Why Healing From Trauma While Dating Rarely Works
It’s never easy when you find someone with whom you have a strong connection, only to realize that he’s going through something difficult. Or, perhaps, that he just has a lot of personal work he still needs to do. Maybe he has emotional wounds to heal from past relationships or from his childhood. You can see parts of his real self—of his happy, whole self—peeking through. But it’s peeking through so much trauma, pain, and devastation. You don’t really get the full person. You know he has the capacity to be a wonderful partner some day, and you really, really wish that day were today. In fact, you may just try to shoehorn this relationship into the timeline that works for you, even though you know this person isn’t quite ready to be a partner. You’ll tell yourself he can get better within the relationship, but that’s rarely true. Here is why healing from past trauma while dating rarely works.
You can’t put a timeline on healing
Nobody could say for certain how long it takes to recover from emotional trauma. A therapist may be able to give you a ballpark figure—perhaps consistent therapy can see results in…six months or…two years—but even that is not a promise and it is not meant to be a promise. Everyone is different, and some take longer to heal than others. It depends on what they’ve been through.
But he’ll feel rushed
If you’re dating someone who is in therapy and trying to heal while you’re dating, you’ll want to put a timeline on this. You won’t want to be with someone who is under maintenance forever. You see how his pain affects his ability to be a good partner and you want that fixed ASAP. Even if you say, “Take all the time you need…” you will, in your subtle ways, be rushing him. And he’ll feel it. And true healing can’t happen under those constraints.
He needs to give himself his full attention
When someone is doing some intensive personal work, he must give himself his full attention. He must do what is best for him almost every hour of every day, nurturing himself and being attentive to his moods and needs.
But that makes him a lacking partner
If you think about it, all the things the person in therapy is doing for himself—prioritizing himself, attending to his own needs—those are exactly what someone must do to a relationship to help it thrive. But someone who is healing must only do that for himself right now. And he can’t do that for himself and a relationship at the same time.
You can become the therapist
If someone is working out old wounds, and you’re romantically involved with that person, you’ll inevitably become a pseudo-therapist. He may try to limit how much he talks about the issues with you, but there will still be some level of discussing them. There just has to be. He is bursting at the seams with this pain and trouble.
And you can feel resentful of that
You will start to feel resentful that much of this relationship is about your partner. You don’t want to resent your partner—you pity him, because you know he’s suffering—but you would like a more symbiotic relationship. You’d like conversations to be more of a two-way straight. You wish so many date nights weren’t taken over by mini therapy sessions.
And he shouldn’t feel guilty for healing
Your partner will pick up on the fact that you’re a little bit over playing the therapist. He will detect that it makes you sad when a nice day at the park or a date night becomes gloomy when he’s suddenly consumed by his pain and mentally checks out. He will feel guilty that his personal work is affecting you.
You will influence his therapy
As for his real therapy sessions, you’ll want to know about those. How could you not? And he’ll want to share with you. But you may have opinions on what his therapist says (especially if any of her notes are about you) and you could wind up influencing his therapy sessions—not for the better.
He’s constantly triggered
Within the relationship, you’ll have several fights that really aren’t even about the relationship. He will be triggered—as people often are when they aren’t yet healed from their trauma—and he will project those emotions onto you. You often won’t know when you’ve really made a mistake, or when your partner is just remembering old pain.
You can’t tell someone he’s being triggered
There will be times you do realize that you did nothing wrong, and your partner is just reacting to his trauma. But you can’t exactly tell someone, who is in the throws of extreme emotions, that he isn’t in touch with reality right now. You just have to tough it out. It’s not a very healthy form of fighting.
He didn’t choose you with clear eyes
This is possibly one of the hardest parts of dating someone who is recovering from trauma: he didn’t choose you with clear eyes. You may be a wonderful person and an amazing partner. But, someone who needs to heal from trauma doesn’t really know who he is—for now. He isn’t choosing you through a stable, clear lens. How could he? He isn’t in touch with his true self right now.
He can feel that healing causes a rift
Since this man isn’t quite himself when he meets you, and will hopefully find himself again through therapy, this unfortunate change may occur: when he gets better, he may realize you’re wrong for each other.
Then, he may retreat
The change that comes with growth is scary. That’s why some people choose not to grow. Becoming more emotionally astute and stable can mean realizing your friends, job, and relationship aren’t right for you. But, some people don’t want to realize that. If your partner realizes that healing is causing him to see that you’re not right for him, he may actually stop trying to get better.
True healing can take years
The reality is that fully healing from some of the more serious traumas, like physical abuse, sexual assault, or death of a loved one can take years. If you meet someone who is going through such healing, you have to ask yourself if you’re willing to wait years until this relationship is actually whole and functional.
He just isn’t whole yet
You just can’t know someone who still has a tremendous amount of personal work to do. He isn’t a whole, healthy person right now. As such, he may hurt you in this relationship—he may make mistakes that are so beyond forgiving, that it ruins a chance for any relationship in the future.