Does your partner refuse to do practically anything with you anymore even though you used to go everywhere together? Do you find verbal abuse being slung your way when your partner used to be a kind person? Are you confused by a suddenly sexless marriage when your partner couldn’t keep his hands off of you previously? If your loved one has been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD, perhaps while you find these changed behaviors upsetting, they shouldn’t surprise you. PTSD symptoms cause problematic behaviors like these—behaviors that can be emotionally painful to you as the partner of a PTSD sufferer.
While you undoubtedly want to be a loving and supportive partner, are you finding it increasingly challenging to do so? Likely, you are either becoming increasingly angry or depressed as your own needs continue to sit there ignored. If this is the case, it might be time to try and change up your thinking. This might help you to have an easier time of it despite the continuing challenges PTSD delivers.
Realize that your partner may not want to go anyplace because he’s fearful of a flashback occurring, one of the symptoms of PTSD. Think of a flashback as an unfolding in your PTSD-suffering partner’s mind of the traumatic event with all its scariness, disturbing visual images, displeasing smells, and whatever sounds were heard in the course of the traumatic event. When the PTSD sufferer’s brain reacts to a trigger--something in the present that the brain interprets as a pattern similar to what was experienced in the course of the traumatic event— and a flashback occurs, your partner who suffered PTSD after being sexually assaulted, for example, believes she is actually being raped again. Your warrior wounded by PTSD believes he’s back fighting insurgents in Afghanistan or Iraq.
When you think about how disturbing a flashback has to be for your partner, can you better appreciate why your loved one wants to avoid anything that might trigger one? Since your partner has no idea as to what in the present could do so, it shouldn’t surprise you that your wounded warrior wants to avoid public places crowded with people, for example.
When you understand the symptoms of PTSD, it becomes easier to accept your partner’s changed behaviors, or you can avoid taking them so personally. Instead, you can remind yourself that the PTSD results in symptoms that your partner certainly didn’t ask for, and that he’ll be unable to successfully manage these without treatment specific to the type of trauma he endured. While you might prefer your loved one didn’t avoid all forms of intimacy, let’s say, you find yourself able to remind yourself that because the PTSD has made him experience a sense of numbness or emptiness, he is likely fearful of experiencing erectile problems. Then you can remind yourself that because of his fear that he might not be able to perform sexually as he did previously, and because of his fear that if he gets close and touches you in loving ways you might want to have sex, you can better appreciate why he avoids touching you completely.
If you can bring yourself to think this way versus personalizing things, you’ll undoubtedly find your anger starting to dissipate. Because you are calm, you can start to think about solutions to what you face as a couple. Perhaps you decide to assure your partner that he can touch you without you expecting to have sex—that because you are sensitive to the impact of the PTSD symptoms, you agree not to pressure him to have sex when he doesn’t want to. However, you might also assure him that you do miss this aspect of your relationship and thus, you encourage him to get treatment for the PTSD symptoms and talk about this problem with his doctor. You hold out hope that after the symptoms have begun to subside because of treatment, he won’t have such fears and thus, intimacy won’t be the problem it is today.
If instead, you were to feed yourself thoughts about how your loved one no longer finds you attractive, that fear might lead you to them think thoughts such as: He might go and find someone else. Such thoughts feed feelings of fear which, in turn, tend to breed anger. Then again, you might find yourself becoming more and more depressed each time your partner brushed off a sexual advance. Either way, your reaction would not be a good thing for your partner, you, or your relationship. Such negative thinking wouldn’t propel you towards taking constructive action. Furthermore, it will increase the amount of stress your partner feels—something you need to be concerned about when your loved one suffers from PTSD.
Whenever the stress level goes up in the environment in which the PTSD sufferer lives or must function, those PTSD symptoms are apt to occur more frequently or become more severe. Whenever you do things that decrease that stress level, you’re apt to see the frequency and severity of your partner’s PTSD symptoms lessen. Again, this is good news for your partner, you, and your relationship. You stand a better chance of regaining the type of connection you had before—and undoubtedly want to have once more.
Of course, you still might remain frustrated that things are as they are. But then, you likely entered this relationship expecting a partnership versus to travel a one-way street that always ends up leading to your partner and his needs. Certainly, mo one is asking you to deny that what you face is tough. However, by changing the nature of your thoughts, you will come to cope better with what you face. Again, you should be able to make better choices that positively impact your partner, you, and your relationship. And you will undoubtedly feel better about yourself as you do so, too. Indeed, you will like the person you are being under the challenging circumstances whereas otherwise, you might come to see yourself as uncaring or mean because of your anger or out-of-control reactions.
So, when the going gets tough, keep reminding yourself that your loved one might not have the ability to change emotional reactions until getting more treatment for those PTSD symptoms. Keep reminding yourself your partner’s brain has essentially turned on him or her and become an enemy. But also remind yourself that cognitive-behavioral therapies can help to rewire the brain in ways that will better serve your loved one—and by staying calm and keeping the stress level down in your relationship as well as in the home in general, you increase the odds of this happening. And certainly, this would be a very good thing, wouldn’t you agree?