Relationship Trauma and Vulnerability

Relationship traumas can include betrayal, domestic violence and discovery of addictions. All of these situations can cause trauma that can lead to being stuck in a repetitive cycle in your relationship, fear of making changes, a loss of a sense of who you are, and confusion around boundaries.

One of the most common reactions to relationship trauma is fearing the vulnerability it takes to make changes.
This is understandable. We all fear vulnerability. However, a trauma can make you feel like you’ve been hit by a truck, so it can be difficult to identify when you should start taking mindful risks again. By risks, I mean it can be difficult to know when you should ask questions, say “no,” and draw other lines. It can be even more scary to learn about yourself, because you might feel like you’re going to be the one to blame for what has happened.

People are often unsure what to do with the trauma that they’re dealing with. So often, people just try to carry on. This makes logical sense. It’s rational. But when things don’t change, this can leave a traumatized person feeling stuck. However, changes aren’t possible without increasing our tolerance of vulnerability.

So why am I talking about vulnerability? It’s because change can’t happen without being vulnerable. In situations where you’ve been betrayed and you come to realize that you have to also make changes, it can make you feel as though you’re to blame or you’re at fault. This is understandable, because our brain categorizes stuff in this way. It often tries to keep things as concise and tidy as possible. So it can really feel overwhelming to consider that you need to make changes.

The first thing to consider is also the most important. You don’t have to lose your boundaries to make changes. I’m not talking about being without your boundaries. In fact, when we get vulnerable, we need to have a firm grasp on our boundaries.

At the same time, change can’t happen without opening up and taking mindful risks. Most of the time, people want their relationships to be close and connected. In relationships, sometimes the changes have to be yours. I understand how that can seem as though you’re somehow responsible for what has happened. That’s just not the case. Instead, it’s about you taking steps to make changes in your own life, without taking responsibility for your partner. It’s about you deciding what kind of relationship you’re going to aim for.

Here is where the risk comes into play. You’re taking a chance by getting vulnerable and opening up. It can even feel riskier when you’ve been betrayed. When you take these risks, you’re more likely to feel closer to your partner. If your partner hurts you again, the disconnection can make it even more painful!

How do you manage this risk? You have to figure out what trust is for you. Betrayal of trust is just that. It’s the loss of trust.

The mere absence of betrayal doesn’t mean that you are going to build trust again. 
Instead, you have to find those things that increase trust for you and look for those gestures in the relationship. When you trust a little more, you can take more mindful risks.

Here are some examples of some risks.

  • Allowing yourself to enjoy sex with your partner again.
  • Connecting with your partner.
  • Building future dreams with your partner.
  • Communicating your needs and listening to the needs of your partner.
  • Believing your partner is being honest.

There are countless examples of mindful risks that can make you feel vulnerable. These are just a few of those things that are commonly faced when people have been betrayed.

If you’re struggling with increasing your tolerance to vulnerability, it’s ok. This can mean 1 of 2 things. First, you may be legitimately not trusting your partner. If this is the case, you want to be clear on your boundaries. Second, it may be that there is lingering trauma that you need address. Trauma therapy and couples therapy can be useful in managing these things.

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