Healing from Relationship Trauma
August 2022

“Healing from Relationship Trauma,” Liahona, Aug. 2022.

Healing from Relationship Trauma

If we have been wounded in relationships, we can find strength to let God prevail.

woman holding the image of a heart

Illustration by Elise Whele

“The spirit in each of us naturally yearns for family love to last forever,” taught President Russell M. Nelson.1 The desire for this eternal connection to others is ingrained in our spirits, but sometimes because of relationship traumas we aren’t sure we’ll ever be able to have these eternal relationships, including celestial marriage. In healthy relationships, we can be open and vulnerable. However, we live in a fallen world, and relationships are not always healthy. Those who have received deep emotional and spiritual wounds in relationships, even if it was long ago, often wonder if they can ever be vulnerable and open to share their love again with another person.

Cassie experienced this after dating Brian for a year. Unfortunately, Brian was abusive. Cassie didn’t realize how much it affected her until after she left the relationship. Since then, Cassie has felt depressed, unable to trust her own thoughts and unable to trust others to support her. She often uses defense mechanisms to avoid getting hurt again and to manage feeling like others are angry with her or will leave her. Sometimes she unknowingly pushes others away or becomes demanding in relationships. These defenses make it difficult for her to get or feel close to others. After talking with loved ones and a counselor, Cassie recognized her trauma and her need to heal—and also that healing is possible over time.

Whether you’ve experienced a relationship like Cassie’s or another form of relationship trauma, there is hope. You can heal and find the joy that comes from developing trusting relationships as you explore a few steps. First, recognize the relationship trauma in your life. Second, turn to Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ for healing. Third, learn to develop healthy relationships with yourself and others, including setting appropriate boundaries.

1. Recognize Relationship Trauma

When we have been so deeply wounded that we don’t believe we can trust ourselves and others, we begin seeing relationships as dangerous rather than as a place to learn, grow, and reach our full potential. Deep wounds can arise from abuse and betrayal.

Abuse is the mistreatment or neglect of others. The Church teaches that “abuse cannot be tolerated in any form.”2 Someone who has been abused often feels fear, manipulated, or intimidated, and he or she may feel a lack of control. Different types of abuse may include:

  • Emotional: manipulating emotions or undermining feelings of self-worth.

  • Financial: withholding or controlling money.

  • Physical: using physical force or the threat of it.

  • Sexual: forcing sexual interaction.

  • Spiritual: exercising control or dominion over someone else’s spiritual or religious beliefs (see Doctrine and Covenants 121:36–37).

Betrayal is an act or pattern of behaviors that violate trust and cause us to lose trust in others, ourselves, and even God. It can leave us feeling diminished, empty, sad, in despair, “not enough,” or damaged. It may include:

  • Abandonment: emotional or physical rejection.

  • Broken promises: pattern of unkept promises, including covenants.

  • Disloyalty: regularly disparaging the other partner privately or publicly.

  • Divorce: ending a marriage covenant, which often results in broken dreams and identity crises, especially when one partner feels powerless.

  • Infidelity: inappropriate emotional or physical connection with another partner.

  • Dishonesty: routinely deceiving others, leading them to no longer know what to believe and disbelieve from you.

2. Turn to Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ for Healing

Through Heavenly Father’s plan, Jesus Christ has the power to heal all wounds, no matter how deep. The process of healing is difficult and may take time. In our hurt, we may even become angry with Heavenly Father. While we may not feel like turning to Him, He has sent His Son, Jesus Christ, the Master Healer. Through the Savior’s Atonement, we can be healed over time.

Sometimes we may believe we need immediate relief, but healing is a process. Elaine S. Marshall, PhD, shared: “Healing hurts. … Healing really begins only when we face the hurt in its full force and then grow through it with all the strength of our soul. For every reward of learning and growing, some degree of pain is always the price.”3

When we heal through Jesus Christ, we grow, build healthy relationships, and seek support from others, including professional help.

As we seek to heal, we need our Father in Heaven. Elder Richard G. Scott (1928–2015) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught, “The most direct and often the most powerful way [to access the Savior’s help] is through humble, trusting prayers to your Father in Heaven, which are answered through the Holy Ghost to your spirit.”4

In praying, we can honestly and humbly express all our hurt and the impact it has had on our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. As you pray, watch for the comforting and enlightening power Heavenly Father sends through the Holy Ghost. The hurt may not go away, but you can feel comforted and strengthened.

3. Develop Healthy Relationships

Although trauma may limit our desire for a relationship, “our journey to God is often found [with others],” taught Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He also reminded us that “we help ourselves as we help each other.”5 In addition, President Nelson has taught that “celestial marriage brings greater possibilities for happiness than does any other relationship.”6 As you seek to develop important relationships, these three ideas can help:

Start with Yourself

Begin by learning more about yourself. Take time to reflect on and learn to trust your own thoughts and feelings. As you become more sure of yourself, you’ll be able to recognize others with whom you can begin to be open. Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught how we can see ourselves more clearly: “Learn to see yourself as Heavenly Father sees you—as His precious daughter or son with divine potential.”7

Build within a Circle of Trust

We can learn to heal by building trust in our relationships generally. As we find those who can hold our vulnerability and be soft with our feelings, we can learn to build healthy relationships little by little. When we feel like someone is harming us, we can set appropriate boundaries, including keeping them at a distance if necessary and, when safe to do so, telling them that their behavior is not appropriate and hurts us.

As we seek to build healthy relationships step by step, we can use the concept of a boundaries target to help us recognize and set appropriate boundaries. In the outer levels of the target, we can place the people we hold at an emotional, and perhaps physical, distance. These might include strangers or those who have caused us harm. As we move toward the center of the circle, we may trust others with some non-vulnerable information, such as basic facts. In the innermost circles, we may choose to share more information and increase vulnerability.

As we seek to build trust, we can be intentional about how we feel someone fits into our target of vulnerability at a given time and how much to share with them. If someone harms us, we can move him or her away. As we learn to trust a person, we can move him or her closer. Making conscious efforts to allow more people into our circle of trust over time can help us grow and heal.

Consider Additional Resources

Remember that healing from significant traumatic experiences may require professional help from those who uphold your values. “Carefully select reputable professional counselors who have applicable licensing. Counselors should respect the agency, values, and beliefs of those seeking help. Incorporating these values is ethically appropriate in professional counseling.”8 You can also find additional information in these resources: