September 4


Triggered in Love: How to Deal with Trauma Triggers in Your Relationship

By Joshua Turner

September 4, 2023

Trauma triggers in a relationship can be incredibly challenging to navigate. When a person experiences a negative event, it can impact their mental and emotional well-being.

They can cause a person to feel overwhelmed, anxious, and even fearful. These can be complicated to manage in a relationship where both partners may need help understanding the other’s past experiences.

It’s important to understand trauma stimuli in relationships to manage them effectively. They can manifest in various ways, including physical symptoms like sweating or shaking and emotional symptoms like anger or sadness.

Recognizing these stressors is the first step in managing them. Identifying the stimuli can help both partners work together to create a safe and supportive environment that minimizes their impact.

Key Takeaways

  • Trauma triggers can be challenging to manage in a relationship.
  • Understanding and recognizing trauma stimuli is crucial for managing them.
  • Coping strategies and open communication can help partners navigate trauma stressors together.

Understanding Trauma Triggers in Relationships

Trauma triggers are events or situations that can cause a person to relive past distressing experiences. In a relationship, trauma stressors can be incredibly challenging to navigate. They can cause emotional distress, misunderstandings and even lead to the breakdown of the relationship.

It’s important to remember that they are not a choice. They are a natural response to past distressing events and can be triggered by seemingly innocuous events. For example, a particular smell, sound, or touch can bring back memories of a negative event.

If you or your partner have experienced a distressing event, be aware of potential stressors. This awareness can help you understand each other’s reactions and avoid inadvertently triggering each other.

Some signs of relationship trauma include anxiety, depression, anger, and emotional numbness. If you or your partner are experiencing any of these symptoms, seeking professional help is essential.

Post-traumatic relationship syndrome (PTRS) is a condition that can develop in individuals who have experienced distressing events in a relationship. It can cause feelings of guilt, shame, and low self-esteem. Recognize the signs of PTRS and seek help if necessary.

Recognizing Trauma Triggers


Trauma stimuli such as increased heart rate, sweating, or shaking can manifest physically. Certain sounds, sights, smells, or touch can drive these physical symptoms. It’s important to recognize them and step back to calm down before reacting.


Emotional stimuli can be more challenging to identify but just as debilitating as physical ones. These can include feelings of fear, anger, or helplessness. Recognizing and communicating these emotions effectively with your partner is vital to avoid misunderstandings.


Environmental stimuli can refer to certain places, situations, or people that remind you of past distressing experiences. These can be difficult to avoid, but recognize them and communicate with your partner about coping.

Symptoms of Trauma Triggers

Trauma triggers remind someone of a distressing event, causing them to experience distressing symptoms. They can be physical sensations, emotions, thoughts, or situations. The symptoms can vary from person to person, but some common symptoms include:

  • Panic attacks
  • Fear and anxiety
  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Flashbacks
  • Overwhelming emotions
  • Nervous system arousal
  • Depression and agitation
  • Sleep disturbances and nightmares

PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, is a common condition resulting from experiencing an adverse event. People with PTSD may experience the above symptoms and others, such as dissociation and avoidance behaviors.

It’s important to note that these can be unpredictable and happen anytime. They can also be subtle, making them difficult to identify. It’s vital for individuals to be aware of their stressors and have coping strategies to manage their symptoms when they occur.

Impact of Trauma Triggers on Relationships

Relationship trauma can lead to conflict, abuse, violence, sexual abuse, rejection, abandonment, stonewalling, substance use, low self-esteem, feeling powerless, helpless, and unsafe.

When a person experiences a trigger, they may go into survival mode, which can cause them to react emotionally. This can lead to arguments, misunderstandings, and hurt feelings. Both partners must understand the impact of these on their relationship and work together to create a safe and supportive environment.

One typical survival response is to freeze, making it difficult for the person to communicate and express their emotions. This can lead to stonewalling and further conflict. Partners need to recognize this response and work together to create a safe space for communication.

They can also lead to feelings of powerlessness and helplessness, which can impact a person’s self-esteem. Partners need to support each other and work on building each other’s self-esteem.

Substance use can also be a coping mechanism, leading to further conflict and problems in the relationship. Partners need to recognize this and seek help if necessary.

Managing Trauma Triggers in Relationships

Seeking Professional Help

If you or your partner have experienced a distressing event, seeking the help of a trauma-informed therapist can be a vital step in managing stressors in your relationship.

A therapist can help you understand how it affects your behavior and emotions and provide tools to cope with them as they arise.

Practicing Self-Care

Taking care of yourself physically, emotionally, and mentally can help you stay in your “window of tolerance” and prevent them from overwhelming you. Self-care can include exercise, meditation, journaling, or time in nature. Communicate your care needs to your partner and ensure they understand how important it is for your healing process.

Setting Healthy Boundaries

Boundaries can help you feel safe and in control and prevent them from occurring. Communicate your limits clearly and assertively, and enforce them consistently. This can include boundaries around physical touch, communication, or time alone. Respect your partner’s boundaries and work together to create a safe and supportive environment for both of you.

Coping Strategies for Trauma Triggers

Recognize and understand your unique emotional response to trauma triggers. This can help you identify when you are triggered and what coping mechanisms work best for you. Communicate coping strategies with your partner to help them understand and support you.

Avoiding stressors can provide temporary relief, but it can also reinforce the fear response and make it more challenging to cope with them in the future. Instead, gradually expose yourself to them in a safe, controlled environment to desensitize yourself.


Use grounding techniques to help you stay present and connected to the present moment. This can include deep breathing, mindfulness meditation, or using your senses to focus on your surroundings.

Dissociation can be a coping mechanism but can also harm your mental health and relationships. Instead, stay present and connected to your emotions, even if they are intense.

Create a plan for things to do when you are triggered. This can include contacting a support system, engaging in self-care activities, or seeking professional help. A plan can help you feel more controlled and prepared to cope with stressors.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I communicate my triggers to my partner in a relationship?

Use “I” statements to express how certain situations or actions make you feel. Be specific about what they are you and what your partner can do to support you when you experience them.

What are some healthy coping mechanisms for dealing with trauma triggers in a relationship?

Some healthy coping mechanisms include deep breathing, mindfulness, journaling, and seeking therapy. Find what works best for you and communicate with your partner about what you need in those moments.

How can I support my partner when they experience trauma triggers in our relationship?

Listen actively and without judgment. Offer comfort and support in the way they prefer, whether that’s physical touch or verbal reassurance. Encourage them to seek professional help if necessary.

What are some signs that my trauma is negatively affecting my relationship?

Some signs include difficulty communicating with your partner, feeling triggered often, avoiding certain situations or conversations, and feeling disconnected.

How can I work through my trauma to improve my relationship?

Seeking therapy or counseling can be helpful. It’s important to communicate with your partner about what you’re going through and what you need from them. Practice self-care and be patient with yourself as you work through your healing process.

What red flags to look out for in a relationship when dealing with trauma triggers?

Red flags include gaslighting, invalidation of your feelings, and a lack of support or understanding from your partner. Prioritize your well-being and safety in any relationship.

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