June 1, 2023

Healing from trauma while in a relationship with Karen Robinson

Joyful military father in uniform returning to family


Many military couples are impacted by the experience of traumatic events, and this can take a  toll on the relationship. In this podcast episode, Elizabeth Polinsky interviews trauma expert Karen Robinson on ways to heal from trauma while in a relationship.


  • Symptoms of trauma
  • ​How trauma impacts relationships
  • Ways couples can work on improving communication after trauma
  • Individual and relational healing after trauma

Introduction to Karen Robinson

Karen is a trauma recovery expert and also a trauma survivor herself. She grew up in Canada and Maine, and got her masters degree from the University of Maine over 20 years ago. She has worked with the Department of Defense as a therapist and social worker for most of her career. Currently she has her own private practice where she does counseling (Virginia only) as well as coaching for those in other locations. Check out her website at www.healthrivedream.com

Symptoms of Trauma

A traumatic event is an adverse event that is disruptive to a human and it can impact people in several ways. It is important to note that people may experience trauma in different ways. (Learn more about symptoms of trauma here).

  • Moral injury is when someone is angry at God due to the injustice of what has happened, and the traumatic event impacts their sense of themselves as moral or their sense of the world as being a moral place. (Learn more about Moral Injury here)
  • Emotional injuries are when people feel emotionally disregulated where their nervous system is outside of their window of tolerance. This could include hypoarousal where thy feel lethargic, numb, depressed, and lacking motivation. Or it could include hyperarousal where someone feels anxious all the time, on guard, and on the verge of a panic attack. 
  • Relationship symptoms include difficulty communicating effectively, navigating conflict, and loosing a sense of humor and playfulness. 

If you wouldn’t say something to your best friend, then you shouldn’t say it to your spouse.”​

Karen Robinson
US military man with family

How trauma impacts relationships

Marriage is already pretty challenging and take a lot of work. When one person has experienced a traumatic event–then it can be more challenging and require more work to keep the relationship in a good place. Couples who have fun together, who are best friends, and who can have a light hearted playfulness quality tend to do better in their relationships.However, after a traumatic experience, many people loose their sense of playfulness. Therefore it can be important to work on doing exercises that help you de-stress so you can be more playful in your marriage. 

Ways couples can work on improving communication after trauma

Even if you think you are a great communicator, it can be helpful to take a communication class. Karen offers this as one of her services, and these workshops help you practice what it feels like to be an effective speaker–sharing in a concise matter and using active listening to fully understand. Techniques that can be helpful: 

  • Inviting your partner to talk. 
  • Doing something that is pleasant for you partner before an intense conversation. 
  • Share concerns in a succinct and clear way.
  • Stating what you need from your partner. Clarify if you need validation, physical affection, information, or if you need tangible help with something. 

Another important skills is learning to resolve conflict well with your partner. This is especially important when trauma has led someone’s nervous system experiencing really intense emotions. On the extreme end, when emotions feel disregulated and out of control, then there is a risk saying something you don’t mean, domestic violence, someone storming out and getting in a car crash.Tips for conflict resolution: 

  • If you need a time out, state that and say where you are going. 
  • If you are taking a break, clarify when you will be back and that you guys will talk again when the you returns. 
  • Hand hands together the entire time of working out of the conflilct. 
  • Try being naked, because it’s vulnerable and hard to be nasty and mean to each other when you are naked. 
  • Try to have a lot of grace for each other. 
  • The conversation needs to be a win-win so both people feel heard and feel like a team at the end of the conversations. 

Tips for increasing playfulness as a couple: 

  • Create strict boundaries around your time together as a couple
  • Have a regular marriage meeting (Learn more about marriage meetings here.)
  • Take turns planning date nights
  • During date nights, do not talk about any problems or concerns 
  • During date nights, try to mix it up what you are doing (get my date night guide here!)
  • When in doubt on what to do, try just googling some options because there are a lot of good blogs and ideas out there. You don’t need all the answers because you can ask others for ideas and recommendations. 

Both people need to be able to say what they need to say, and to feel heard”

Karen Robinson
Military Family Reunited on a Sunny Day

Individual and relational healing after trauma

When there has been trauma, there is an individual trauma healing journey as ell as a couple healing journey. 

The Individual Journey: 

Both people need to make sure they are practicing self care, eating well, getting enough rest, and getting exercise. If you can’t take care of your basic needs, it is going to be really hard to be healthy in your relationship.  

She often recommends that people have a mindfulness or meditation app of their phones to help help decrease stress. She tends to recommend the Calm phone app which is free, and the one that she loves that is paid is called Headspace. This can be a great prevention method. 

The Couple Journey: 

Couples counseling is a great way to work on improving relationships together. There are several types of therapy for couples who are recovering from trauma, including: Imago Therapy, Conjoint Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for PTSD, and Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy(Learn more about types of marriage counseling here.)

Outside of couples counseling, if you are working together as best friends and you see your partner struggling, go get their coping bad or coping toolbox. This could include sticky notes to having them call a friend or to do something else that will help them feel better.  In the coping skill bag, you will want sensory things that are enjoyable to feel, hear, smell, etc.  Since you know your partner best, ask yourself, what is one thing you can do for your partner? And it you are struggling to find empathy for your partner, try to see the child in your partner and this can help you find empathy so you can be more gentle with your partners struggles. 

Working with Karen Robinson

For female trauma survivors, she has a virtual group called Healing from Trauma Together. This is a supportive accountability group to set goals each both on improving themselves, relationships, and pursuing life dreams.

She has coaching services for couples where she helps couples work on communication, conflict resolution, and increasing their playfulness. You can schedule a complementary consult through her counseling and coaching website at www.healthrivedream.com.

Liz’s Useful Links: 

Podcast Sponsor: This podcast is sponsored by Elizabeth Polinsky Counseling, where marriage counselor Elizabeth “Liz” Polinsky provides online marriage counseling, weekend long marriage intensives, and therapist training in Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy.

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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