My Grandparents “Trauma Bond”

My grandparents were married in a DP camp following WW2. They both had just endured unspeakable losses including the murder of my grandfather’s first wife and children and my grandmother’s time with Mengele in Auschwitz. She was 17, he closer to 30. They married to survive. They married to fight off the loneliness and the pain of devastating loss and trauma. They married because that’s what Jews have done throughout our long history – rebuild from the ashes. And their relationship worked.

How did their relationship work?

It worked because it functioned with a very clear purpose – they needed each other to survive. Their roles were clearly defined and everyone did their job with a clarity of how important each was to the overall success of the project. They did not talk about their vulnerabilities, they did not talk about their fears or their longings. Not that they didn’t have them (we all do), they may not have been aware of them (likely) and even if they were, marriage was certainly not the place for those discussions. Who had time when there are so many more immediate pressing needs like physical survival?
In many ways, I long for the simplicity and functionality of that type of union, but gratefully it’s no longer available. With basic needs continuously and generously met, blessed with material ease and comfort, emotional and psychological longings come to the surface and this complicates matters. While caring for each other’s physical needs is more straightforward (it fosters clear role delineation and complementarity (he provides financially, she takes care of the household and children).
This is much more challenging with emotional and psychological needs for a straight forward reason:
  1. Nobody can really be responsible for another’s emotional well-being.
  2. Responsibility for my emotional experience lies with me alone. I can CHOOSE to invite you to share that space with me but you cannot ever fix anything inside me. You can respond with your very presence, care and attention, but expecting that you will fulfill, solve, heal my emotional needs and I yours, NEVER works. It ONLY leads to pain and dissatisfaction.

Relationships in

So, while the survival pattern that worked for my grandparents really DID work for them, it will never work for my wife and I. Because of them, we are now blessed to be able to think about our individual emotional and psychological needs and figure out how to create an even DEEPER relationship as we learn how to share that space together. It will never be in the way that worked for them and to them I am grateful.