Parenting a child who has experienced trauma can create a strain on even the strongest, healthiest of partnerships. No matter how well you think you have prepared yourself to bring this child home, you are finding that his challenging behaviors create frustration and exhaustion in your relationship with your spouse or partner. What can you do when your child’s trauma impacts your marriage or partnership?
We get it. You barely have the time or capacity for all that is on your plate, and your relationship is suffering. If your parenting frustrations stem from unidentified or unmet expectations, you both are likely feeling the weight.
In a recent Creating a Family radio show, Maintaining Relationships When Adopting or Fostering, our guest experts shared a few steps for addressing the impacts that your child’s trauma has on your relationship.
What to Do When Your Child’s Trauma Impacts Your Marriage
Identify the behaviors that you see.
Find time to sit down to talk with your spouse or partner about what concerns you the most. Make a list together of your child’s behaviors that are hard for you to parent. Try hard to listen to each other’s perspectives and observations without defensiveness or judgment. Identifying the struggles is just the first step.
Understand the root of the behaviors.
Educate yourselves about the impacts of trauma. Talk with your spouse or partner about what you are learning. Be willing to learn from and listen to each other on what you are learning. Consider splitting up the list if it will help you feel less stressed. While researching, look for ways to figure out the “need” your child is expressing in the behaviors.
Develop coping tools for the behaviors.
Use what you are learning to decide what your responses will be to the behaviors. Keep your plain simple, consistent, and targeted at specific actions to reduce the risk of confusion, triangulation, or reactionary responses. Your coping tools should include how to regulate the child’s emotions and your own!
Some families find it helpful to create scripts they can easily repeat regularly or to post to the “house rules” where all can see.
Take this online course together on the 7 Core Issues in Adoption and Foster Care.
Understand how your parents raised you.
This part of the process takes some targeted self-work. You should identify your own “soft spots” that may need attention and healing from your family of origin. You can do so using tools like the ACEs evaluation. There are also books to help you understand the attachment style that formed in your family of origin. One such resource is Parenting from the Inside Out: How a Deeper Self-Understanding Can Help You Raise Children Who Thrive* by Dr. Dan Siegel.
If you have come to this partnership or marriage with your own significant trauma history, you might consider a therapist for a safe space to work through the unresolved issues.
Understand how his or her parents raised your partner.
It’s also essential to learn the context of your partner’s trauma history. It will help if you choose to be very empathetic and encouraging each other in the process of understanding these tender topics. Work together to find healing individually and to cheer each other on to resolve the wounds.
Couples therapy might be advisable if you need help working through one another’s past stories and experiences. Creating that safe space with and for each other gives you the strength to craft new habits together to lead your children toward wholeness.
Doing the Hard Work Can Bond You Together
When you are parenting a child with a trauma history, it’s easy to get lost in the immediacy of her needs. Co-regulating melt-downs. Calming tantrums. Building trust and attachment. It’s all taxing work. She is hurting, but the chaos of her challenging behaviors is wearing you all down.
Choosing to pursue the complexities of your unresolved history and creating a safe space for your spouse or partner to do the same is a protective factor for your marriage’s long-term health.
Practical (and fun!) Ideas for Keeping Your Marriage Solid.
Working together from that position of unity and trust between you as a couple on the WHY of your child’s needs and how to respond can build a bond. Shoring up your relationship buffers you against further trauma and stress in your home.