What is the difference between being in a loving healthy relationship and trauma bonding? Can you spot the difference between a healthy bond and a toxic one? Sometimes the red flags are so subtle in the beginning, they can be mistaken for love. Growing into a true, loving relationship takes time and is an investment in getting to truly know a person. Being swept off your feet sounds like a fairy tale, but those sometimes only exist in Disney. Trauma and unhealthy dating habits have a way of masquerading as love, and if you are not self-aware, you could get caught in a dangerous situation. Depending on where you are mentally, it may be extremely hard to tell the difference between love and toxicity.
According to Psychology Today, "Trauma bonding is similar to Stockholm Syndrome, in which people held captive come to have feelings of trust or even affection for the very people who captured and held them against their will. This type of survival strategy can also occur in a relationship. It is called trauma bonding, and it can occur when a person is in a relationship with a narcissist."
There are so many times when I think back on my own dating life and wonder what was the connection that I had to that person. It never occurred to me to examine where I was emotionally or mentally at that particular time. It also never dawned on me to understand how I create connections or what I value as important in developing a bond. Oftentimes we are not healed from the traumas of past relationships (whether familial or not) and drag that invisible luggage into every relationship. The bonds and connections we make with new partners are steeped in the traumas of what we never confronted.
What is trauma bonding?
Trauma bonding can be tough to identify. There are a lot of toxic characteristics that disguise themselves as love. Having a clear understanding of what trauma bonding is and how it cultivates can help you navigate your way through any relationship. So how can we recognize what trauma bonding is?
According to Rhonda Richards-Smith, a licensed psychotherapist, it can be tricky to understand. "Essentially trauma bonding is oftentimes steeped in our experiences as kids," she says. "It is how we attach ourselves to our partners and to our abusers." The experiences we have as children bonding with a caretaker shape how we maintain a bond with a romantic partner. If your childhood was filled with abuse and trauma, you will be attracted to that in a partner and a relationship because it is how you understand love.
Richards-Smith states that these patterns are adopted in childhood through a specific means of delivery. For children, it is a survival tool that is learned in order to protect themselves. "So if we experience any kind of childhood abuse, whether it be emotional or physical, we learn as kids that if you want to keep yourself safe and you don't want to be hurt, you have to do everything that you can to please your abuser." If this abuse goes unchecked, it will continue to manifest in a never-ending cycle.
"We replicate the same pattern in our romantic relationships if those issues have not been resolved," explains Richards-Smith. "So, if our partner is physically or emotionally abusive, it's sometimes difficult to even identify that you are being abused because you associate abuse with love."
The connection between receiving love to avoid punishment is conditioned from childhood. The survival tools used then for protection are still being used as an adult, no matter how unhealthy they are.
How do we know when we are trauma bonding vs when we are in a loving healthy relationship?
There are always red flags that should alert you to potential problems you might encounter. A lot of times, abusers use their past traumas to relate to a potential partner to reel them into a relationship, only to use intimate details shared by their partner as a method of control. It is important to take the time to get to know someone you are interested in romantically. Richards-Smith details the following signs/signals that you are in a trauma bond:
1. The relationship is moving too fast.
"One of the signs that you might be heading towards trauma bonding is if the relationship starts and progresses really quickly. Anytime you have a person who is an abuser and looking to get into a relationship, they are going to move things along as quickly as they possibly can in the beginning."
If you are on the receiving end, this may feel very romantic, like a whirlwind love affair or love at first sight. The quickness and intensity are used as ways to mask what the abuser doesn't want you to know. Richards-Smith adds, "When all of that is happening that is typically because that abuser doesn't want you to discover certain things about their past. If there is an insistence to elevate the relationship very quickly, that is definitely a warning sign that trauma bonding might be happening."
2. You have a preoccupation with always presenting the good in your partner.
You might say things like, "He is controlling because of the way he grew up." If you find yourself doing this excessively, it may be a sign you are bonding to your partner's trauma and allowing it to cloud your judgment.
