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  • Writer's pictureKanilina Clerge, LMFT

Navigating the Maze of Complex Trauma: How It Affects Relationships

Relationships are an integral part of human existence, serving as a source of support, love, and connection. However, when one or both individuals in a relationship have experienced complex trauma, it can create unique challenges that require understanding, compassion, and communication to overcome. In this blog post, we will explore what complex trauma is, how it can impact relationships, and offer guidance on how to navigate these challenges together.

Understanding Complex Trauma

Complex trauma, also known as Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD), is a condition that arises from prolonged exposure to traumatic events or situations, often in the context of abusive relationships, childhood abuse or neglect, or other forms of long-term trauma. Unlike single-incident trauma, which stems from a specific event, complex trauma is characterized by its cumulative and enduring nature.

How Complex Trauma Impacts Relationships

  1. Trust Issues: Individuals with complex trauma may have profound difficulties trusting others due to past experiences of betrayal, abuse, or neglect. This can make it challenging to establish and maintain trust in a relationship.

  2. Emotional Regulation: Emotional regulation can be severely affected, leading to intense mood swings, difficulty in managing emotions, and sometimes emotional numbness. This can make it challenging for both partners to communicate effectively and empathize with each other.

  3. Attachment Styles: Complex trauma can influence an individual's attachment style, often leading to avoidant or anxious attachment patterns. These attachment styles can create tension and misunderstandings in relationships.

  4. Flashbacks and Triggers: Trauma survivors may experience flashbacks or emotional triggers that transport them back to traumatic events. These can be distressing for both partners and require understanding and support to manage.

  5. Communication Challenges: Difficulties in expressing emotions and needs, coupled with a fear of vulnerability, can lead to communication breakdowns within the relationship.

Navigating Complex Trauma in Relationships

  1. Education and Awareness: The first step in navigating complex trauma in relationships is to educate both partners about the condition. Understanding the origins and symptoms of complex trauma can foster empathy and patience.

  2. Seek Professional Help: Consider seeking therapy, both individually and as a couple. A qualified therapist can help address trauma-related issues, improve communication, and provide coping strategies.

  3. Establish Safety: Create a safe and nurturing environment within the relationship where both partners feel comfortable expressing themselves without fear of judgment or harm.

  4. Practice Patience: Healing from complex trauma takes time. Patience and understanding are crucial, as setbacks and triggers are bound to occur.

  5. Improve Communication: Work on effective communication skills, including active listening, validation, and empathy. Learn to express your needs and boundaries clearly.

  6. Set Boundaries: Establish healthy boundaries within the relationship to ensure that both partners feel respected and secure.

  7. Self-Care: Encourage self-care practices for both individuals. Taking care of one's mental and emotional well-being is essential to supporting a healthy relationship.


Navigating a relationship when one or both partners have experienced complex trauma can be challenging, but it's not impossible. With education, understanding, and professional support, couples can learn to heal and grow together. Complex trauma may always be a part of an individual's life, but it doesn't have to define or dictate the course of a loving and supportive relationship.

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