Sometimes you may want to give up. Why does everything have to be so, so hard? Other times, you wish someone would just give you a manual for dealing with all aspects of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or Complex PTSD. Wouldn’t it be nice if the doctor gave you a handbook when they gave you or your spouse the diagnosis of PTSD? Because the worst part is that you have no real idea of how this new acronym will affect your relationships. However, there are a few tips available for you regarding your PTSD and marriage.
Your marriage and PTSD
You and your spouse did not elect to have PTSD enter your marriage. Although you cannot control what has happened to you doesn’t mean that you cannot have a stronger marriage. Anyone can search for “PTSD and marriage” all over the web, but what they usually find are a numbers of websites and articles listing discouraging divorce statistics. Most of these sites and articles are dreadful to read. This is due to the fact that they can influence you to lose hope for your relationship.
Although what you read is disheartening for couples facing PTSD, you do not have to be a part of these statistics at all! I’m not. And my journey with my husband who has Complex PTSD (CPSTD) has not been easy at all. In fact, our marriage is stronger than ever before. There was a point where I did not believe that we would make it. Now, don’t get me wrong. I was motivated and very hopeful for a long steady time after my husband’s diagnosis. Despite overcoming challenges and having persistency, more challenges developed. After about a year and a half I really lost all hope. Then, I ended up becoming extremely depressed. In fact, my psychiatrist diagnosed me with major depressive disorder. Surprising to me was my next diagnosis of Vicarious PTSD. In most situations where PTSD and marriage don’t mix well, the non-PTSD spouse may develop Vicarious PTSD. Essentially, this type of PTSD evolves from exposure to the trauma that takes place in the midst of your spouse’s PTSD episodes.
PTSD and Marriage: First steps to take
Listed here are the very first steps to take if your marriage is facing PTSD. I have separated out steps for each partner. As a matter of fact, there are steps for each of you to take and some that will be a joint effort. Of course, I am not a medical professional, but I have learned a lot over the last couple of years. In addition, what I have found is that PTSD and marriage do mix. Comparatively, a couple wouldn’t divorce for the reason of one partner losing an arm, or having cancer. So why would a couple separate when a behavioral health issue surfaces? Not to mention, the U.S. already has high enough divorce rates without the presence of a mental health illness. Let alone comparing PTSD and marriage statistics show that rates for divorce increase incredibly.
Spouse with CPTSD or PTSD
- If you are not in therapy please find a local therapist who specializes in trauma. It cannot be expressed enough just how crucial treatment is for PTSD and marriage, let alone PTSD.
- If there is any substance abuse present, find help. When you are interviewing potential therapists ask if they are qualified to treat both trauma and substance abuse. In addition, do not be embarrassed. It is not uncommon to find PTSD and alcohol or drug abuse paired together.
- Research often to find relative articles to read with information about PTSD. There are so many wonderful resources online, like NAMI, with content including techniques to self-manage your symptoms. Then, try a few of them. But, try the techniques a few times. Because consequently, trying anything new can feel uncomfortable at first. Soon enough you will have your own personally selected grounding and calming tools in your arsenal.
- On the good days that PTSD symptoms are not active, do something thoughtful for your spouse. By all means, your genuine acts of love and kindness will nurture your marriage. With this intention you will reinforce the love, safety, and security that your spouse needs to feel.
- Process through any guilt you hold onto pertaining to your PTSD and marriage. After you experience a PTSD episode you may have feelings of guilt or shame. In spite of these feelings, holding onto any guilt distracts from your relationship. If you remain in this “head-space” you will furthermore miss out on precious time living “in the moment” with your spouse.
- Don’t worry about past events or anything in the future. Think only about the current day and how you can enrich the next 24 hours spent with your partner. In the same fashion it is very healing for you to be centered and in the moment as often as possible.
- Get involved with PTSD support groups. Facebook has several groups for this facing PTSD. Additionally, these groups offer encouragement, privacy, and a large support system. Some of my favorites are PTSD Buddies, Women With PTSD United and Complex PTSD Recovery.
