How Trauma Impacts Relationships

How Trauma Impacts Relationships

Trauma is an individual experience.  What defines a traumatic event can vary widely from person to person, and reactions to trauma vary between individuals as well.  There are many different types of trauma, including:

  • Complex trauma, which happens over and over, frequently within the context of a specific relationship, time frame, and/or setting;
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which can develop after a person has been directly or indirectly exposed to a terrifying event or intense physical or psychological harm occurred or was threatened;
  • Developmental trauma disorder, which is the result of abuse, neglect, and/or abandonment in the early stages of a child’s life.


In the context of romantic relationships, trauma can disrupt our ability to trust, to feel safe physically, sexually, and/or emotionally, and/or to manage stress effectively.  After experiencing a traumatic event, many trauma survivors develop a deep-seeded belief that they deserve harm, are unworthy of love, or are not good enough.  If left without support after a traumatic event, thoughts like these can inform how we relate to ourselves and our partner, with the potential to wreak havoc on relationships.

For many survivors of sexual trauma, past abuse continues to interfere with the enjoyment of sex and intimacy.  Many feel anxious about the mere thought of sex, emotionally and/or physically disengage from sexual intimacy, or experience little interest or desire in sex altogether.

Trauma healing

Working with a therapist towards healing from sexual trauma allows survivors to develop a healthier sense of self, to feel more positive about their bodies and about sex, become open to the idea of physical pleasure and intimacy, and learn to express themselves sexually.  The journey of recovery requires courage and patience, but persistence leads to healthier relationships and stronger self-worth.

With the help of an experienced therapist, the effects of trauma can slowly be reversed.  Above all, by learning to resist reactive responses to stress (such as lashing out, withdrawing, or engaging in other unhealthy reactions to stress such as excessive drinking or eating) which tend to jeopardise relational bonds, the risk of re-traumatisation is managed.  Over time the experience of a healthy relationship provides a wonderful opportunity to heal.

There are many avenues of therapy which your therapist can explore with you in helping you decide the right approach that resonates with you.  The current thinking from evidence-based practices for trauma therapy is that it is not important nor essential for trauma survivors to have to detail the events of the traumatic experience.  Rather, modern therapies emphasize looking at the effects of traumatic experiences, and how the legacy of trauma continues on in day to day living, through ways of thinking and acting.  Through looking at the effects of trauma, therapists can help you identify more adaptive coping strategies to manage trauma triggers.

To learn about some of the current, evidence-based treatment options for trauma healing, check out these links:


As trauma-informed therapists, we understand that the trauma healing process takes time.  We recognize that discussing trauma and opening up about your thoughts and feelings about traumatic experiences may be intrinsically counterintuitive – many trauma survivors feel that it is unsafe to be vulnerable and to open up, which is what therapy often entails.  We understand that in order to effectively cope with the effects of trauma, the pace and timing of trauma-informed treatment is as individual as traumatic experiences themselves.

If you’re experiencing difficulty coping with trauma symptoms and would like some support with a therapist, contact us at 1300 784 184 or