If one partner in a relationship has untreated post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), it can make both their lives miserable. Many couples divorce or break up because of the symptoms of this mental health condition. But there are things you can do to help your partner with PTSD and preserve your relationship.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders is More than Just Being Shell-Shocked
Veterans and military service-members may be the most common faces of PTSD survivors, but post-traumatic stress disorder isn’t just a consequence of war. PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that can happen anytime a person experiences or witnesses a traumatic event. The condition can result from:
- War or military service
- Sexual abuse or domestic violence
- Childhood abuse or neglect
- Serious accidents
- Natural disasters
- Witnessing a violent death or injury
- Secondary trauma from serving survivors at work
No matter the cause, PTSD causes its survivors to experience intense, disturbing thoughts and emotions related to their experience. Often these thoughts and feelings are “triggered” by elements of the environment that remind them of what happened.
The nightmares, angry outbursts, and disassociation caused by the disorder can strain any relationship. However, a PTSD survivor needs the support of loved ones to recover from their traumatizing incident. If you are in a relationship with a survivor, here’s what you can do to help.
Help Your Relationship Survive PTSD
Talk to a psychotherapist about how post-traumatic stress is affecting your relationship.
Tip 1: Don’t Pressure Them to Talk About Their Trauma
The traumatic nature of their experiences can make it hard for survivors to talk about what happened. While you might think talking it out would help, reliving the experience may make them feel worse. Assure your partner that you accept them, whether or not they want to talk about their trauma.
Tip 2: Listen When They to Talk About Their PTSD
Even though it is hard, sometimes talking about what caused a person’s PTSD can be part of the healing process. If your spouse or partner does share, be ready to listen, even if what you hear is disturbing or you have heard it before. They may need to express their feelings to move through them.
Tip 3: Identify and Reduce Triggers
Work with your spouse to identify the sights, sounds, and smells that bring up their traumatic memories. These may be obvious (like doors slamming) or subtle (like a brand of perfume). There are also many internal triggers such as hunger, sickness, or fatigue. Once you know what triggers the condition, do what you can to limit them within your home by, for example, changing out scents, putting bumpers on doors, or scheduling regular mealtimes.
Tip 4: Create Stability at Home
PTSD makes the world seem like a dangerous and frightening place. Many PTSD survivors are always on guard. You can help them relax by creating a stable and predictable home environment with set routines, less stress, and commitments that are kept. Planning for the future with your spouse can also help them understand that you, and the good things you bring to the relationship, don’t plan on going away.
Tip 5: Know What to Do About Flashbacks
Flashbacks and nightmares are common symptoms of PTSD. But if you panic when your partner experiences them it could make the situation worse. Work with your partner and their therapist to understand the best ways to deal with a flashback and how you can remind your spouse to focus on the present.
Tip 6: Protect Yourself from Anger
One reason relationships don’t survive PTSD is because the condition can create anger, irritability, and explosions of rage. As the PTSD survivor’s spouse or partner, you may become the target of these outbursts. It is important for you to remain calm and avoid escalating the situation. Prioritize your own safety and give your partner space to get control of themselves.
Tip 7: Encourage Therapy or Support Groups
Most importantly, remember that it is not your job to heal your spouse or partner’s PTSD. If you are worried your relationship may not survive their PTSD, calmly and rationally suggest they seek help from a PTSD psychotherapist or a survivors’ support group. Be careful not to make it about something “wrong” with your partner. Instead, emphasize the good that can come from getting help.
PTSD is a complicated condition that can threaten even the most committed relationship. You don’t have to weather the storm alone. Work with an experienced psychotherapist to protect yourself and help your spouse heal.
David Stanislaw is a psychotherapist with over 30 years of experience. He helps children, teens and adults with post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health concerns. Contact David Stanislaw to get help today.