Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Trauma

7 Signs Complex Trauma Is Impairing Your Relationship

Have you had dysfunctional relationships? Complex trauma may be to blame.

Key points

  • Years after wounding events, someone with complex PTSD might have trouble finding and keeping loving and fulfilling romantic relationships.
  • Because complex trauma happens cumulatively over a long time, it's sometimes hard to identify.
  • Happy, healthy relationships are possible even when one has complex PTSD, but not until the trauma is processed and healed.
BigStock/Pressmaster
Source: BigStock/Pressmaster

When a person is exposed to multiple traumatic events over a long period, they can develop complex post-traumatic stress disorder. Unlike typical PTSD, which can be triggered by a single traumatic event, such as a car crash or an assault, complex PTSD is the result of many traumatic events, often of an interpersonal nature, spread out over time but often occurring during childhood or adolescence. Witnessing the illness or death of a caregiver, abuse or neglect by caregivers, or frequent exposure to violent or chaotic situations can result in complex trauma. Years after these wounding events, someone with complex PTSD might have trouble finding and keeping loving and fulfilling romantic relationships and have no idea that complex trauma is the reason why.

Because the trauma happened cumulatively over a long time, it's sometimes hard to identify that it is to blame for one’s unhappiness. If you have experienced a series of dysfunctional romantic relationships, often feel dissatisfied with your romantic partners but can’t pinpoint exactly why, or have frequent unsatisfying sex with many partners, complex trauma may be to blame.

Here are seven signs that complex trauma is the reason why your romantic relationships aren’t working out.

1. You are always worried that your partners are going to leave you.

Constantly feeling insecure in a relationship is common among people with complex PTSD. Multiple major upheavals in childhood or having caregivers who were sometimes very loving and attentive and sometimes unavailable or aloof can lead to an anxious attachment style in adulthood and trigger a constant fear that your partner will leave you.

2. You act "needy" or "clingy."

If a partner has ever described you as "needy or "clingy," you might have complex PTSD. Because you are afraid of being abandoned, you cling intensely to your partner, and this behavior can eventually drive your partner away, thus fulfilling your fear of being abandoned. This pattern can last for years until you recognize and process the trauma that lies behind your behavior.

3. You are hypersensitive or hypervigilant.

If you feel hypervigilant to signs of trouble, or you are hypersensitive to slights even when you’re in a stable relationship with a loving partner, you might have complex PTSD. If you feel anxious or on edge most or all of the time when you’re in a relationship, and this pattern continues through multiple relationships, it might be time to seek treatment for complex trauma.

4. You never have long-term relationships.

If you like the idea of being in a long-term relationship, but you constantly find yourself ending relationships abruptly or are never with one person for very long, you may have an avoidant attachment style caused by complex PTSD. If you experienced childhood neglect or rejection by your caregivers, you might reject others to save yourself from being rejected. This "you can't hurt me if I hurt you first" attitude is devastating to your chance at love.

5. You often feel agitated or antsy in a relationship.

If emotional intimacy makes you feel like you want to run for the hills, or if a long-term commitment feels like a threat to your sense of self, complex PTSD may be affecting your relationships. This behavior will keep you from ever getting close enough to a romantic partner to form the type of healthy bond that long-term love requires.

6. You have a hard time trusting romantic partners.

If you experienced abuse or neglect or lived in a chaotic environment as a child, you may have a hard time trusting your romantic partners. This is especially true if the caregiver you loved was also a source of the trauma you experienced. As an adult, you may crave closeness but then push it away when it appears. This is a sign of an anxious-avoidant attachment style caused by complex trauma.

7. You often say yes to sex even when you don't want it.

If you frequently find yourself agreeing to sex or initiating sex even when you don't feel sexual desire, you may have complex PTSD. You might do this because you crave immediate feelings of closeness, or you find that sex dulls other negative emotions. Then, when the physical intimacy is achieved, you may abruptly pull away, potentially ending a romantic relationship before it's had the chance to begin, and you move on to a new partner. This is a sign of an anxious-avoidant attachment style triggered by complex trauma.

The above are just some of the ways that complex trauma can impair your relationships. Happy, healthy relationships are possible even when you have complex PTSD, but not until you process it and heal. First, you must recognize that the troubles you are experiencing in your romantic life aren't the fault of your partners or your current situation but due to events that occurred years or even decades earlier.

Once you acknowledge your trauma, work through it, and release its negative pull on your psyche, you can enjoy loving and fulfilling relationships.

advertisement