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PostTraumatic Relationship Disorder

Photo by Kyle Broad on Unsplash

We all are familiar with PTSD, but have you ever heard of PTRD? Of course, this is not a real diagnosis, but sometimes when a relationship or marriage breaks up we feel completely traumatized. Our partner may have been verbally or emotionally controlling or they may have betrayed our trust, and we are left dealing with a variety of strong feelings. Or if the relationship fell apart for no obvious reason, we may struggle to recover or completely understand just what happened. We may ruminate and obsess about why the relationship failed and look to blame either ourselves or our spouse. Feelings of anger, hurt, and sadness may keep us up at night or consume our waking thoughts. The pain may be so deep that we are convinced that we will never experience romantic love again. Sometimes the words and experiences with our partner get imprinted in our brain and can be difficult to erase. We may assume that everyone will treat us in the same way or that we can't do anything right. In many cases, the lingering effects of the loss impact our relationships with our family and friends.

I have found that in most relationship break-ups, both parties play a role even if it was a minor one and figuring this out can be helpful. Maybe nothing could have saved the relationship, but accepting our part and then focusing on not repeating those mistakes helps us to approach future relationships with confidence. After an initial healing period, it is worthwhile to identify our patterns of destructive behaviors or those in the people we repeatedly choose and discern why are drawn to them. For instance, if we learned from our parents' relationship to never express weakness, we may have trouble being vulnerable enough to develop a strong commitment to another person. Or we may choose the opposite path and over-share too quickly, leading to enmeshed, unhealthy relationships. We might also inadvertently be drawn to someone with similar issues even though they have no desire to change. Other times we're drawn to individuals who have very different traits from our own in order to lean on their strengths, but sometimes these can become irritants. For instance, this may occur when a messy, chaotic person chooses a very neat and orderly person. Over time the partner's need for cleanliness can feel like a heavy burden.

So how do you work through relationship failure? First, you need to recognize and accept the emotional fallout. You can verbalize it or write about it, but you have to go through it to get through it. Often, writing letters to the person and yourself expressing the pain are the first steps toward forgiveness and healing. These letters don't need to go anywhere; they are just for you. Secondly, identify the needs that weren't met in the relationship and try to figure out why, for example, maybe they weren't expressed directly or maybe the other person focused only on themselves. It could be that the relationship operated on a parent-child level instead of interacting as two equal adults. The person in the parent role tends to be nagging and micromanaging while the person in the child role is avoidant and emotionally immature. In addition, we can learn to be assertive, maintain healthy boundaries, and take responsibility for our own baggage. Ultimately, we need to grieve the loss, learn from our experiences, let go of the pain, and figure out what we can do differently in our next relationship. If we feel stuck it may be helpful to get connected with a support group or seek professional counseling. Healing starts with us.

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