I married a man who had experienced trauma.
I knew that when I married him….but exactly what that meant wasn’t clear to me in the beginning. Having almost zero experience with trauma and abuse personally, it was a big jump in my worldview to understand this man whose definition of his childhood was trauma.
From the beginning, God had given me a very clear call to love Joe. I’ve always tried to empathize with him, even though I don’t truly understand. However often I try to put myself in his shoes, imagine what that must feel like… I can’t. And as Joe often tells me, that’s good. He doesn’t ever want me to truly understand what it’s like.
But, it’s still an issue in our marriage because trauma doesn’t go away.
There have been seasons where Joe has had PTSD-like symptoms and triggers from the horrible abuse he endured. I still have to extend compassion and love him maybe a little bit differently than the average man. If this is part of your story, you know it’s not easy to explain why you feel and act the way you do.
I recently saw a video by Dr. Julie Gottman who compared trauma to a bucket of ice water and it really resonated with our experience in our marriage.
So, what I imagined with the metaphor of a bucket of ice water is that when an individual has been traumatized, they’re being asked, alone, to carry this big, heavy bucket of ice water, which is kind of off balance and it’s very difficult for that individual to carry it alone, and every now and again the ice water splashes around, splashes all over them, and leads them to freeze, to be cold, to be wet, to feel horrible and to shiver with the discomfort and distress.
That’s the triggering of a trauma that is part of what somebody experiences in PTSD. And I imagined also that when a couple is dealing with a trauma together, then each one has a hand on the handle of the bucket, with the bucket between them of ice water, and if any of you have tried to carry a bucket of water, it’s much easier to do with two people on either side of that bucket than doing alone off-balance.
As I read more of Julie’s thoughts on this, it was so comforting and inspiring. My husband is carrying that big bucket of ice water. It’s heavy.
There were times in our relationship where he wanted to carry his bucket alone.
He didn’t want me to get wet. Or have me deal with all that ugly. He wanted to protect me from it. But him carrying it alone would never work. He would only suffer more, and in the end it would destroy our relationship.
We were never meant to carry those kind of burdens alone.
For me, following God’s call to love my husband as Jesus does meant being willing to carry that bucket of ice water with him.
It isn’t always easy and many times the ice bucket has gotten unsteady and cold water has splashed all over the both of us. Some days the bucket is heavy, and we both get tired from carrying it.
But God is faithful.
As we’ve committed to carrying the bucket together and submitting that bucket to God, we have hope. God knows what Joe carries, and He is the third person carrying the bucket with us. As we submit it to Him and stay unified, we see glimpses of the bucket getting lighter. It’s still there, it’s still cold, but it’s getting lighter. It spills less often. It doesn’t feel as unsteady.
And you know what else?
We discovered an immense reward that we may not have discovered otherwise. Do we ever wish that Joe hadn’t experienced what he had to experience? Of course. Every day Joe looks at our kids’ childhoods and wonders what it would be to experience that kind of parental love and stability. Abuse and trauma cause life-long, irreversible consequences and there is never any excuse to inflict that kind of damage to anybody. It’s not fair that so many have to carry that kind of pain. However, God has made beauty from ashes and has restored the years that the locusts have eaten. Healing and forgiveness is possible. Even when it’s two steps forward, one step back, we know He is still working. And I love that I get to be a small part of that story!
Is your spouse carrying trauma from his past? Is it something that you’re carrying together?
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a]
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.