other complexities. And so that awareness and that understanding is helpful in helping a marriage be healthy even though trauma’s been its past.
Yes. Because the more that we understand the automatic response and the more our spouse understands that and doesn’t personalize it, doesn’t take it on as blame, which is hard to do. But again, that we have a shared language about trauma and how it shows up, that then the more we can move to a more flexible response, we can move to more shifting. But until that awareness and understanding is there, it’s really difficult because ideally what we wanna do in marriage is to take, when there’s a triggering, to be able to use our spouse’s soothing as comfort, as calming rather than triggering. And if the two of us have an understanding awareness of what’s going on, we’re much more likely to do that. We’re much more likely to bring that into the relationship and say, ah, this is what happened.
Now I’ve got more questions, and I just want to throw this out there to our listeners, that if anybody’s got a question, you can either chat that in or you can even unmute yourself and ask that question. Kaleb, here’s a question for you. Suppose a spouse knows that their spouse has got trauma in their past, my spouse’s dad left and divorced my in-law, whatever. Oh, okay. I know that’s impacting my spouse, doesn’t talk about it. Do we need to, is it one of those black boxes and says, okay, my spouse’s black box. We don’t go there. I know it’s affecting us. I can’t bring it up until they bring it up. What should I do? Should I press into this even though it’s reactive, you know what I’m saying?
Yeah. That’s a really good question. So the first piece I would say with that, Matt, is we need to focus on the present because if we step into the past, so let’s say the husband, was it the husband? So let’s just say it’s the husband that had the childhood where a parent left or felt abandoned. And so the wife in this case, is aware of that, but perhaps the husband isn’t, or at least minimizes the impact that it has on his life. What the wife can do, rather than jumping back into pointing out, you know what, I think this back here is leading to this, which might feel blaming or may provoke shame is let’s start with the present dynamic.
What happened in your interactions when you’re communicating together or resolving conflict, where are the places that you get caught? How can we start talking about them and hold for a second, right? This kind of piece of trauma is impacting, especially if the husband minimizes or because we wanna focus on, I’m sure you’ve heard it, connection before correction, right? It will feel too much like correction. If I move into trying to point out that actually this back here, I think is playing out in the present. Yeah. Now, if the husband gets to a place that he starts to realize a connection, like, when this happens in our relationship, it feels very similar to what happened back here.
Now we’re at a different place, right? Yeah. Now we’re at a different place engaging that, but I wouldn’t recommend just going into that based on the wife’s awareness when the husband may not be at a place to even bring it up because Matt, the thing of it is to bring up that idea brings shame to individuals and we need to honor and just make space for that. But that’s hard to bring up. And so just pointing it out isn’t necessarily helpful.
So as I unpack what you’ve just said there, I love it start at the present issue to simply say, I noticed this reality and this is difficult, and we both agree that this is a difficult reality. Working at that level and suggesting, do you think this has an impact or has a source in this area of your life and allowing the conversation to go from present to past rather than just going to the past? And even with that, with the present, being able to understand and slow down what just happened, what was it that I said or did that led to this reaction and getting really specific. To slow down what happens like wildfire so that we can begin to recognize what happens and understand what sets it off in the present.
And, that’s helpful. I’ve got another question. Again, feel free to chat in your questions, but now I’m curious about children. Okay. At what level do you help children understand trauma here? Okay. Because they just saw Dad do something and you as the spouse have a process for it. You see the kids are hurt and yet it’s not your story really to tell but the explanation is helpful for you. Probably be helpful to the kids. Anyway, how about this miry situation?
Yeah. So a couple things, Matt, that are going through my mind, and I’m not sure how to unpack it all, but one, the age of the kids matter. Okay. Developmentally, if we’re talking, under seven years old, eight to seven, we would approach them different than someone who’s a teenager. But so I guess some general considerations might be helpful in this area. One is we can’t prevent it from happening. Because the more that we try to stop it, the more it manifests itself. Okay? In the sense that, being controlled or going into a rigid response, what we can do is to say, Hey, you know what, first of all, mom or dad, really doesn’t want to respond this way. This isn’t like with trauma. It’s not like I wake up one day and I really want to do this. I’m really thinking about, the second thing is this isn’t about they are not causing, we really need to come around the kids so that, again, this is probably for older kids that they begin to recognize and understand that they are not responsible for mom, or dad’s.
