7 Ways to be a Supportive Partner to a Survivor

Now more than ever it is important for those of us supporting a survivor in a partnership to be educated and prepared. Right now, the world is particularly full of trauma reminders. A trauma reminder is anything that reminds a person of a traumatic event. It can be a smell, feeling, place, person, sound, or experience. Anything that has the potential to trigger a memory or emotion associated with a traumatic event For many survivors of trauma, seemingly simple or daily events like: turning on their phones, seeing the news, or just walking down the street, can bring old trauma back to the surface.

Here are a few ways to support your partner through this time, and always:

Listen, ask follow up questions, validate.

Survivors need to feel heard and understood to open up and feel safe. Don’t offer your opinion, just sit back and listen. Ask clarifying questions. Validate their experience. If you don’t have a trauma history, you won’t ever be able to fully understand your partners experience. But you can validate their emotions and let them know you are there to support them, even when you can’t understand what they are going through. It can even be validating to hear, “I can’t even imagine how scary that was”.

Learn what your partner looks like and acts like when they triggered.

Ask what their triggers are. Pay attention when they check out, get upset, need to leave. What happens right before that? Then...

Make a plan.

When your partner isn’t triggered, talk to them about how you can support them when they get triggered or either of you can feel a trauma response coming on. Do they need to hold your hand? Be alone? Be told by you it’s ok if you all have to leave the party? Find out what it is they need when this happens, and what they need from you for support.

Educate yourself.

Reading books about trauma and survivorship will not only help you better understand your partner and their experiences but will also show them how much you care. Important books on trauma and relationships: The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van der Kolk, Healing Sex by Staci Haines, Learning Good Consent from AK Press, and Loving Someone with PTSD by Aphrodite T. Matsakis.

Talk about sex, intimacy, and your relationship in a safe and non sexual environment.

If your partner is a survivor of any kind of sexual trauma or interpersonal violence, they may not always feel safe opening up when in a very intimate setting. Discuss these topics not in bed and normalize that within the relationship. Schedule check ins at the breakfast table. The more you can make communication a routine and the more predictable it can be, the safer your partner can feel. Trauma happens when a person feels out of control and where there is a lack of predictability. [1] 

Don’t take it personally.

If your partner gets triggered within your relationship, it is likely not “your fault”. Making it about you will further shame their reaction. People who are survivors get triggered within interpersonal relationships especially if that’s where previous trauma(s) occurred. If they get triggered, go back to the plan you all have made about how you can support them. 

Don’t walk on eggshells.

While you can support them in their recovery, they need to be treated like a whole human being. There’s a very important balance between being aware and being too careful. Your partner is a resilient, strong, resourceful human being who has been able to find love and connection with you.

You also don’t have to do any of this alone. Finding a trauma informed or trauma therapy trained professional is always an option.

By supporting your partner and educating yourself on trauma you are communicating to your partner that you care and they can be safe with you. This is where a lot of healing can happen, for both of you.

Blog authors all hold positions at the Gender & Sexuality Therapy Collective (G&STC). For more information about our therapists and services please contact us.