"If you seem preoccupied with presenting your partner as being a good partner in the relationship, meaning you are going to do and say whatever to elevate them in the relationship, you are probably in a trauma bond," Richards-Smith says. "You will do this to be sure that there are no outsiders that can criticize that person in any shape or form on how they behave or how they treat you because they are the cream of the crop. If you are constantly having to make excuses for your partner's negative or bad behavior, that is a sign of trauma bonding. What ultimately ends up happening is that you start to blame yourself for anything that goes wrong in the relationship."
Richards-Smith says this is problematic because the abuser will transfer blame to you and you will internalize that blame. "It is reinforced by the partner in these relationships. Anything that goes wrong in the relationship is going to be your fault," she explains. The abuser in this case is able to capitalize on you letting their behavior slide which gives them an in to blame you. As the relationship progresses, you will become so accustomed to this negative feedback cycle that you start to believe the lie and accept blame.
3. You have an extreme fear of abandonment.
This is more of a sign that you need to work on yourself before getting into any relationship. A fear of abandonment can lead you to lend yourself to any type of treatment because you want to stay with someone no matter what. This is the most common theme I see in a lot of relationships but most of the time it is subtle.
If you know that you have an extreme fear of abandonment, you should address those issues head-on. This ties itself back to your attachment style and how you were raised. Just as childhood trauma can create an abuser, it can also create victims. "Nobody wants to break up, but if you have this extreme fear of abandonment in your relationships that is how trauma bonding can crop up," Richards-Smith says.
"Your abuser can sense that and you will do anything to stay with them. This is related to attachment, if you are so worried about bonding and staying attached to this person, they are going to use that."
What do you do when you recognize you are in a relationship that is based in trauma bonding?
"If it is a true trauma bond, the relationship is not repairable because the foundation of the relationship is toxic," Richards-Smith says. "If the foundation is toxic, you have to do your own healing, and your partner has to do their own healing. But a lot of times you have narcissists that are involved in trauma-bonded relationships. A narcissist is pretty much not going to counseling because [they believe] they are not the issue—it's you. So oftentimes it is really difficult to repair them.
Richards-Smith offers these resources and suggestions for breaking trauma bonds:
"Reach out to a licensed mental health professional who can help work through some of these things. Since trauma bonding begins in early childhood, there is a lot of work and healing that needs to be done to really make the changes stick in terms of the behaviors we really want to alter. Also, take a look at your existing support network. A lot of times when you are in a trauma-bonded relationship, you will also have a lot of friends who are in trauma-bonded relationships. So this normalizes the trauma bonding. Your perspective can get a little bit skewed when everyone around you is engaging in the same way. Surround yourself with people who are involved in healthy relationships."
If all we know is trauma bonding, how do we recognize a healthy relationship?
It is always good to have someone give a different outside opinion to challenge what you already know. "Consult a mental health professional because you need help from an outsider. We usually go to friends and family but they may not know how to recognize it either, [especially] if they are doing the same thing. It is important to have an outsider to have an objective opinion on what skills you may need and what changes you may need to make. It is tough when you are making the changes to not isolate friends and family, but you have to look at how you are interacting with those people to be sure that it is not reinforcing those trauma-bonding behaviors."
We tend to look to the people closest to us for guidance but if that circle of support is engaged in the same behavior, you will end up with the same results. There is a really great tweet that reads:
"I think the reason people think their partners can be their therapists is because they think therapy is just talking about their feelings. Therapy is a treatment plan, and psychology is a science. Having someone listen to you vent is not the same as creating a plan to heal trauma."
Now that we have taken a deep dive into the depths of trauma bonding, can you assess if you are in a trauma bond? Do you know how to recognize a trauma bond before it starts? Most importantly, do you feel empowered and confident to seek help? There are healthy connections available to us at any time, and we must be mentally prepared to know that the best is what we deserve.
Featured image by Shutterstock.
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How We Met is a series where xoNecole talks love and relationships with real-life couples. We learn how they met, how like turned into love, and how they make their love work.
I’m willing to bet that this is not the first time you’ve seen this couple. Dalen Spratt is a television producer, owner of a tailored men's suit line, and creator of Ghost Brothers: Haunted Houseguests, which is currently streaming on Destination America. Stacey Spratt is also a serial entrepreneur, focusing mostly on events and the nonprofit world, and she is the owner of two award-winning craft beer bars called Harlem Hops. But their accolades are not what united them.
