November 1, 2020

The Impact of Trauma with Dr. Andy Santanello

A Sad Woman Sitting on a Sofa


​Ever wonder how traumatic events impact a relationship?

​Have you wondered how to help your partner recover after a traumatic event?

In this podcast episode, Elizabeth Polinsky interviews Dr. Andy Santanello on the impact of trauma.



  • What is trauma and how does it impact someone?
  • How does trauma impact couples and families? 
  • What partners and spouses can do to be helpful.


What is trauma?

Webster’s definition defines this broadly as “an emotional upset”–which is probably too broad. It is important to look at the spectrum of stressful things a person can experience during their lifetime. The low end of the spectrum is everyday life stressors; the middle area of the spectrum might be things like moving, divorce, or the loss of a loved one. The impact of the stressors makes a difference–whether it has a positive or negative impact on your life. Moving or divorce could be very stressful but not result in a mental health diagnosis. The very top end of that spectrum is where we get into the trauma arena. The DMS-5 (manual for mental health disorders) describes trauma as an experience of witnessing or being exposed to death, serious injury, or sexual assault. The ICD-10 (international classification of diseases from the world health organization) definition is a bit broader–it includes those same three categories but also includes experiences that would put someone in situations to be physically or psychologically injured. Regardless of the definition, they are extreme stressors that are outside of everyday life.

Most people, when they experience trauma, are going to recover.”

Dr. Andy Santanello

2. Trauma could result in recovery, PTSD, or other mental health diagnoses such as a depression or anxiety disorder.

It is when people get chronically stuck in the recovery process that they develop PTSD. Right after a traumatic event, it is normal to experience a lot of memories of the event coming to mind. Sometimes these memories are triggered by being around something that reminds the person of the event. There are also changes in how emotions are experienced, such as a proneness to looking for threat in the environment and people feel keyed up. Others feel emotionally numb. There are often changes to how someone experiences anxiety–like being easily startled, feeling jumpy, or feeling like they always have to be on guard and look for danger. Lastly, people tend to cope through avoidance. Generally this is good judgement; but when they try to avoid the thoughts and feelings from the trauma, it makes it harder for them to recover.

Crop woman hugging sad girlfriend

3. Trauma also impacts couples and families.

Intimacy–both sexual and emotional intimacy–can be hard for trauma survivors. With friends and families there can be a sense of being alone, that others won’t understand, and that it’s better to push others away.

It’s hard to feel like you want to be emotionally or physically close to someone if you are feeling incredibly vulnerable”

Dr. Andy Santanello
  • To be close to someone means to make the choice to let someone in your comfort zone. To be close you have to be willing to make yourself woundable. And the prospect of putting yourself in that situation on purpose is incredibly difficult.
  • ​Often spouses and friends don’t get it. They often want to help and say and do things that would be comforting in other situations–but in this case it can come off as invalidating. It is also difficult when the loved one wants to be helpful but they may not be able to be present with the person because the story of the trauma is very upsetting.

4. What can partners do to be helpful?

  • Learn as much as you can about trauma and PTSD.
  • Let your loved one know that if they want to talk to you, then you are willing to listen. 
  • Offer to go with them to doctor visits or help them schedule appointments.
    • At the same time, you can’t force them to go to treatment.
  • Plan activities with them and the family around their comfort level.
  • Make sure to take care of yourself and meet your own needs.  
  • Encourage your partner to connect to others and establish a support system.

5. If you have experienced trauma and are continuing to struggle, make sure to get help for yourself first. Couples therapy can be helpful as well.

If you are not meeting your own needs and not taking care of yourself, it’s going to be really hard to be helpful to anyone else”

Dr. Andy Santanello
A Sad Man in Deep Thought

Words of Wisdom from Dr. Andy Santanello:

  1. Treatment for PTSD and trauma is the most advanced it has ever been. These treatments are evidenced based and are much more widely available than they used to. There is a reason to have hope because there is effective treatment available.  
  2. Trauma Focused Therapy is the most helpful. These include Cognitive Processing Therapy, Prolonged Exposure Therapy, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), and Written Exposure Therapy. Learn more here: ​
  3. For spouses and family members, make sure to take care of yourself. Take care of your basic needs; get support if you need it; and make sure you do what you need to do in order to get support to be safe. If you can’t take care of yourself mentally and physically, it is hard to be helpful for your loved one.

Working with Dr. Andy Santanello:Dr. Santanello has a small private practice in Baltimore, MD. For more information on working with him, see .Sign up for Liz’s FREE Relationship Email Course!!

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Podcast Sponsor: The Relate Assessment is the most comprehensive relationship assessment in the world and is based on 10 predictors of marital stability. It’s supported by the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy and is the one my husband and I used during our premarital couples counseling. To get 20% off the assessment, go to and enter “POLINSKY20”.

Thanks for Listening!


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    About Author

    Elizabeth Polinsky is a Certified Emotionally Focused Couple Therapist (EFT) providing EFT marriage counseling in the states of Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Arkansas, and Nevada. She also provides EFT training and supervision to therapists looking to become certified in EFT Couple Therapy. As a military spouse, she has a special passion for working with military and veteran couples, and is also the host of The Communicate & Connect Podcast for Military Relationships.


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