When the youngest of my three birth children was 16, I was anticipating ‘empty nest’ with some excitement as I considered all the new opportunities that would soon be available to me. Then life took an unexpected turn. Two very vulnerable and hurt little girls of 6 and 7 joined our family as our ‘forever daughters’ and with them, trauma arrived in our home, big time.
I was totally unprepared. In my naivety, I assumed that giving our new daughters ‘enough love’ would be relatively easy and they’d be so grateful for the chance to be part of our family that life would continue in much the same fairly relaxed way it had always done.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. The last 20 years have been a very steep learning curve. Their unbelievable early trauma affected every aspect of our lives. At times we’ve reached breaking point, feeling we couldn’t go on and at others have been amazed at the resilience everyone involved in the trauma has shown.
Trauma comes in many forms and generally falls into one of two categories.
Trauma may have arrived in your life, like mine, unexpectedly through bereavement, loss, disability, illness, suicide, a natural disaster, displacement, violence or any number of other circumstances. Or it could be deeply embedded in you or your partners being as a result of early trauma.
Esther Perel, an international relationship guru (we’re great fans of hers at One Retreat) says, ‘when you pick a partner, you pick a story – and often you will be recruited for a play you didn’t audition for’.
This quote confirms what we know but often forget – that we all have a back story whether it’s a secure and relatively happy childhood or one overshadowed by pain. When trauma is part of the early experience of one or both partners or whether it arrives quietly and unexpectedly later, it can cause each individual to react or respond in totally different ways and will inevitably bring pressure to that relationship.
Esther Perel’s quote also reminds us that none of us have any idea what experiences life is going to bring us and when, as she says, ‘we’re recruited for a play we didn’t audition for’, we can be unprepared for the effect will it have on us as a couple. How to cope? Will it draw us together or break us apart?
Esther Perel was the child of Holocaust survivors and noticed in the community she was brought up in, that there were two groups – those who didn’t die, and those who came back to life.
And that’s probably true for any couple who are experiencing trauma. Does it define them or are they able, with time and support, to find ways to slowly begin to heal?
Often, finding appropriate professional support is vital and so is Self-Care – for both of you.
Kintsugi, is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with seams of gold. Instead of discarding and throwing away a damaged bowl or hiding the break, it’s reassembled and the break is emphasised, transforming it into a piece which is unique and ‘more beautiful for being broken’.
This can be a helpful illustration of what can happen to a couple who are able to find new ways of being together, despite the effects of trauma.