Stronger Marriage

Spouses are Helpful in Transcending Traumatic Childhoods

Utah State University researcher, Linda Skogrand*, completed a study along with, Nikki DeFrain, John DeFrain, and Jean Jones, looking at how adults survive and transcend traumatic childhoods. Transcending traumatic childhoods means that a person not only survives the abuse or trauma that one encountered as a child, but that a person becomes a healthy adult. These researchers completed an in-depth study of 90 individuals who had experienced what they would describe as a traumatic childhood. These individuals told their stories by way of lengthy questionnaires telling us how they survived as children and how, as adults, they began the process of transcending. According to the participants in this study no one really 'gets over it,' but people can move beyond the trauma and not have it control their life.

There were six themes in the stories told by these individuals that describe what happened in their adulthood that helped them transcend their traumatic childhoods:

* They got away from the people who had harmed them, and it was usually members of their family.
* They worked with a therapist or joined support groups.
* They relied on spiritual resources.
* They learned to look forward, not backward.
* Some critical event happened in their life.
* Someone special came into their life.

The last theme of "someone special coming into their life" provides insights into how healthy marriages play an important role in helping people recover from abuse. Many people talked about a spouse who was that "someone special" who came into their life. It was not unusual for people in our study to get married as a way to out of their abusive home, but that person was not always helpful. Sometimes they entered this first marriage thinking it was a wonderful escape, but found instead that they were in another abusive or dysfunctional situation and the marriage did not last. Many people, however, eventually found someone special who would accept them, listen to them, and ultimately love them as they were. One woman had this to say about her husband's support and acceptance:

Being loved. . . without demands, without being expected to be perfect. What a gift.

Another person had this to say:

My wonderful husband of 53 years has made me feel important. Since we've been together I have become more confident and secure and able to talk about my early years.

We sometimes underestimate the role of a spouse in helping heal from life?s difficulties and being able to face life in a new way. In this study we found that being loved by a spouse who cares can be one of several things that helps in transcending traumatic childhoods.

*Study completed by: Linda Skogrand (Utah State University, Logan); Nikki DeFrain (Lincoln, Nebraska); John DeFrain (University of Nebraska, Lincoln); and Jean Jones (Nebraska State Department of Education, Lincoln).

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