Spouse without PTSD or CPTSD
- Help your spouse find a good therapist that has experience with trauma victims. They will be able to teach your spouse the tools that they need. Hence, PTSD or CPTSD symptom management. Of course, when your loved one is able to manage their symptoms, your relationship will take a turn for the better. There are self-guided practices that they can do to reduce the symptoms’ severity. And the same thing goes for minimizing an episode’s duration. Educate yourself on these practices so that you can help them out of their PTSD episode so long as it is safe for you to do so.
- Build a support system for yourself. Due to caring for a spouse who suffers from PTSD and marriage challenges, it is equally important for you to find enrichment. Perhaps you can make a new friend. There are few online platforms for the spouses of those facing PTSD. With that being said, here is a couple that are helpful and designed with YOU in mind. Furthermore, these Facebook groups provide a private place where you can get advice, connect with others in your situation, and find encouragement: Spouses and Family Members PTSD Support Group, PTSD Spouses/Family Support, Spouses Living With Military PTSD/TBI.
- Take time to take care of yourself. Equally important is nurturing yourself in order to keep a positive mindset and peaceful heart. Naturally, you most likely have taken on the role of “Caregiver” for your spouse. With that being said, a caregiver’s role is never easy. Moreover, it is easy to lose yourself and end up on auto pilot as your spouse’s caregiver. If you do not take care of you first, then you can’t really care for anyone else the way that you want to.
- Let go of any resentment towards your spouse. You may not even realize that you harbor feelings like this. Because of your spouse’s condition and symptoms you may be angry or hurt. But, please keep in mind that they did not ask to develop PTSD or CPTSD. The person they become during “PTSD mode” is not their true selves. That person is someone who temporarily took over your spouse’s mind and body. Contrary to this though, it is especially relevant that your spouse learns to take ownership of their symptoms. Meaning, acknowledging that PTSD and CPTSD symptoms are vicious and that they can be managed. When managed appropriately, there will be less of an effect on you.
- Familiarize yourself with your spouse’s triggers. By doing so, you will be able to help prevention of a PTSD episode. Talk about the triggers with them. Find out why someone, or something, a specific behavior, or sensation is triggering. By all means, keep in mind that you don’t necessarily need to speak about the traumatic event or series of traumas unless your spouse requests to. But, you simply want to help avoid or work through a trigger with your spouse so that it can be eliminated.
- Educate yourself on best case scenarios, and, worst case scenarios. Do not wait until something tragic or until their symptoms get so out of control to start researching all things PTSD. Learn now, and continue to educate yourself so that you can always be prepared. Learn what signs to look for regarding suicide and self-harm. Additionally, having tips to show support in the front of mind will ensure that you remain supportive. Consequently, your partner will feel secure and comforted causing symptoms of anxiety to subside.
- Whenever possible, express your love and appreciation for your spouse in an unbridled way. Remind them that they are wonderful and that you love them. Due to their depression that accompanies PTSD and CPTSD their self-esteem has plummeted and they need reminders that they are needed, wanted, and admired.
- Read, “The Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Relationship” by Diane England (available on Amazon as a free download). Reading this book will give you a new perspective and act as a pivotal turning point in your role of your spouse’s PTSD and marriage.
PTSD and marriage: Hope for the future
The two of you deserve the most enriching, loving, and strongest marriage. Many prospectors will say that PTSD and marriage do not mix. Certainly they would agree that the statistics surrounding PTSD and marriage are extremely high. Notably so, they have not been in your shoes. It is very hard for someone outside of your marriage to understand what the two of you really go through on a daily basis. Due to this alone, you and your spouse should continuously work on creating stability, strength, and an impenetrable love. Your marriage, family, and each of you will find the peace that you are desperately seeking. I hope that this article has been helpful. You are not alone – and your marriage can make it through all of the storms of life.
Patricia Eden is the voice behind PTSDWifey. She is a mother of two beautiful daughters and a wife to an outstanding husband who is recovering from Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and she has Vicarious PTSD. As the author of the unique blog written from the supportive partner’s perspective; PTSDWifey hopes to be an inspiration and a beacon of light for others affected by PTSD. She is working on registering as a non-profit to provide unavailable resources to families and individuals suffering from non-combat related PTSD & CPTSD.