The couple met years ago at their alma mater, Clark Atlanta University, when they were still working to create the life they have now, and if you had told them then that they’d eventually tie the knot, the pair probably would’ve laughed in your face.
Today, they’re new parents, flourishing in their careers, and each others’ “teammates.” When desiring love, Dalen recommends not looking to other couples for advice. And Stacey advises staying true to what you want. “Don’t put age or limitations on love and children. If God could do it for me, why can’t he do it for you?”
Here's How We Met.
How did you meet?
Dalen: We met in 2005 when she was advising the Greek sororities and fraternities in college. She was old as hell in college, and I was a young buck (laughs). Everybody had a crush on her, but I didn’t think much of it. Then, in 2007, we were in the same grad school class, but she still wasn’t trying to see me then either. I had to catch her five years ago; I was very patient.
Stacey: Yeah, everybody in our grad school class called him Young, Fresh to Death because he was always dressed in B-school (what CAU affectionately refers to as business major classes), and we’d just wear sweatpants (laughs).
So, I know Dalen was always attracted to you. But what about you? Did your attraction to him develop over time?
Stacey: So 2006-2008 – all the years went by. I don’t think we were really thinking about each other at all back then. Years later, I had an event in Dallas, and I booked him to be a speaker. Then, a few years ago, Dalen posted a photo of him on Instagram, and I slid in his DMs. I remembered him being so young and handsome, and I’m like, I should hook him up with my younger cousin. His response was: "If you’re not hooking me up with you, no thank you." But I still thought he was too young at the time, and he started pulling receipts. Taraji P. Henson was dating someone young at the time, Gabrielle Union–
Dalen: First of all, I didn’t do that. You did that.
Stacey: Okay, I did. I thought he was a cutie pie, but that age thing was on my mind!
"Dalen posted a photo of him on Instagram, and I slid in his DMs. I remembered him being so young and handsome, and I’m like, I should hook him up with my younger cousin. His response was: 'If you’re not hooking me up with you, no thank you.'"
Talk to me about the first date. How did he change your mind?
Stacey: Our first date was at Tin Lizzy's in Atlanta. During that time, he was living in Dallas, so it was long-distance. But he came into town, and we just had a good time. We talked a lot, which we still do. It wasn’t anything fantastic.
Dalen: Don’t downplay our first date.
Then, walk me through your courtship. How did you get to the next level? What was that conversation like?
Stacey: I think he knew at age 43 or 44 I wasn’t playing around. But also, I think it just naturally progressed.
Dalen: Yeah, it just happened naturally. And I’m going to be honest, I don’t think initially either one of us thought it would be as serious as it was. She thought I was too young and I wasn’t ready for marriage, kids, and all that. I think we both thought we were just hanging out. But after spending so much time together, a lot of stuff started happening. Like, she had to have surgery early on. It wasn’t just time together; it was intimate time. Next thing we know, we just never left each other. That’s why we still don’t have an anniversary date because we never really asked.
"It wasn't just time together; it was intimate time. Next thing we know, we just never left each other. That's why we still don't have an anniversary date because we never really asked."
What made you want to commit to each other?
Dalen: The moment I knew Stacey was for me was from a phone call. I don’t really like talking on the phone, and I can be really blunt sometimes. But we were talking, and I said, ‘I don’t really feel like talking anymore.’ And she was just like, okay, and hung up. I wasn’t trying to be rude, and she understood that. It sounds bad, but that’s how I knew she just got me. I felt like she could get my random awkward moments, and she does to this day.
Stacey: For me, I liked him as a person. Even when times get rough and tough, I could still like him as a human. He is my best friend. We have time. We laugh until we cry, and it’s just always like that. Even when we get pissed at each other, something happens, and we fix it. Also, how he treats his mother. That’s a momma’s boy, but I’m a daddy’s girl – so I get it. I know how I want to be treated, and I see how he is with her and that’s beautiful.
What are some important lessons you’ve learned about yourself through loving your partner in this relationship?
Dalen: I grew up an only child and she grew up with siblings. So, when you have someone who is used to doing things by themselves, there is definitely a learning curve when you get into a serious relationship. It’s funny now, but it was definitely a process.
