Ask Deepak: How to Help Your Partner Cope with Trauma
By Deepak Chopra
March 24, 2010
Each week, spiritual teacher Deepak Chopra responds to Oprah.com users' questions with enlightening advice to help them live their best lives.
Q: Hi, I am dating a Chilean who just survived the earthquake and tsunami. I was supposed to be moving there in December 2010 to start a new life with him, but now obviously things are postponed. I fear he is suffering some kind of post-traumatic shock. I really want him and his family to come to the United States. How do I help him to cope since I live in the United States and he's there? I feel that he is somewhat distant but probably because of his recent survival of the catastrophe. Please advise!
— Stefanie C., Brighton, Massachusetts
I am not sure what you mean by "dating" someone who lives thousands of miles away, but I want to offer a helpful answer. As you probably know, there is no easy way to deal with massive trauma. Time is needed, along with patience and caring from other people close to the victim. Your boyfriend may have lost close relations or friends; he may not have been involved in the catastrophe, but participated from a safe distance. You don't mention these things—which make a huge difference—but here are some general comments.
Try to draw your boyfriend out of his shell or retreat.
Make him feel that it's safe for him to tell you how he feels.
Reassure him that he doesn't have to get better to please you.
Be resilient and patient when he goes into moods that are not the moods you want to be around.
Don't dwell on the details of the traumatic events. Reliving the trauma is part of the problem, not part of the solution.
Ask sincerely if he wants help. Try to offer it as best you can, but don't take on the job of a therapist.
Be as open as you can be, in hopes that he will be encouraged to be more open.
In the end, one of two things will happen: either your boyfriend will move beyond his present state of trauma or he will incorporate it permanently into who he is. The second outcome would be sad, and at its worst, can prove self-destructive as well as dooming many relationships by its obsession with grief, fear and anger. With these two outcomes in mind, use your love and caring to direct him toward the first outcome. It will be better for both of you.