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  • Healing Connections: Understanding the Impact of Traumatic Loss on Relationships

    Life can be quite an adventure filled with ups and downs, laughter and sadness. One of the most challenging aspects of this adventure is dealing with traumatic loss or grief, the kind that shakes the very foundation of our existence. Whether it’s the sudden death of a loved one, a devastating accident, a betrayal that breaks up a marriage, a traumatic event that alters the course of our lives, or really any other unexpected loss that leaves us changed in a profound way, these experiences can leave deep emotional scars.  What often goes unexamined is the lasting impact that these kinds of traumatic losses and the grief that accompany them can have on our relationships ongoing.

    There is an intricate connection between traumatic loss and relationships, in the ways it can affect our interactions with loved ones. Fortunately, therapy can be a crucial tool in healing and rebuilding these connections.

     The Impact of Traumatic Loss on Relationships

    1. Communication Breakdown

    One of the most immediate and noticeable effects of traumatic loss is the breakdown in communication. Grief has a way of consuming our thoughts and emotions, making it difficult to express our feelings and thoughts to those around us. We have all heard it said that grief comes and goes in waves.  When a wave is washing over you, it can be hard enough to breath in essence, let alone find the words to express your feelings and thoughts to those around you. This can lead to misunderstandings, frustration, and distance between partners, family members, and friends.  And those same loved ones feel overwhelmed with helplessness and distance and disconnect widens.  Unspoken and ultimately resolved, grief can fester, causing resentment and further damaging these relationships.

    2. Isolation and Withdrawal

    Traumatic loss often makes us withdraw from our  friends and family – and all our social support systems.  This is especially true with some types of trauma involving  intimate betrayal, and violent crime due to the shame. This isolation can be a defense mechanism to protect ourselves from further pain or because we simply lack the energy to engage with others. Friends and family may interpret this withdrawal as rejection, causing them to distance themselves, resulting in a self-perpetuating cycle of loneliness. And again the disconnect widens.  

    3. Changes in Emotional Availability

    Imagine you’ve experienced something which resulted in you experiencing an immense amount of pain, as in so much that it seems genuinely unbearable. Doesn’t it follow that you would both consciously and unconsciously do whatever you would need to do to prevent yourself from ever experiencing such a thing again?   That is a part of what happens when we experience a traumatic loss, the painful experience of that has us guarding our hearts, if you will, on some level, to prevent us from the risk of repeating the unbearable pain.

    One component of this is a sort of emotional numbing that occurs in the aftermath of a trauma.  This resembles the physical numbing we experience after a hard blow to a limb for example.  The feeling all around that spot is just numb. It’s the body’s way of reacting to the pain.  Your body releases natural painkillers called endorphins to dampen the pain sensation. These endorphins bind to opioid receptors in your brain, reducing the perception of pain and creating a sense of numbness. In addition, the nervous system adapts to prolonged or intense pain by reducing the transmission of pain signals. This adaptation can lead to a temporary numbness or decreased pain perception, helping to protect you from further harm or allowing time for healing. As the underlying cause of the pain is addressed or as your body begins to heal, the numbness gradually subsides.   This whole process  is not terribly different than the blow one feels emotionally after a loss -like in the dark days after the death of an infant child or a wife for example. It is an unbearable pain.  In those days and the days that follow – there are no feelings sometimes—just a dull vacant sense of numbing.   This coping mechanism often serves as a shield against overwhelming feelings of fear, sadness, or anger.

    When you have experienced a traumatic loss another way of coping with the overwhelmingly painful emotions, can involve dissociation,  which involves a disconnection between a person’s thoughts, identity, consciousness, or memory. It can lead to a sense of detachment from one’s emotions, body, or surroundings. This disconnection can vary in intensity, ranging from mild moments of zoning out to more severe episodes of feeling disconnected from reality.

    As you might imagine these reactions to loss  can very easily  lead to significant changes in our emotional availability. When we  have experienced traumatic loss, we  may find it challenging to be present emotionally for our loved ones.  We might be preoccupied with our own grief and unable to connect with the emotions of others. This can leave our loved ones feeling abandoned and unsupported—and this is particularly problematic if they too are sharing the same loss.