Stacey: I agree – definitely the only child thing. There’s times I look at him like, did you ever live with anyone else? That comes from being momma's baby, too. I have to say, my “mother-in-love” spoiled him. But also with Axel (their daughter), that brings another level of patience.
Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images
What was the biggest challenge that you had to overcome together?
Dalen: We’ve gone through a lot within the years we’ve been together. We suffered two miscarriages – I’d say that’s the biggest.
Stacey: Having those miscarriages and trying to understand what’s next and what our options are was a lot. I had two myomectomies (fibroid surgeries), and he supported me through that time. Also, still, it was on my mind that he’s eight years younger than me. I was wondering if I can’t carry [a child] what that looks like for us. We had very real conversations pretty early in our relationship.
"Having those miscarriages and trying to understand what’s next and what our options are was a lot. I had two myomectomies (fibroid surgeries), and he supported me through that time. Also, still, it was on my mind that he’s eight years younger than me."
What do you fight the most about?
Dalen: Nagging. Stacey nags; she’s a complainer. She’s that momma that will look in a room and just hunt for something to complain about. Like, I’m worried for Axel when she's in high school.
Stacey: It’s because I like things to be in place. He leaves stuff all over the place. I can tell where he’s been in the house because something is left around. So he says I’m nagging – but it’s like, just get your stuff.
What are your love languages?
Dalen: Stacey is gifts all day.
Dalen: We’ve talked about this. xoNecole is about to cause problems in our home (laughs).
Stacey: Obviously I love you. *thinks again* It’s words of affirmation.
Dalen: That’s it.
What’s your favorite thing about each other?
Dalen: I’ve always respected her business-mindedness. That may sound superficial, but it’s not because I’ve never been with someone who thinks like me. It’s one of my most treasured things about her. I remember one day, I was just running through ideas with her, and each time Stacey had a suggestion on how I could make it better. It’s just very comforting. She takes whatever I’m doing and elevates it – including me.
Stacey: I love Dalen’s hustle and creativity. He’s been on multiple shows, and he continues to create, produce, and reinvent himself and the product he’s putting out. I love that we can create together and bounce things off each other. Even though we may be in different arenas, there’s nothing he can’t offer me great advice about. I love that drive.
Finally, how did you know it was love?
Dalen: Well – she said it – first. (laughs)
Stacey: And he looked at me and smiled! He didn’t say it back. We were on a trip, out of the country.
Dalen: We were arguing when she said it, and she just threw it out.
Stacey: But we continue to do that. We’ve spent holidays and everything outside of the country.
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The Scorpio man and Pisces woman form a relationship that is heartfelt, sincere, and not for the weak. There is an immediate connection and familiarity between these two, being that they are both water signs and are both ruled by their emotions. They are on a similar playing field in life, yet they go about their desires in love in a very different way.
Scorpio Man And Pisces Woman Love Compatibility
Ultimately, a partnership being formed between the two is an intimate and emotionally transformative one, and this is a relationship they both never forget. Things can get messy, but if they are willing to do the work within, then the love can also be pretty amazing for them as well. They are all in or nothing when it comes to partnerships, and they learn a lot about true commitment and vulnerability through this pairing.
What attracts a Scorpio man to a Pisces woman?
The Scorpio man is attracted to the Pisces woman's mysterious aura and emotional demeanor. The Pisces woman is attracted to the same things as the Scorpio man. See, these two are more similar than most signs of the zodiac, and they can intuitively feel this about each other right away. Pisces and Scorpio often share similar interests and have a lot of opportunities to meet each other because they like to do the same things and are often in the same places. These are two creative and artistic souls, and there is something that they both find inspiring about each other right away.
The connection and synergy of a Pisces and Scorpio couple is undeniable, and there is a strong force in life that often brings these two together. The Pisces woman can feel that there is more to the surface than the Scorpio man presents right away, and this is instantly intriguing to her, being that she rules the 12th house, which is where everything is hidden in life. The Pisces woman has secrets of her own, and she sees the Scorpio man as someone who can resonate with how she feels and dive deeper into the relationship together.
What is the relationship like between a Pisces woman and a Scorpio man?
