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4 Tips for Trauma-Informed Dating

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Editor's Note

If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

The struggles of dating are often very challenging and can be even harder when balancing symptoms of having post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or any other physical or mental health diagnosis. To foster longevity and empathy in relationships, we must understand how crucial trauma-informed dating is.

• What is PTSD?

Trauma-informed dating is a term I came up with when I was having a very debilitating panic attack around my potential life partner. We were carpooling to a comedy show with VIP tickets when I had a flashback of being aggressively sexually assaulted by my ex, who he happens to know. I went from feeling excited about seeing my favorite comedian to not being able to walk, see, and being in a full panic of passing out, hitting my head on the concrete, or of throwing up in front of a crowd. All the while, my date had absolutely no idea I felt “off.” I felt very alone and misunderstood, which is common for someone with trauma to feel. But just because it is common does not mean it should be accepted or minimized.

Trauma-informed dating is the understanding any potential partner we choose to be with has been impacted and affected by trauma. It’s staying positive, but also aware of potential triggers, if someone is comfortable with sharing. Trauma-informed dating is sharing a small burden or weight of a huge disadvantage your partner feels daily.

Trauma-Informed Dating Tips

1. Do not take things personally.

Be aware planning ahead can be difficult or have hiccups. Understand things come up and having your partner’s support remains a huge part of feeling secure, not just in a relationship but secure as a human being who is trying their best. Even if plans change or flare-ups occur, remind your partner you are present and there for them. Offer a piece of gum, play their favorite song, hold and squeeze their hand, or even verbalize how much they mean to you, that their value does not decrease because of their flashback or trigger.

2. Be aware people process trauma at different rates.

We can’t assume we know how quickly someone can process a traumatic situation. Out of the 50,000 people at Travis Scott’s AstroWorld show, I am sure some will immediately seek counseling or advice from friends/family. They may also lean toward drug or alcohol use, gambling, speeding, sex addicting, or risky behavior. They may struggle with regulating their emotions. Some might take a few weeks or months to process that 10 individuals lost their lives, some standing close by. Neither is a better or worse way to heal, but we must accept every individual has their own, personal timeline of healing.

3. Reexposure is entirely up an individual and not always guaranteed.

Trauma-informed dating is saying, “I understand you were in a life-threatening plane crash and lost close friends to you, but if you ever consider counseling or eventually, flying, I will sit next to you and hold your hand.” A perfect example of this is newly-engaged Travis Barker and Kourtney Kardashian. Barker was able to fly again, 13 years later and I am sure that is somewhat due to close, healthy supportive relationships in his life. Being able to trust someone to know about your mental health struggles is so essential when forming a lasting relationship. Do not pretend those struggles do not exist, as that may come off as unsupportive of your partner.

4. Just because someone needs more time to grieve and heal, does not mean they are uninterested in a healthy relationship.

It may mean at the beginning of the relationship you meet in group settings to feel more secure. It may mean you see a trauma-informed therapist or you have days you pamper and/or give yourself self-care over seeing your partner. It may mean someone prefers verbalizing how you can support them or if they trust you, maybe even telling you details from their abuse and/or traumatic accident.

Your partner or friend is not responsible for repairing or healing you, only encouraged to be a comfort and support while you become conscious and empowered enough to want to repair and heal yourself. They should also not be used as a replacement for therapy. Just know your healing should be a priority when fostering healthy relationships and when considering dating or marrying someone.

Getty image by Studio4

Originally published: December 21, 2021
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