My Wife Suffers from Relational Trauma: Our Journey Through Her Recovery

Relational trauma is the experience of repeated neglect, abuse, bullying, or other type of behavior that causes lasting psychological harm. It’s usually perpetrated by a family member or other close loved one, and the repercussions are serious and long-term. Someone who has gone through relational trauma will struggle to form healthy, happy relationships with other people, but treatment can help. Trauma- and relationship-focused therapy in residential treatment can help victims and their families communicate, bond, and heal from past experiences.

When I found out my wife had been abused as a child, I was devastated. I didn’t know her then of course, but I still regretted not having been able to protect her from her father.

Initially, I thought we could talk about it and she would heal, but the truth was that the repercussions of that abuse were far too complicated for me alone to be able to help her.

The ripple effects included problems in our relationship, her own anxiety and depression, and even stress in our children. What helped us all heal was to go on a journey of treatment and recovery.

I Had No Idea How Much Abuse Impacted My Wife

I knew pretty early on in our relationship that my wife had been abused by her alcoholic father. I learned more details later, like the fact that her mother never tried to intervene. But it took a while for me to realize just how much the abuse affected her decades later and how far-reaching those impacts were.

One of the first things I noticed in my wife, and that I admired and loved about her, was her independence. But as we got closer, it became more of a hindrance than a healthy trait. She struggled to let me help her with anything and always wanted to be self-sufficient. It hurt my feelings, because it seemed as if she didn’t trust me. She also had this perfectionist streak that, again, I admired at first but became increasingly problematic.

It wasn’t until a few years into our marriage, when we had our children, that I realized my wife’s issues with her past experiences were impacting her well-being and that of our family. She seemed increasingly anxious about getting things right and about caring for our children. She also went through periods of depression. It wasn’t until we finally went to couples therapy that I realized all these issues were signs and effects of relational trauma.

Couples Therapy Wasn’t Enough

Some of the problems in our relationship led my wife and me to a couples’ therapist. She was great and did help us with some things, like communicating better with each other. Ultimately, our therapist recommended that my wife try some more intensive treatment, both alone and with my participation. She felt that my wife and our family would benefit from her getting some individual help to heal from her experiences.

I wasn’t sure that taking her away from home was the right choice for our family. I worried about the impact on the kids. But our therapist explained that my wife’s relational trauma was already negatively impacting them. I had already noticed some anxiety in our oldest daughter, and that concerned us both. We learned that a parent’s past trauma can seriously affect a child’s mental health. So my wife made the brave decision to enter a treatment facility.

Treatment for Relational Trauma Helped My Wife Finally Heal

My wife went through a lot of intensive therapy, one-on-one with experts in trauma. The rehab center evaluated her thoroughly on intake, which revealed that relational trauma was definitely a big issue, but that she also suffered from major depression and some mild anxiety.

Her treatment started with trauma-focused therapy. She later told me all about how this was initially pretty painful and difficult, but that with time she began to get this big sense of relief. She said she felt as if there had been a huge cloud following her since childhood and that finally talking about and facing that abuse was starting to break it up a little. The sun began to peak through the clouds. She learned to reframe the abuse she experienced and truly began to understand that she had no blame in it.

In addition to the therapy, my wife got excellent medical care. She tried two antidepressants before finding one that really helped. She learned how to mediate to manage stress and anxiety and took up cooking, something she had never done before, or at least not with any enjoyment.

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Treatment Involved the Whole Family

My wife’s individual treatment in rehab was life-changing. She needed to heal personally, and the intensive therapy helped her do that. It also armed her with strategies to use at home to continue making positive changes and coping with depression.

But my wife’s personal healing wasn’t enough. We were all suffering, and this is why it was so great that the treatment center got us all involved. We did some family therapy sessions with a child therapist who helped our daughters understand their mom’s moods and behaviors in an age-appropriate way.

Both girls also got involved in meditation with my wife. This really helped our older daughter, who had begun to show signs of having an anxiety disorder. Together they learned some deep breathing strategies and did mindfulness meditation. This alone has been a powerful tool for our daughter, and I couldn’t be more grateful that the instructor included her.

Having me and our children involved as part of treatment helped us in many ways. We learned and practiced some great communication skills. Our daughters learned how to talk meaningfully about their feelings. And best of all, we feel like we set a great example for our children about how to manage your own mental health.

Working Through Relational Trauma Every Day

Another important thing we learned going through treatment together was that this journey of recovery and healing would never truly be over. There is no end point, no cure. My wife will always have to live with the fact that her dad betrayed her earliest trust and hurt her. But, we learned the tools we need to manage the repercussions of that abuse.

At home, my wife has had some setbacks, but with a great aftercare program offered through the treatment center she is still getting weekly therapy. We are all working together to help my wife and my kids’ mom heal and be happier. This is what treatment for my wife did for all of us: we are all now healthier and happier.

Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive treatment for people struggling with mental health disorders as well as co-occurring substance use disorders. Contact us to learn more about our renowned Los Angeles programs and how we can help you or your loved one start on the path to lasting wellness.