Opening up to someone and being vulnerable with them can be hard, especially when it comes to talking about your past trauma. Whether you experienced trauma in childhood or adulthood, it can be hard to be comfortable enough with a new romantic partner. If the trauma was in a past relationship, sometimes it can be tempting to open up to someone early to test them, either to prove they will be sticking around or to scare them off and justify leaving before you get too attached to them. So, how do you explain your past trauma to your partner in a healthy way? In this article, we will look at how to do this.
Why is it so hard to talk about trauma to your partner?
No matter what kind of trauma you have gone through, it can be hard to begin to feel safe and trusting with another person again. Some may feel like their partner might judge them because of their trauma, so they are hesitant to open up for fear of being judged or rejected. Whether your trauma is from your childhood, was caused by abuse or neglect, or even a traumatic injury, you may still feel vulnerable talking through it with your partner.
When you are ready to open up to your partner about your trauma, you do not need to give them your entire backstory right away. You can give it to them in pieces, which can make it easier to talk to them about your past trauma. It is important to tell your partner that you need them to be patient before sharing the whole stuff. They need to be prepared for setbacks and the potential of triggering events. It is also a good idea to tell them about what you might need to feel safe. For example, you might need physical space to feel safer or for them to use or avoid specific actions or words.
Try a Tiered Approach to Discussing Trauma
Sharing too much too soon is never a good idea in a relationship, especially when it comes to trauma. However, by sharing everything in pieces instead of all at once, you can peel back the layers at a more comfortable pace as you build trust with your partner.
Start by just telling them that you have past trauma without really going into details. Once you have gotten a little more comfortable with that person, you can give them a sentence or two long summary without diving into the details. As your trust grows, you can share a brief summary of some of the details of your trauma. Eventually, you will feel like you fully trust them enough to share your entire story. This can take a lot of time to get through, but sharing pieces of your story as you build trust will also show your partner that you trust them.
Honesty Without Oversharing
You can be honest with a partner about your past trauma without delving into all the details and overwhelming them by sharing too much too soon. A tiered approach will let you start small share as you begin to feel more comfortable.
Before you explain your past trauma to your partner, start simply by telling them that you have a story, but you are not ready to share everything yet. This is a good way to gauge this partner. Do they get pushy when you say you have things to share once you get to know each other better? Do they respect your boundaries? Once you start sharing, do they push you for more information than you are comfortable sharing?
Should I share trauma I haven’t fully processed?
Have you fully processed your trauma? If not, it may be difficult to think clearly about your trauma, let alone share it with your partner. Keep in mind that your partner cannot help you heal, no matter how much it might help you to talk things through with them. You can even talk to your therapist about how you should consider wording things when you talk to your partner about your trauma.
It is a good idea to try trauma therapy to help you heal, especially before you start sharing too many details with your partner. Therapy can help you identify and cope with potential triggers and help you process whatever happened so that you can begin healing.
Why is it important to explain my past trauma to my partner?
Part of the healing process for many is to find someone who you can trust and confide in, which is often your romantic partner, but not necessarily. However, it can be hard to talk about your trauma, especially when this is your first relationship after the trauma occurs.
Remember that there is no right or wrong way to tell your partner about your trauma; just try to be as open as you are comfortable being and try to speak clearly.
How Trauma Can Impact a Relationship
Trauma often can lead to someone feeling isolated or having trouble trusting people. Someone who experiences trauma can end up having depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues because of what they went through. You might feel like you need to be constantly on guard, or you have trouble truly connecting with your partner.
By communicating your needs to your partner, they can give you the love and support you need and stay within any boundaries that you may set. Working through trauma and communicating along the way has the potential to strengthen your relationship and bring you and your partner even closer together.
There is no timeline to when you should begin to open up to your partner about past trauma because every person and relationship is different. By slowly sharing your story, there is space in your relationship to let trust grow. While many see this as an either-or situation, tell or don’t, it is not that black and white. Let yourself be truly seen at a pace that you are comfortable with by someone you are starting to trust and care about.
Geralyn Ritter is an accomplished corporate senior executive, miracle survivor of the 2015 Amtrak train derailment, and author of Bone by Bone: A Memoir of Trauma and Healing. Geralyn is the executive vice president at Organon & Co., a new Fortune 500 healthcare company dedicated to the health of women.