That was excellent, Kaleb. I only summarize really quickly and because you’ve brought up a couple times, having a vocabulary of trauma that you can talk with your spouse about and now expanding that to the kids’ age appropriate level. But you’ve also said you don’t have to get into the details just to simply say, there’s more happening here than what you saw out of dad. You’ll understand in time, I think, goes a long ways in constructing that understanding of the child rather than the child coming up with all of their understanding on their own. And I think that’s powerful. Arlan just jumped on, so he must have something to say. Arlan.
No, thank you. We just had a question chat in. And I just think it’s a great question I wanna bring to bear. Here’s the question that was asked. Is there a way to recognize little t trauma as it happens, or is it just usually played out in future reactions? If something as traumatic just played in future reactions, like in that present moment? Can you start recognize, do I have to wait until the collateral damage happens in order to.
Yeah, that’s a really good question. I don’t know that there’s a way in the moment that we can identify it. I do think as individuals, so it makes me think a little bit, about bids for connection and the more that we educate ourselves and be aware of being present and responsive to each other and how important that is in a relationship, we can do a preventative measure. But I don’t know that in the moment being able to recognize that this is gonna be a little t trauma. I don’t think, I don’t know how, it just happens so quickly, so it’s after the fact.
Sure. But I think well, so if it’s one thing to not know it’s coming, but is there a level set or a skillset set to know, that just happened at work today with my spouse, that’s gonna be impactful because I know him and I know, you know what I’m saying? So if knowing ahead of time, maybe not, but can we know quickly in the past?
Well, one of the things I think about here, Matt, is that we are present in understanding that, you know what, when we are stressed or we just don’t respond well, that actually does matter in relationship. So bringing that back around is what we call repair. And repair is important. We’re all gonna have disconnects. In fact, for kids growing up, they say 30% of the time if they have responsiveness in their parent figure, they will maintain a secure connection, right? A secure attachment style, which is not a lot of the time. So as couples, being aware of when I missed cues or when I just miss it and I can come back around and say, you know what, honey, the other night when I came home, I’m sorry I wasn’t responsive when you wanted to talk about this and I know that’s really important to you, and I’m sorry I was stressed and it was my fault. Can we talk about it tomorrow night? That’s a repair. Then I’m able to say, you know what, you do matter. And I realize I, got it wrong back here, so can we spend some time now? And so those repairs are important, critical for healthy relationship.
The healthier level of emotional interaction that a couple has in general, the more quickly that kind of the radar is gonna go off to say, something’s not right here. You know? Yes. We normally have very safe free-flowing discussion, dialogue. And I’m catching something, you know, that I maybe need to gently in the present probe into, without automatically assuming there’s a deep thing there. One more quick question came up before you close if we could. There was for just a little bit more when you say bottom up dealing with trauma, that idea of that growing movement to deal with it in that way. Speak to that just a little bit, Kaleb, in 30 seconds, what does that mean?
Yep. So senses, beginning with our senses first. So the way the autonomic nervous system works is, emotion comes before thought. And so what they find is if we can learn to be aware, when trauma happens, we move away from our body because that’s a dangerous place to be when it feels chaotic and we feel helpless to stop it. So, bottom up is us learning ways to be in our body, to be present with what comes up, which is the place we wanna move from, but that’s helpful in quieting ourselves and calming and soothing the fight or flight response in a way that then our thinking is more clear.
Right at the top of the hour. Kaleb, why don’t you finish with this slide here in front of you. Yeah. So I like this concept of drawing a circle around our relationship to remind that we are in this together, that we’re working together, and when these kind of negative cycles happen. I think it’s difficult to be able to step back and say, you know what? We’re gonna draw a line around our circle and say, we’re in the middle of the circle together. We’re in this together. And part of what we’re gonna do is identify and figure out how, when trauma, whatever it is, comes in and plays out. It moves to one stepping outside of the circle or feeling outside of the circle. We wanna bring that spouse in, we wanna bring both in. And that there is hope that together we can work through combating the effects of trauma individually, but also relationally.
Excellent. Thanks for that, Kaleb. Thanks for sharing on this important topic. Thank you each one for coming on. And again, this will be recorded and shared out so you can share it that way. But, again, thank you very much. Good to be with you. Have a great day.