CPTSD: How to Keep Your Brain and Emotions Regulated in a Relationship

Just like other people, most of us who grew up with childhood trauma want to be, or are in, a loving partnership or marriage. My Dating and Relationships course talks about many of the obstacles we face when meet and form relationships with others. But ONE of the videos in that course is about BEING in a relationship — and specifically, how to keep your brain and emotions regulated, even when you’re under stress, even when you feel ignored or abandoned, and even when you’re in the middle of an argument. Because those can be vulnerable moments for people with Childhood PTSD. There are simple strategies (that take work) to stay present and keep your emotions level so that you can enjoy your relationship, and create a sense of trustworthiness and safety for your loved one.

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Much to my surprise, when I actually married the guy I’d loved and wanted to marry for five long years, it did not fix my Childhood PTSD. There are many ways that being in a committed relationship is healing, but there are even more ways it can bring your old wounds back to the surface. So here are some guidelines for growing your capacity to be a level-headed, reliable and emotionally regulated mate, now and throughout the course of a committed relationship.  

Now and always, you want to take care of your brain. This means getting a healthy amount of sleep, eating healthy proteins and not a huge amount of sugar and carbs, moving your body around and staying connected with friends and groups and nature.

Childhood PTSD people are attracted to isolation but we never do well there. Stick to the practices that you already know help you stay regulated. A lot of us give those up when we fall in love, and generally speaking, this quickly leads to problems that bring us crawling right back to the techniques that got us ready for love in the first place. So do what works for you. As always, I recommend sticking with the Daily Practice I teach that involves of writing fears and resentments, and following it with meditation. Generally, partners will take your cue on whether this is important. If you tend to discard your self-care routines, they’re less likely to respect the. So your best bet is to just stick to your principles on this one, and follow the routines, on good days and bad days, that help you keep your head and heart happy.

Another regulating strategy is to do what I call “keeping oxygen flowing” in your relationship. You don’t want to be an airtight container. You want ventilation. This means you don’t spend all your time together, even if you’re married. It’s really important to maintain activities and friendships where you spend some time without your partner.  Sometimes it takes practice getting the balance right, and the amount of time you spend with your partner, or not with your partner, can vary with your life circumstances, or the stage of life you’re in. But if you have a tendency to get dysregulated, and because your attachment mechanisms can be a little jerky, support yourself by always keeping some activities and friend time, just for you.

Once your relationship is committed — either you’re engaged or actually married, here are a few things I’ve learned can help keep a relationship safe and even-keel.  Safe and even keel are good things for those of us with Childhood PTSD.

First, be trustworthy. If you want a committed relationship to grow closer (or a not-yet-committed relationship to move toward commitment) just give yourself over to always telling the truth, but gently; always doing what you say you’re going to do, with good cheer, and never giving cause for jealousy or bitterness. Be sensitive to how you talk about your mate when you’re around others. Be sensitive to how you handle yourself in front of the important people in their life — their family, their coworkers and friends. Build them up a little. Don’t nag, scold or dominate them. 

In addition to being trustworthy, you want to be present for them. This means taking time to listen at the end of the day, and giving your full attention, at least some of the time! Childhood PTSD can make us a bit self-centered, always “taking the temperature” of how we’re feeling, and whether our needs are met. But it’s important to make room to care about the other person too. 

And finally, look for ways to make your relationship about something more than just your relationship. For some people this comes in the form of building a family together. Sometimes you’ll be partners in building a home or a nest egg. But a really positive thing to do that benefits every part of your lives together is to be of service together. 


Ready to heal your childhood trauma? This online course is a good place to start: HEALING CHILDHOOD PTSD

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