PTSD and Marriage

A battle for safe relationships

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a condition that people experience following a traumatic event. About 6% of people in the U.S. will experience PTSD at some point in their lives, according to the US Department of Veterans Affairs. It may not seem like a big number, but that equates to millions of people in America with PTSD. Although most people won’t develop PTSD after a traumatic event, it can be a reoccurring and haunting experience for those that do.  

PTSD can play a major role in the health of a marriage, too. While the victim is battling the continuing effects of their trauma, it can leave their spouse feeling isolated and helpless. Fortunately, there are tactics that victims and their spouses can use to alleviate the burden of PTSD and heal their marriage. 

Let’s take a look at how PTSD can affect a marriage, and what a couple can do to combat its negative effects. 

The Effects of PTSD From Trauma Before the Relationship

When you first start a relationship with someone that suffers from PTSD, it may not be noticeable immediately. The person with PTSD may be reluctant to share details about their past trauma, and this can affect their ability to form and maintain healthy relationships. 

As the relationship progresses, you may notice an invisible wall that feels impossible for you and your partner to break through. The trauma victim puts up this wall to prevent themselves from experiencing intense emotional pain. 

If your partner has experienced an intense trauma before you met them, they might not even know that they suffer from PTSD. Delayed on-set PTSD is a common occurrence that will cause PTSD symptoms to surface long after the trauma has happened. 

The most common PTSD symptoms can include:

  • Hypervigilance
  • Emotional numbing
  • Avoidance 
  • Lack of trust
  • Intimacy Issues
  • Difficulty with communication 

These symptoms can prevent the trauma victim from forming a bond that is normally required for a healthy relationship. On top of that, it can make their spouse feel emotionally overwhelmed, cut off from the relationship, and unwanted. PTSD can drive a wedge in the marriage if it goes untreated, and it has a damaging impact on both the victim and their spouse.

The Effects of PTSD From Trauma During the Relationship

If your partner experiences an intensely traumatic experience during your marriage, you may notice some drastic changes in their personality and actions. What was once a lighthearted and outgoing person may now appear to be cold and detached. Your partner may also display new behaviors such as:

  • Flashbacks 
  • Irritability
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Anxiety 

As a spouse, these new changes can be overwhelming. Attempts at getting close with your partner after a traumatic event can be met with intense resistance, and can prevent you from feeling like you can help them. 

You may also feel like your own needs aren’t being met in the relationship while your partner is suffering from the burden of PTSD. This will cause the relationship to feel one sided, and after a while you may experience compassion fatigue. Navigating the new challenges presented by your partner with PTSD will require time, patience, and mutual effort. 

Being a caregiver to your partner with PTSD can be taxing on your own well-being. Our other article, How to Deal With Compassion Fatigue, discusses the symptoms of compassion fatigue and what you can do to get you back on track towards helping your partner.

C-PTSD: PTSD From Abuse

Complex PTSD, known as C-PTSD, is commonly stemmed from previous abusive relationships. This type of PTSD presents unique complications in a marriage because a victim experienced prolonged trauma from a person that they trusted. This can lead to various attachment issues, like a need for constant validation or a fear of abandonment. 

A C-PTSD victim will also typically display people-pleasing behaviors, such as fawning, as a coping mechanism during conflicts. Your partner with C-PTSD can appear to be clingy and codependent, while having difficulty setting and respecting boundaries.

If you want to learn more about fawning as a trauma response, read our article: Fawn Trauma Response to get more insight on how it affects your partner and the relationship. You can also read our full guide on complex trauma and C-PTSD to learn more about it.

C-PTSD can be particularly confusing for a spouse, because a victim will experience both extremes of attachment issues. Someone with C-PTSD will go through alternating periods of intense over-attachment and complete withdrawal. 

C-PTSD victims are prone to intrusive thoughts, causing them to relive the damaging emotional trauma. Various triggers will cause that person to fluctuate from one extreme to the other, and their behavior can be unpredictable and difficult to manage. The hot and cold nature of a C-PTSD victim mirrors the nature of the abusive relationship that they experienced.  

Signs and symptoms of PTSD on a relationship

How To Support a Spouse With PTSD

If your spouse suffers from PTSD, they may feel alone when navigating their burden. In addition to the proper therapy, a dedicated partner can prove to be an invaluable resource. There are several steps that a spouse can take to help their loved one with PTSD. Some of these steps include:

  • Educating themselves on the causes and symptoms of PTSD
  • Providing a safe and judgment-free environment for open communication
  • Encouraging your partner to seek therapy and support groups
  • Being compassionate and patient, especially during difficult times
  • Identifying coping strategies and potential triggers

Helping a partner with PTSD also involves making sure you're fit for the task. While you are helping your partner, it is important to monitor your own well-being. Seeking support for yourself will allow you to avoid emotional burnout, so you can be there for your partner when they need you the most. 

Seeking Help For You and Your Loved One With PTSD

Providing support for your partner who is fighting a battle from their past is a rewarding, yet difficult task. Seeking individual counseling to ensure you’re in a healthy space makes it easier, and gives you tools to help both you and your partner navigate difficult times.

At Inner Balance Counseling, we offer counseling for those with trauma and those supporting someone with trauma. Working on wellness as individuals means improving your marriage’s wellness. Contact us today to learn about individual counseling.

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© Inner Balance. All right reserved.