The role of trauma in men’s relationships is interesting – to say the least. What is so difficult about it is how hidden it can be. I have learned a lot about trauma in the past decade. Before then, despite being over ten years in recovery, it simply was not on my radar. At least not as an issue that affected so many men as I now believe it does. And, perhaps most importantly, not an issue that had affected me so much!
Something you will hear from me over and over again is: “The best way for a man not to have trauma, is to simply say ‘I don’t have trauma.’” That, of course, does not make that statement true. I have no doubt that trauma is at the heart of a many a man’s failed relationships. The worst part: he just doesn’t know that. The thing you have to always remember is that men are not socialized to see their experiences as trauma or to have an accurate perception of what trauma even is.
Until you have quietly reflected on this issue and looked into it at some length with an open mind, you may not know whether or not you have experienced any trauma. What I can say is that I know far too many men who have lived with trauma for many years of their recovery with no awareness that trauma was at the root of their suffering and feelings of disconnection. Do not let contempt prior to investigation prevent you from exploring something that could offer you a degree of peace and freedom you never thought possible.
The challenge a lot of men have is that they do not necessarily see their experiences as traumatic because they compare them to other people’s traumas—what they might consider “real” or more serious trauma. Many men probably look at their traumatic experiences in hindsight with an adult’s understanding, saying to themselves something to the effect of “I see how this could be traumatic for a six-year-old, but I am forty years old now and it’s not a big deal. I am over it. That was a long time ago.” That is the danger. Our brain, particularly our brain’s limbic system, does not care about our age, then or now. And it maintains the emotional memories of those experiences, no matter how long ago they occurred. That is why people’s trauma reactions can be triggered so long after the original events took place. Our bodies also carry the memories of traumatic events, and we may have physiological reactions to external stimuli without realizing that this is a common trauma response.
The challenge for us men is that given how difficult it can be for us to be emotionally aware or engaged is that trauma can drive much of our behavior and we do not even realize it is happening. It eats away at our relationships, from the inside and we think it is everything and everyone else. Before we know it the relationship has fallen apart, the marriage is over, the man is in jail for abusing his partner, his addiction has gotten even more out of control, and/or he has even taken his life. He sits there scratching his head wondering why it is hard for him to connect. Why is it so hard for him to be able to keep a relationship together? Why, when his heart seems to want it more than anything, is it so hard to love and be loved?