Healing Trauma & Depression As A Couple

In this post we talked about how research has shown that couples therapy is becoming more and more effective in helping individual issues.  The reason is because everyone needs a support system and everyone needs to feel connected to others, especially to our significant other, emotionally.  This need for connection to others is known as the Attachment Theory in psychology. 

We also talked about if an individual has experienced trauma, if they have a significant other walk with them through their healing process, then they are more likely to heal and heal quicker than if they had to go at it alone.  

Part II will discuss why couples counseling is effective in helping individuals overcome trauma. Susan Johnson, a highly respected couple’s therapist, said, “Isolation and a lack of secure connection to others undermine a person’s ability to deal with traumatic experience.  Conversely, secure emotional connections with significant others offer a powerful antidote to traumatic experience (Johnson, in press).”

How does a secure relationship help us heal and deal with trauma?  Well, to simplify it, a traumatic experience turns our world upside down and a good relationship with our significant other can turn our world around by soothing us, offering safety, promoting confidence and trust, and helping us to feel comfortable in taking risks and learning new coping mechanisms to name a few.  

On the other hand if your relationship is not good then that in-and-of-itself is a traumatic experience.  If you have experienced war, past sexual abuse, a life altering accident, or any other sort of trauma, a poor connection with your spouse can actually worsen the trauma from the past.  


“A significant portion of clients identified as having borderline personality disorders, most of whom are survivors of childhood sexual abuse (CSA), improve substantially in later life if they find a positive attachment relationship with an understanding other (Stone, 1990).”

Brad uses the Attachment Theory as a foundation when working with couples.  He works with couples to feel and become closer to each other by helping individuals feel comfortable being honest and forthright talking about issues.  He also helps each spouse rise to the occasion and teaches them how to become that caring support system their spouse so desperately needs.  

So here are the 10 central tenants of attachment theory as described by Susan Johnson in her book Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy with Trauma Survivors (some of this is copied directly from her book and some is my own interpretation in order to best explain attachment):

  1. Attachment is an innate motivating force.  We all desire to be close. It is imbedded in our genetic make up.  It isn’t simply an infantile need but is what we all need in order to survive.
  2. Secure dependence complements autonomy.  “There is no such thing as complete independence from others or overdependence (Bretherton & Munholland, 1999).  There is only effective or ineffective dependance.”  Surprisingly, the more securely dependent we are the more autonomous and separate we can confidently be.  
  3. Attachment offers a safe haven.  Even back in the stone age people lived together, worked together, fought together and without one another there surely would be no procreation and death of a population was insured.  As a survival mechanism, people need to be securely bonded to one another for safety.  If this is not possible stress and uncertainty is the outcome.
  4. Attachment offers a secure base.  It is a spring board for people and a foundation they can refer to.  When you know you have a secure place to return to you feel more confident and encouraged to explore the world and take necessary risk, to learn, and continually reinvent yourself.
  5. Accessibility and responsiveness build bonds. The building blocks of secure bonds are emotional accessibility and responsiveness.  It is emotional engagement that is crucial.  In attachment terms, any response (even anger) is better than none.  If there is no engagement, no emotional responsiveness, the message from the attachment figure is “Your signals don’t matter, and there is no connection between us.”
  6. Fear and uncertainty activate attachment needs. When an individual is threatened (by traumatic events, the negative aspects of everyday life such as illness, or an assault on the security of the attachment bond itself) emotions arise and the need for comfort and connection become very obvious.   People begin to ask “Where am I in proximity to my spouse?” or “Where do we stand?” or “What does my partner think of me?” or “Do they love me?” or “Can I depend on you when I need you?”.
  7. The promise of separation distress is predictable.  When someone reaches out to the spouse for connection but the spouse fails to comfort them and respond to their efforts then the normal response is angry protest, clingy behavior, depression, and despair.  Ultimately, this leads to detachment.  Depression is a very natural response to a lack of connection in your relationships.  
  8. A finite number of insecure forms of engagement can be identified.  There are only so many ways a person can respond to negative answers to the plea for connection.  Our responses fit into two different categories: anxiety and avoidance.  When the attachment or connection between an irreplaceable other like your spouse, a parent, or a child anxious behavior may increase.  You may become more clingy, pursue harder, and even become quite aggressive.  Or you may become more detached or avoid the situation or conversations out of fear.  These are strategies people use to protect themselves from further pain.  
  9. Attachment involves working models of the self and the other.  This is how you view yourself and how you view others.  If you view yourself as lovable and worthy of care and as confident and competent this is a secure attachment and can determine your responses to situations.  Securely attached relationships can help us grow and become a person who views ourself that way because we look to others to validate our opinions naturally.  Securely attached people, who believe others will be responsive when needed, tend to have working models of others as dependable and worthy of trust.  These outlooks are formed by thousands of interactions and become expectations and biases carried forward into new relationships.  The way we relate to ourselves and our significant other is infused with emotion.
  10. Isolation and loss are inherently traumatizing.  When someone has experienced trauma in their past and the isolation that follows, their personality formation and their ability to deal with other stresses in life is greatly altered.    

Fixing Yourself Alone Doesn't Fix The Relationship

We know that when we get married that we are marrying an individual with many habits, personality traits, likes, dislikes, and of course a person with a history.  As we embark on a new future we have to recognize that we each have experienced different painful events and moments that sometimes get in the way of living a happy and healthy life.  

Some people feel like they shouldn’t get married or strike up friendships because there is something wrong with themselves and they need to be fixed before they can move forward with another person.  Now sometimes this is warranted - but more often than not - what you are experiencing is something that thousands of people face and to have someone walk through the fire and work it out with you is just what you need.  

