June 29, 2021

I used to think the objective was to marry someone "normal" and not "irrational." Well, aside from the fact that "normal" is very much in the eye of the beholder, I also do not think it exists. Anyone you marry will, at some time, convince you that he or she is completely nuts. This has a lot to do with trauma.

Trauma is stored in our bodies during highly stressful life events that leave us frightened. It can also be stored in smaller doses by a repeated pattern of small abuses that add up to a substantial amount of pain. These traumas are triggered when someone says or does something that reminds us of the traumatic event(s) consciously or not. We observe this response in a partner and think they are overreacting.

Virtually every mid-single I got to know well during my mid-single years had some stored trauma that impacted their ability to carry on healthy relationships. That includes me. Causes of the trauma vary, from repeated rejections to abuses by a former spouse, and in some cases, abuses during childhood. The point is, when you are fishing in the mid-singles pond for dating partners, you are going to encounter other people's trauma--I guarantee it.

Often, we have a sense of our own trauma, even if we don't call it by name. Sometimes, we mis-label our triggers as "red flags." We are convinced that the fear reaction inside us is the spirit telling us something. However, the Spirit will never speak to you through fear. (2 Timothy 1:7.) Often we interpret innocuous behaviors as signs that portend something ominous. Really, it is just your brain's survival instinct being overprotective.

So, we need a paradigm shift in the way we talk about trauma in our mid-singles community. For one thing, you are not necessarily looking for someone who will never trigger you. That's going to be exceedingly hard (if not impossible) to find if you have a lot of trauma of your own. This is because your partner isn't causing the trauma. It exists inside of you. He or she is merely triggering it. It is a landmine waiting to be stepped on.

You are also not looking for someone who does not get triggered. Again, when you are fishing in the mid-singles pond, that may be virtually impossible to find. What you ARE looking for is someone with some self-awareness about it. You want to find someone who knows himself or herself relatively well and can take a step back and recognize when he or she has been triggered and not blame you for it.

You are also looking for someone with whom you can create a safe space to go to when one or both of you is triggered. Sometimes you might need to be alone for 20 minutes or an hour. Sometimes you may need to go for a walk. It might work for the two of you to share a long hug without talking to reassure each other that things are going to be okay. I think you build this safe space over a long period of time and you use a lot of different strategies to deal with your traumas together (and sometimes apart). The important thing is that you make agreements at moments when neither of you is triggered--and you know the procedures when you are triggered so those procedures take over almost on autopilot. We don't think well or rationally when we are triggered. So we need some simple rules to govern ourselves in such moments. If you just let nature take its course, it will be a hot mess (Mosiah 3:19).

The biggest threat to the safe space we are trying to create is fear. When we are triggered, the "fight or flight" response takes over. Subconsciously, when triggered, we may see our spouses as an enemy that threatens our safety or well-being. If we are in "fight" mode to defend ourselves, we may hurl insults and say all kinds of cutting or damaging things that harm a relationship. They are things we would not say in our right minds. In self-preservation mode, we aren't thinking about nurturing a relationship. Our survival instinct is overriding everything else. Keep in mind that this instinct is overprotective and often feeds us cognitive distortions. It is essential to know these things about ourselves and be able to recognize when we or our partners are flooded.

In the middle of a discussion that starts to become heated, it is necessary to take a time out. Absolutely nothing will be solved when when one or both of you is emotionally flooded. Further discussion will only do harm. (Research confirms this). So come up with a signal where either of you can call timeout. It is a pause button, not the silent treatment. There is no debate over whether the pause button is necessary. Each of you has absolute power to use (not abuse) it. Then come back together in anywhere from 20 minutes to a few hours and you will probably solve things quickly. When Cathy and I come back together after a time out, we start with prayer. The discussion that follows is often very connected and mutually supportive. It is often a complete shift from what was happening before we hit the pause button.

It might be preferred for one partner that is not triggered to drop the subject at hand and speak soothing words to the other. Sometimes this works if only one partner is flooded. If both are flooded, you need to pause the discussion and each of you needs to calm down and self soothe.

I have known many women who expect their husbands to always be level-headed and to add stability when they, themselves, are triggered and falling apart. There will be times when one of you is able to soothe the other. But there will also be times when both of you are triggered sufficiently that neither of you is in a position to be the stabilizing influence. That doesn't mean you married or are dating the wrong person. It doesn't mean he doesn't love you. It just means you need a time-out. This perspective requires you to recognize that your partner is not Superman, which is difficult for some women.

I am not discussing trauma to discourage you from mid-single and mid-married relationships. In many ways, they are more mature and fulfilling than relationships we might have made in our young adult years. We have more experience and more wisdom. But dealing with trauma DOES require us to be more intentional about how we govern our relationships.

Our inner child is not getting any older. And that frightened inner child is still longing to be healed through nurturing support. That is something you can work on together as you strive to care more about each other and increase each other's safety in the relationship. That doesn't mean you are responsible for the other person's feelings. It simply means that you try to bring more goodness to the relationship by showing up as healthy as you can and having the capacity to love the other. Realize that you are not the only one in your relationship with triggers--and neither is your partner. If you are seeing your partner as crazy or are seeing yourself as the only one in need of nurturing support, I promise you are missing something.

Many people can benefit from EMDR treatments and other trauma release therapies. In some more pronounced cases, mood stabilizing medications might be helpful. No matter what course of treatment you may choose, if any, your results will dramatically improve when you are intentional about making and keeping agreements with each other about how you interact, rather than just letting emotions take over and saying whatever comes into your head.
Good luck! I hope this helps you to build the relationship you deserve.
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