By now, you’ve probably heard about the negative toll that posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can have on a person. People with PTSD may feel emotionally numb in their relationships, or experience intense anxiety when re-imagining the traumatic event. What you may not know is that PTSD affects not only individuals, but also the relationships around them.
Recent research has looked at how PTSD symptoms affect marriages. In short, one partner’s PTSD symptoms can spillover into the other partner’s life and negatively affect their views of the relationship. This negative spillover effect may be attributed to people with PTSD feeling emotionally numb and, as a result, may have more difficulty bonding with his/her spouse. These difficulties follow a logical pattern. Someone who feels emotionally numb is likely struggling to manage their emotions-they may get angry more easily, or may want to avoid the discomfort that comes with feeling and expressing complex emotions. They may even be trying to keep from lashing out at their loved ones! Though behaviors like avoiding difficult emotions usually stem from good intentions, like protecting themselves or their partner, difficulty arises when a person or a couple are stuck in a cycle of emotional challenges and have difficulty connecting or supporting one another.
The negative effects of PTSD are not isolated to significant others. PTSD that goes untreated for a long time can result in lower amounts of social support. This means that it gets harder for friends and family to support their loved ones dealing with PTSD. This is not anyone’s fault. PTSD symptoms are hard to overcome, so partners and friends may find it difficult to continue offering support. Luckily, research has provided some good pieces of advice that can help manage PTSD.
Advice for managing PTSD
1) Regardless of whether you or your partner (or both) have PTSD, be sure to practice good self-care. It is difficult to offer support or cope with challenges when you are not taking care of yourself. It is okay to do things for yourself. Take a walk. Go see a movie. Spend time with friends. Go to therapy. Spend time praying if spirituality is helpful for you. Self-care allows us to relax and recharge our batteries so that we can deal with the challenges of life and support others.
2) If your partner is dealing with PTSD and is reluctant to receive treatment, there may be some things you can do to encourage him or her to seek treatment:
- Showing patience during the process
- Respecting their choice in the matter and trying not to compromise their independence
- Refraining from “nagging”
- Trying to understand their perspective
- Discussing treatment as a normal, healthy way to promote strength
3) Finally, if your partner agrees to seek help, it could be a good idea to accompany them. Remember, PTSD in one partner affects the couple as a whole. Therefore, partners and friends can be useful companions in treatment. Going to therapy or classes together may help both the individual and relational challenges that come with PTSD.
If you are dealing with PTSD, or have a loved one struggling with this challenge, you’re not alone. Be sure to take care of yourself, encourage seeking help, and work through the process together.