How trauma affects your intimate relationships

BeMore SquareIt is no secret that relationships are not easy to start or maintain. One of the most common discussion topics among Black people is intimate relationships. It’s the centerpiece in most of the popular television shows, books, blogs and movies we consume.

Intimate relationships are also the core of a community. If we do not have two people in a healthy relationship, we cannot have healthy families, which leads to not having a healthy community.

It’s also no secret that many Black communities across the United States struggle to have intact households. Healthy relationships are essential. However, once one individual has experienced trauma in a relationship, it changes everything.

One of the biggest issues that presents itself due to trauma are limited expectations. These expectations are developed as a result of previous experiences. Therefore, if someone experiences trauma in a relationship, chances are they will develop limited expectations to protect themselves.

These expectations can be major or minor things. Either way they are in place, consciously or subconsciously, to protect against harm. One of the more common expectations is what the other person is supposed to do or give the other.

Many relationships nowadays are built on what one person can get from (or out of) the other, instead of together. This is a dangerous commonality in the Black community. People are plotting in their relationships to reach maximum benefit. These lopsided relationships are destined for disaster.

Another common barrier in relationships is intergenerational traumatic behaviors. It’s a common thought that a person will marry someone who is like the opposing gendered parent. Whether that thought is true or false, we all have likely been in a relationship with someone who has had characteristics similar to one of our parents. But what happens when these traits are traumatic?

Its also commonly thought that children who experience domestic violence in a relationship have a higher probability of being in an abusive relationships themselves. This is because the pain is passed down. The pain develops certain types of thoughts and actions, one being violence itself.

Some people use violence as the only way to settle problems. This is because violence is often an easy answer to problems. However, it is certainly not the best.

In short, the things we experience develop our behaviors and decision-making. This is the essence of classic Social Learning theory. We must be honest and aware of the things we are bringing into our relationships.

Some people are unaware why they do what they do in their relationships. When their behaviors are abusive, the relationship must come to an end or have some sort of intervention.

The best method to address this is to treat your trauma prior to engaging in a serious committed relationship. This will allow one to fully develop a healthy relationship. Trauma is kryptonite to healthy relationships.

Sam Simmons contributed to this story. The authors welcome reader questions or comments to

This project was supported by Grant No. 2013-CY-AX-K008 awarded by the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed in this program are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women.