June 20, 2024
Chicago 12, Melborne City, USA

How Do New Relationships Bring Up Previous Trauma, and What To Do When This Happens


By a certain point in our lives, we’ve all acquired some baggage. While it varies from person to person, but we all have something, of a different shape, size or weight, that we carry around with us. It might be a failed marriage, infidelity, loss of a loved one, or even abuse. Opening up in a new relationship can bring these feelings to the surface, and specific events or emotions might trigger distress in a variety of forms. 

Baggage From Past Relationships

The supposed ‘severity’ of the past distress is almost irrelevant: what matters is how it affects our day-to-day lives. Some things fade over time, and others get heavier and more difficult to bear. For example, if you’ve just ended a relationship, every little thing might remind you of that person as you try to work out what to do with your feelings and love.

If this is the case, please don’t go online and set up a dating app account, but perhaps talk to your friends, throw yourself into your work or hobbies, and know it won’t last forever. You don’t need to find another significant other immediately, and refusing to deal with those feelings will make it worse when, inevitably, you do have to face them. 

Healing From Trauma

However, if you’ve experienced something like sexual trauma or an abusive relationship, you may well have nightmares or flashbacks for years after the event and this will impact your life and mental health. Starting a new relationship may well trigger all sorts of distress. In this situation, therapy is highly advisable.

I appreciate that therapy is seen as the kind of thing only women do, but that doesn’t mean that people of other genders don’t need it as well. I’m also aware that it’s not necessarily affordable or accessible, yet the benefits of processing the things that make you feel bad massively outweigh allowing them to fester for years. If there’s a way you can find professional help, I highly recommend taking that opportunity. 

Communicating With Partners

New relationships can remind us of all sorts of things with former partners. That isn’t a bad thing, and it’s probably just our brains telling us what to expect based on former experiences. If what happens triggers a PTSD flashback, it’s worth explaining this to your date. You don’t need to trauma dump or share more than you’re comfortable with, but outlining how and why some situations are difficult for you is good.

It allows your new significant other to understand you better and know what to avoid. It also gives you the opportunity to see how they react to your boundaries, and if they aren’t respectful, you should leave. A new partner won’t solve all of your problems and if you think they’re going to make things worse, it isn’t worth it. All of this is applicable in intimate and domestic situations. It doesn’t really matter what your trigger is, if they’re unwilling to show you kindness, they won’t bring you joy. 

Supporting a New Partner

Partnerships go both ways, of course. Your own baggage from a previous relationship might be nothing more than an aversion to Taylor Swift or an insecurity over the way you pronounce ‘grass’. That doesn’t mean things will be the same for your new romantic interest. So, what should you do if you’re dating someone who has significant trauma?

The most obvious and straightforward answer is ‘be kind’. Fun fact: that applies in lots of other situations, too. If you’re reading this, you’ve probably taken the time to think about ways to support your partner, which is commendable, but I urge you to continue researching, listening and uplifting wherever you can. Pay attention to triggers and situations that make your partner uncomfortable. If you’re not willing to do that, end the relationship. 


New relationships are a stew of highs and lows. Usually, you’re so high on the other person and how they’re the most interesting and sexy creation on this planet, you forget that intimacy and overwhelming emotions can lead to insecurity and volatility. Take the openness and interest in the honeymoon phase and make sure that there’s nothing triggering your new partner, and know that this will help to deepen and strengthen your bond. 

Rachel Hall, M.A., completed her education in English at the University of Pennsylvania and received her master’s degree in family therapy from Northern Washington University. She has been actively involved in the treatment of anxiety disorders, depression, OCD, and coping with life changes and traumatic events for both families and individual clients for over a decade. Her areas of expertise include narrative therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and therapy for traumatic cases. In addition, Rachel conducts workshops focusing on the psychology of positive thinking and coping skills for both parents and teens. She has also authored numerous articles on the topics of mental health, stress, family dynamics and parenting.

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