Quick Exit

Partners in couple relationships want to be there for each other. When exposure to injury, violence, death, or human suffering is a part of the job for one or both partners, offering support can be difficult. The effects of trauma exposure can linger for PSP after they leave work. It can be challenging to discuss trauma exposure in ways that support the wellbeing of both partners. Setting ground rules about the timing, amount of detail, and frequency of these types of conversations can be helpful.  


Things to consider…
  • Sharing the details of traumatic work-related events may not be helpful for PSP or SSOs (spouses or significant others).
  • Deciding what to share about work-related information can depend on timing, the past experiences of each partner, and their emotional states at the time.
  • Focusing on connecting with each other rather than the details of traumatic events can benefit both partners.
  • Being sensitive during conversations can support both partners to navigate difficult experiences.
  • Attending to wellbeing (personal, couple, and family) and connecting with support outside the family when needed.

Do you want to know more about this?

Indirect trauma exposure can occur when learning about a traumatic event that has happened to someone else. It can also happen to someone who provides support to a person who has been traumatized. The following table outlines signs and symptoms of indirect trauma. It is important to recognize these effects in ourselves and in others.  

Experiencing a few of these symptoms for a short period of time may not be anything to worry about. However, if these symptoms persist and interfere with day to day activities, consultation with a mental health professional is recommended.

Note. Adapted from Preventing secondary traumatic stress disorder. In C.R. Figley (Ed.). Compassion fatigue: Coping with secondary traumatic stress disorder in those who treat the traumatized (1st ed.) (p. 169) by J. Yassen, 1995, Brunner Mazel. Adapted with author’s permission. 

Having a discussion about what to Share

When it comes to talking about work-related traumatic events, setting boundaries about what to share and what not to share can help. Some couples find that not sharing the details about traumatic events is most helpful for them, while other couples have ground rules for sharing.  It is important that you work together to establish boundaries that work for your relationship. Revisiting and renegotiating boundaries may also be needed as things change, particularly when a significant event has occurred or when there is noticeable tension that cannot be accounted for.


Working through these questions together can increase awareness of each partner’s experience, needs, and ways they feel supported. Open communication requires sensitivity and mutual respect for differences. Also keep in mind that situations and people change, and it may be useful to revisit this exercise in 6 months or a year. 

Need Something More?

Check out our self-directed Spouse or Significant Other Wellbeing Course.

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References for this page (click to expand)

CIPSRT (2020). Glossary of Terms Vicarious Traumatization. CIPSRT-ICRTSP. https://www.cipsrt-icrtsp.ca/en/glossary/vicarious-traumatization  

Garmezy, L. (2020). Swimming Upstream: The First Responder’s Marriage. In C. A. Bowers, & M. R. Marks (Eds.), Mental health intervention and treatment of first responders and emergency workers (pp. 16-31). Medical Information Science Reference/IGI Global. https://doi.org/10.4018/978-1-5225-9803-9.ch002 

Kim, J., Chesworth, B., Franchino-Olsen, H., & Macy, R. J. (2022). A scoping review of vicarious trauma interventions for service providers working with people who have experienced traumatic events. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 23(5), 1437-1460. https://doi.org/10.1177/1524838021991310 

Yassen, J. (1995). Preventing secondary traumatic stress disorder. In C.R. Figley (Ed.). Compassion fatigue: Coping with secondary traumatic stress disorder in those who treat the traumatized (1st ed.). (pp. 165-189). New York: Brunner Mazel.