How a natural disaster (i.e. wildfires) can affect your relationships

A natural disaster is defined as a major adverse event that results from natural processes that occur such as major storms, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, floods, and wildfires. As you know, disaster leads to loss of people, animals, and a place to live. Natural disasters can cause widespread trauma symptoms. It is helpful to know, especially in the wake of the recent California fires, how natural disasters may be affecting you in your primary relationships.

In our community, for example, the loss of housing in the recent fires have lead to making it difficult for people to find a place to live. Traffic jams that affect everybody have increased. The list goes on and on. We can be scared for ourselves and our loved ones.

The emotional cost of disaster

In California, the weather appears hot one day, cold on another, and out of sync with our past understanding of the weather around here. You may notice that your anxiety is rising. You may think, for example, “Not enough rain right now; that means we’ll have a higher chance for wildfires again.”

You may find that you can’t sleep as well, or that you can’t sleep in your bed. Maybe there is a constant knot in your stomach or nausea. Maybe your eating habits have changed. Maybe your sexual appetite has changed. This is not, of course, an exhaustive list of symptoms or feelings and experiences you personally may have.

The sudden and overwhelming nature of a disaster understandably leads to intense emotional reactions. These reactions affect our thoughts, our behavior, and our physical body.

In some cases, the impact of a natural disaster can lead to a numbing of experience, or thoughts of not caring. Anger may arise or be displaced. Mood swings, thoughts of hopelessness, difficulty making decisions, and vivid dreams may come up. Just notice. Does thinking about the wildfires we have been experiencing appear to affect your mood? Are you more irritable, angry, hopeless, or feel numb? Do you have a vague sense that you are “lost” or need some help?

Your partner is feeling what you are feeling too. Whether they know it or not. Whether you know it or not. Do you find yourself pulling away more? Alternatively, do you seek out your partner more? Do you think that it just isn’t working as well as it should?

How you experience the world affects how you respond to your partner, family, and co-workers. As human beings, we are wired this way. If you were feeling insecure or unsafe in your relationship before the fires, chances are you may be feeling more insecure and more unsure of yourself and your partner now. A natural disaster can cause you to act more stressed, especially toward the people you love the most.

Each person and partnership is unique and the effects of a traumatic event can be experienced in different ways. When we are not feeling safe and secure, or when our partner withdraws from us or seems especially critical, we feel the loss of being close and having lost a sense of ease in the relationship. Looking deeper, we may very well feel helpless or alone.

Emotionally Focused Therapy and support after a disaster

Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) has proven effective in bringing people closer together. And who doesn’t need that, especially after a disaster? EFT understands that how we feel and experience ourselves affects our behavior. In fact, it drives it. Different from the idea that “I think, therefore I am”, EFT addresses our hardwiring. It addresses our neurobiology. And the safer we feel, the more we are able to relax and feel cared for in the presence of the ones we love the most. EFT is all about cultivating the loving presence that we need to thrive throughout our lifetime.

If you or you and your partner are feeling stress or trauma, from a natural disaster or otherwise, EFT can help you reconnect in a safe and loving way.

About the author: Toby French, LMFT, is an Emotionally Focused Therapist in Sonoma County with over 25 years of experience as a counselor. Toby works with Couples, Families, Individuals, and Young Adults. She currently serves Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Sebastopol, and the West County. You may also schedule appointments by teleconferencing with Toby. If you would like to learn more, visit her website at or text or call (707) 824-2286.

Click here for a list of therapists in your area who provide couples counseling.

Trauma and PTSD Marriage/Relationship Counseling/Therapy