    4. Conflict and Anger

    Grief often brings a rollercoaster of emotions, including anger. People who have experienced traumatic loss may find themselves lashing out at those closest to them, often unintentionally. This anger can be directed towards a partner, family members, or friends, causing rifts and conflict within these relationships. This can make it particularly hard for those who are trying to help.  Even those who have understanding and compassion  of the “why” of the anger, have a hard time coming close enough to provide comfort.  They end up taking their own space as a way of protecting themselves which just adds to the loneliness that comes from the loss.     

    5. Loss of Intimacy

    The emotional turmoil that accompanies grief can disrupt the physical and emotional intimacy in relationships. It’s not uncommon for couples to experience a loss of sexual desire and intimacy during times of grief. This further complicates the healing process, as physical closeness can often provide comfort and reassurance during difficult times.

    When one person in a couple experiences dissociation or emotional numbness, it can significantly impact their sex life. Emotional connection and intimacy are crucial for a fulfilling sexual relationship, and when one partner is disconnected from their emotions, it can create a sense of distance and frustration. The partner who is emotionally numb may struggle to engage fully in intimate moments, leading to reduced satisfaction and closeness. Communication becomes essential in such situations, as understanding and support from both partners can help bridge the emotional gap and work together to revive and strengthen their sexual connection.

    How Therapy Can Help

    1. Creating a Safe Space

    Therapy provides a safe and non-judgmental space for you to express your  grief, anger, and other complex emotions. A trained therapist can offer guidance on how to communicate these feelings effectively to loved ones, facilitating healthier and more understanding in your relationships. A therapist can find the right words, name the feelings,  help you check in with your body to discover what’s going on in there.  

    2.  Grief Processing

    Therapists are trained to help you process your  grief. They aren’t afraid to bring it up. They know talking about it in the right ways can be helpful – They can give you some tools and work on some ways to manage the waves as they come up and work on some acceptance and creating some new visions and stories for your life and making peace with what has happened. By addressing the grief head-on, therapy can prevent it from festering and causing further damage to relationships.

    3. Communication Skills

    Therapy can help you find ways to find the words to reconnect with others  in ways that help them to understand you better, to express your  emotions and needs more clearly and effectively. Learning how to communicate during times of grief is essential for maintaining healthy relationships. And maintaining healthy relationships, or being able to build new ones after a loss, is part of the key to our resilience.  

    4. Rebuilding Trust

    For those who have experienced traumatic loss, trust in relationships or for that matter trust in the general goodness of life,  may be fractured. Therapy can help you work through trust issues, both with yourself and your loved ones. It can guide you in rebuilding trust and regaining a sense of security in your relationships. If your loss was the loss of a romantic partner or a child,  trusting your heart to become totally attached to another may take time and great deal of patience.  

    5. Couples and Family Therapy

    In cases where traumatic loss has strained a romantic partnership or family bonds, couples or family therapy can be particularly helpful.  When more than one person has been impacted, the best work is done when everyone participates together, sharing in the discoveries and the talking and the processing and the healing—helping each other and giving each other empathy and comfort, and helping one another to find grounding and support and trust with the help of a therapist

    6. Emotional Support

    Therapy provides a consistent source of emotional support throughout the grieving process. A therapist can offer coping strategies, validate feelings, and be a compassionate listener when you need it most. This support can be instrumental in helping you navigate the challenges of loss and rebuild  or save your relationships.


    The impact of traumatic loss on relationships is profound and multifaceted, affecting communication, emotional availability, intimacy, and trust. However, it’s essential to remember that healing is possible, and therapy is a powerful tool for rebuilding and strengthening these connections.

    Through therapy, individuals can learn to navigate their grief, communicate effectively with loved ones, and regain a sense of emotional balance. By addressing the emotional scars left by traumatic loss, therapy offers hope for restoring and nurturing the relationships that provide essential support and connection during life’s most challenging moments. Remember, you don’t have to face the journey of healing alone; therapy can be your guiding light towards a path of recovery and renewed relationships.

    If you have experienced a traumatic loss, recent or long ago, and you need help, please reach out to get connected to one of our therapists at our Athens, Smyrna, or Marietta locations or for Telehealth sessions from anywhere in Georgia.