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More Beautiful For Being Broken

When the youngest of my three birth children was 16, I was anticipating ‘empty nest’ with some excitement as I considered all the new opportunities that would soon be available to me. Then life took an unexpected turn. Two very vulnerable and hurt little girls of 6 and 7 joined our family as our ‘forever daughters’ and with them, trauma arrived in our home, big time.

I was totally unprepared. In my naivety, I assumed that giving our new daughters ‘enough love’ would be relatively easy and they’d be so grateful for the chance to be part of our family that life would continue in much the same fairly relaxed way it had always done.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. The last 20 years have been a very steep learning curve. Their unbelievable early trauma affected every aspect of our lives. At times we’ve reached breaking point, feeling we couldn’t go on and at others have been amazed at the resilience everyone involved in the trauma has shown.

Trauma comes in many forms and generally falls into one of two categories.

  1. Most of us are familiar with the effects of PTSD as the result of an accident or bereavement, conflict or a totally unexpected turn of events in life. This term usually refers to a single trauma even though it might last a while, for example with a soldier, fighting in a war zone.
  2. Developmental or Complex Trauma is experienced by children and young people who are exposed to ongoing traumatic events such as neglect and abuse during their early, formative years. The effects of Early Trauma can last over a lifetime impacting all future relationships. The recent interest in A.C.E’s (Adverse Childhood Experiences) highlights the impact Early Trauma can have, over a lifetime. There’s a brief overview of its findings here.



Trauma may have arrived in your life, like mine, unexpectedly through bereavement, loss, disability, illness, suicide, a natural disaster, displacement, violence or any number of other circumstances. Or it could be deeply embedded in you or your partners being as a result of early trauma.

Esther Perel, an international relationship guru (we’re great fans of hers at One Retreat) says, ‘when you pick a partner, you pick a story – and often you will be recruited for a play you didn’t audition for’.

This quote confirms what we know but often forget – that we all have a back story whether it’s a secure and relatively happy childhood or one overshadowed by pain. When trauma is part of the early experience of one or both partners or whether it arrives quietly and unexpectedly later, it can cause each individual to react or respond in totally different ways and will inevitably bring pressure to that relationship.

Esther Perel’s quote also reminds us that none of us have any idea what experiences life is going to bring us and when, as she says, ‘we’re recruited for a play we didn’t audition for’, we can be unprepared for the effect will it have on us as a couple. How to cope? Will it draw us together or break us apart?

Esther Perel was the child of Holocaust survivors and noticed in the community she was brought up in, that there were two groups – those who didn’t die, and those who came back to life.

And that’s probably true for any couple who are experiencing trauma. Does it define them or are they able, with time and support, to find ways to slowly begin to heal?

Often, finding appropriate professional support is vital and so is Self-Care – for both of you.

  1. Make time to communicate – if words are too hard, use email or a letter
  2. Find common ground where possible and build on this
  3. Embrace silence
  4. Understand the importance of breathing
  5. Hug often
  6. Suspend judgement
  7. Create opportunities for leisure and relaxation together
  8. Understand and respond to your own needs as well as those of your partner, appreciating you may both react very differently to the same traumatic event
  9. Learn to recognise your body’s signs of stress and actively find ways of trying to reduce this where you can
  10. Set limits – you cannot be everything to everyone – learn to say ‘no’
  11. Seek out help for your feelings. Find others who will listen without judgment -friends, family, a therapist or a support group – (all of the above if possible!)
  12. Focus on the small glimmers of hope and change you can see



Kintsugi, is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with seams of gold. Instead of discarding and throwing away a damaged bowl or hiding the break, it’s reassembled and the break is emphasised, transforming it into a piece which is unique and ‘more beautiful for being broken’.

This can be a helpful illustration of what can happen to a couple who are able to find new ways of being together, despite the effects of trauma.

Ruth Adams

Ruth has worked as a trainer and a communications coach for 20 years and loves to inspire people – from a boardroom to a classroom – to find freedom and ‘unlock possibilities’.
She is an associate of Family Futures, an area coordinator for Adoption UK and a director of Achkiy, a charity working with women in the shantytowns in Peru.
Ruth is married to Alan, has 3 birth children in NY, Berlin and Barcelona, 2 forever daughters and 6 grandchildren.

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