The relationship between the Pisces woman and the Scorpio man is emotional. Emotions run very high in this relationship, which is often a good thing, but can turn into something entirely different very quickly as well. The Pisces woman and Scorpio man often get into a relationship together quickly. They are not earth signs that take their time developing a relationship; they are water signs that base their decisions on their emotions and go with the flow of the currents here.
So when they meet and they feel that instant connection with each other, they often jump into a pairing with one another right away.
This couple will enjoy spending time together and will feel like they are deeply understood in the relationship. There is a comfort here that is truly profound, and if anything, they are best friends first and foremost. However, the Pisces woman and Scorpio man tend to let their emotions overwhelm them and can turn little things into something bigger. Arguments or disagreements in this relationship can get messy, and they are both somewhat emotionally impulsive. Neither will forgive and forget easily as well, so reaching a point of forgiveness or harmony after something challenging occurs may never happen.
This relationship works best if both parties have already experienced a long-term commitment or have learned their lessons in love and evolved. The longevity of the relationship will depend on how they begin it. However, the love they have for one another is undeniable.
What is the sex like between a Scorpio man and a Pisces woman?
The sex life between the Pisces woman and Scorpio man is transcendent. They tend to have no issues in the bedroom, and that instant connection they feel when they meet often has an underlying energy of sexual compatibility as well. This isn’t the type of couple to wait a long time to explore each other in the bedroom, and they form a deep intensity here right away. They are looking to connect on many different levels, and they feel enough compatibility in the connection to do so.
The Pisces woman is willing to explore in the bedroom, and the Scorpio man is ready for anything. This is a couple who will entertain role-play, bondage, etc., and there are a few limitations to what they are both interested in. With the Pisces woman providing a safe space to many, the Scorpio man feels comfortable opening up in many different ways, the main one including behind closed doors and in the bedroom. They are emotional at their core, however, and will still want a level of intimacy with each other that goes deeper than just sex, so although their sex life is great, there is more they both want at the end of the day.
What makes a relationship between a Pisces woman and a Scorpio man work?
What makes the relationship work between these two water signs, is that they both understand each other deeply. They don’t have to explain themselves or work too hard on getting to know each other because it’s almost instant that they do. They speak the same language, in other words, and they can learn a lot from each other in the process. They are more open with each other, and their more reclusive demeanor changes in the presence of one another. This is a couple that likes to spend time together doing things that each other has an interest in.
At the end of the day, these are just two people who want to love and be loved, and they can give each other that.
The Pisces woman helps the Scorpio man open up more, go with the flow, and trust the universe. The Scorpio man helps the Pisces woman step into her power, stick up for herself more, and live life fully. There is something creative and eye-opening about this pairing, and they create their own world together. Trust is everything between the both of them and once they have that, they lay the foundation for the relationship to grow and thrive.
What may cause a Scorpio man and a Pisces woman to break up?
The thing about a water sign relationship is that things can get messy. Emotions are always running high, and if they are not on the same page, this can lead to the energy of the relationship being all over the place. The Pisces woman is loyal, attentive, and compassionate, but she is also a free spirit who likes her space and freedom. The Scorpio man, on the other hand, craves deep intimacy and partnership and may have a hard time trusting the Pisces woman, and that trust needs to be had in a relationship.
Scorpio may find Pisces to be too wishy-washy for his liking, although Pisces just sees herself as someone open-minded and flexible and doesn't understand why the Scorpio man can’t be a little more like that as well.
This relationship can fall apart due to things becoming overwhelming too quickly. They tend to get into the relationship quickly and break up just as fast as well. If they can act on mental clarity as much as they do their emotions, then this can create a more solid ground for the relationship to grow and continue to grow upon. You would think that being with someone who is the same element as you is a recipe for success in a relationship, but two of the same things can be too much at the end of the day.
Summary: Is a Scorpio man and a Pisces woman compatible?
Ultimately, this is a relationship with high compatibility, and depending on the two people at hand, it will determine how things unfold here. They have the tools needed to form a sincere, loving, and compassionate relationship but will have to confront each other's differences with the same attitude to work. Once the first challenge or conflict arises in the relationship, how they handle it afterward will determine if the relationship is going to work out or not.
These two are perfect when things are going well, but can be dramatic when they are not. The Pisces woman and Scorpio man can’t get enough of each other at the end of the day, and this will indeed be a relationship that they will never forget.
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