We’ve all lived through our share of hard times. Because truthfully, have you seen the state of the entire world? But for some, the trauma of their experiences stays with them for the long haul.
In fact, 6 out of every 100 people will have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at some point in their lives, according to the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs. But PTSD isn’t just experienced by veterans or police officers or people who work in high-stress and potentially traumatic occupations.
So today, we’re going to talk a little bit about how PTSD impacts relationships. We’ll also discuss how to support a partner with PTSD or how you can best communicate your needs if you’re the partner managing this disorder.
How post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) impacts relationships
PTSD can happen as the result of traumatic relationships. Like with a parent who neglected you or a romantic partner who was abusive. While these aren’t the only situations where PTSD occurs, chances are if you haven’t experienced PTSD yourself, you’ll know someone who has.
Regardless of what type of trauma your partner may have experienced, there are a few things they might struggle with. A great way to support your partner who has PTSD is by being aware of and understanding why they do what they do.
- Avoidance: Because of the traumatic nature of the events and situations that contribute to PTSD and its symptoms, it’s understandable that people want to avoid thinking or talking about the event or even places and people that remind them of what happened. So that favorite ice cream place that used to be your spot? If it stirs any memories (or triggers them), don’t expect to go back anytime soon, or possibly, ever again.
- Hyperarousal (like irritation or anger): You might notice that the smallest things set off your partner. It’s not anything that you’ve done. When someone experiences trauma, their nervous system (and body) go haywire. So loud music, dropping something in the kitchen, or the slamming of a door just might set off a life-threatening reaction even when there is no immediate danger.
- Physical Reactions: Maybe your touchy-feely, easy-going, touch-is-my-love-language partner seems to have completely changed when it comes to their tolerance for physical touch. Again, the hypervigilant, jumpy, easily startled behavior is directly linked to their body being on high alert even when there is no danger. Respect your partner’s need for space, and as hard as it might feel–don’t take it personally.
How to support a partner with PTSD
Both men and women can develop PTSD, but it’s worth noting that women are more than twice as likely to experience this. Regardless of what relationship you’re in, you might find yourself in unknown territory if you’re in a relationship with someone who developed this disorder.
The bottom line is that PTSD impacts relationships, but that doesn’t mean fulfilling and meaningful relationships are off the table when PTSD is involved. So what can you do to support a romantic partner that has PTSD? And if you’re the person living with this disorder, what can you do to educate and communicate with your partner?
When your partner has PTSD
Encourage open and honest communication by actively listening without probing too much into topics that might trigger your partner. Allow them to guide conversations about their experience and trauma in a safe way.
If you find yourself feeling burnout caring for your partner and helping them manage their symptoms, remember it’s okay to take a step back. Self-care is for everyone; we all know the saying, you can’t pour from an empty cup.
When you have PTSD
Living with PTSD is an incredibly wild ride. And having PTSD in a relationship? Well, that’s an entirely different ball game. In a perfect world, being able to communicate with your partner about the trauma you experienced and how it makes you feel would be great. However, this might not be the case, and that is okay.
Engaging in your own self-care is critical to your well-being and helping your relationship thrive. And no, we aren’t suggesting the pop-culture version of self-care (bubble baths and spa days) are all you need to recover.
Self-care can look like taking your medication regularly, keeping up with your mental and physical health appointments, and getting regular, good-quality rest. If you are struggling, you don’t have to do so alone. Talk to your partner about the support you need and the routines that can help you. Make an appointment with a therapist to start treatment personalized for you. Start your healing today–click here for a consultation.