We often think of couples therapy as just working on the relationship but more and more we see that couples therapy is also very useful for helping with individual issues as well. 

Research conducted by a group called Barlow & Colleagues found that when spouses were included in treatment for anxiety, success rate jumped from 46 to 82%.

The study also says that “recently, couple therapy has also been used to address “individual” problems such as depression and anxiety disorders, agoraphobia, addictions, and eating disorders (Baucom, Shoham, Mueser, Daiuto, & Stickle, 1998).”

In our office we have found that relationships are profoundly effected by depression and post traumatic stress caused by things like infidelity, past sexual abuse, and abuse by previous relationships.  It is amazing what a caring and attentive spouse can do for a person’s healing.  To know that someone will do what it takes to help you overcome the demons means so much.  It does not go overlooked and unappreciated.  

Do you like what you’re reading?  You can use this information and share this blog post just as long as you include the following statement exactly as you see it below at the end of your post:

“Brad Robinson is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and an expert in infidelity recovery in Tulsa, OK. Together with his wife Morgan Robinson they teach people about how to understand and overcome infidelity and how to make their marriage thrive even after betrayal. You can learn more about their work by visiting www.familyandlifesolutions.com

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It is a commonly thought that the number one thing couples fight about is money. That is simply not the case. Although money is a point of stress it is not the biggest issue facing couples. The number one issue that causes the most trouble in marriage is actually a lack of feeling close. Here are 10 other more common problems a marriage faces...
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Successfully Manage Your Guilt

In order to successfully understand your guilt you must understand the stages that we go through in the guilt process: Denial. We may be shocked and numb at first because the guilt is so uncomfortable. We may deny responsibility at first. Processing. Over time, we are able to accurately assess the harm done and legitimately assess our responsibility. Lessons are learned and emotions are neutralized by no longer looking at the situation with faulty thinking. Resolution. In this third step, we express appropriate grief for the hurt we have caused and make appropriate amends. We no longer feel the need for guilt and self-punishment. We are now able to truly think about and elevate others.
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5 Keys to Beating the Back to School Blues

Sending your kids back to school can be a tough thing to do especially when they are young. My sister-in-law has 3 young kids and this year two of them will be in school full time. When talking about sending her two oldest to school she says, “adjusting to 2 kids in school and 1 left at home...this feels weird! There is a lot of separation anxiety and mixed emotions. I have felt excitement knowing they will experience new things but guilt at the same time because they don’t always want to go. I know they need to go to school but I think about their social and academic knowledge and I hope it is adequate.” There is a little fear and anxiety about leaving home for the students too. When your child has spent so much time with you everyday it is hard to leave mom and dad and go off on this new adventure....
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Women & Depression

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We talked about depression in men in the last blog post. Now we want to address depression in the ladies. Depression can have a significant impact on your marriage as you begin to withdrawal. Many of us have heard about postpartum depression and depression throughout pregnancy which often occurs because of the hormonal changes experienced. We will address this further, however, did you know the higher rate of depression can’t be blamed on biology alone? Your life situation and cultural stressors could play a role in your depression as well. In this blog post we will outline the biological causes of depression, such as occurs with pregnancy, and those related to non-biological causes as well....

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Symptoms of Depression in Men

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Depression effects all of your relationships and looks different for men than it does for women. It isn’t known exactly why it is different for men then it is for women but it likely involves hormones, brain chemicals, and life experiences. This blog will discuss #1 how depression manifests itself in a man’s life and #2 healthy coping mechanisms for men experiencing depression.
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Do You Know the Symptoms of Depression in Children?

Every kid shows some symptoms of depression from time to time, but the key is to ask yourself if they are showing too much of one or more symptoms.

Does your kid have an increase in headaches, tummy aches, nausea, sleeplessness, or too much sleeping that is not better with medicine or rest?

Does your child show an intense shift in personality or behavior that does not seem right?

Have your child’s symptoms lasted longer than two weeks? Have the symptoms gotten more intense? Do the symptoms come and go, with nothing easing the pain?

Is your child struggling with the thought of death? Does your child draw pictures, write, or ask about death?

Does your child express feelings of hopelessness or say scary things?

Does your child’s sadness interfere with their functioning in daily life?

Do others express concerns about your child?

Has your child tried to express to you that something is wrong?

Do your parental instincts tell you that something is not right with your child?

If your child is suicidal, take him or her immediately to the emergency room.

How Common is Depression?

August 12th, 2011

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry has found that 1 in 20 kids and teenagers is significantly depressed. 

Almost 30% of 13 year olds show symptoms of depression.

15% of kids have had a major depression episode before they finish high school.

Because many depressive symptoms go unreported, experts predict that 1 in 4 kids will have a serious episode of depression before they finish high school.

Depression is not a normal phase, but it is a serious illness that can have severe consequences that sometimes result in death.

Kids with depression are more likely to develop drug or alcohol problems by their twenties.

Depression leads to suicide for 1 in 10 prepubescent kids.

In the past 30 years, suicide rates have tripled for kids and teens.

44 percent of kids who develop depression before they are 18 years old will go through another episode by the time they are 24 years old. 

Almost all of kids with untreated depression will go through another episode in the next three years of their life.

When diagnosed and treated early, kids will usually be able to get out of depression.

Family & Life Solutions

2121 S. Columbia Ave, Tulsa, OK 74114, Suite 301 | Phone: (918) 281-6060