Partners of PTSD sufferers certainly face their own challenges. What are these? Well, they typically fall into one or more of the following categories:
--coping with the changed personality and behaviors of the loved one with PTSD
--the lack of information and supportive services for partners of PTSD sufferers
--new financial strains and the likely burden of having to meet these alone
--the emotional or psychological strains associated with prolonged care-giving
--the social stigma of having a partner with a mental health disorder
--the challenges of working with professionals providing services to the loved one with PTSD
Let's look at each category briefly, shall we?
Coping with the Changed Personality & Behaviors of PTSD Sufferer
PTSD changes the sufferer. This isn't surprising, however, when you consider that the disorder is defined by categories of symptoms that can have severe behavioral consequences. There are three such categories we need to discus. They're re-experiencing, avoidance, and hyper-arousal.
Let's consider the category of re-experiencing first. What do we mean by this? Well, the PTSD sufferer is apt to have flashbacks of the traumatic event and/or to experience nightmares about it. Flashbacks, because they make the person believe he or she is in the midst of the traumatic event again, are something that PTSD sufferers definitely want to avoid. Also, because PTSD sufferers do not know what will trigger their brains to engage in these flashbacks, they'll often avoid activities or events they previously enjoyed. So, for example, victims of sexual assault may want to avoid sex. Oh the other hand, war veterans from Iraq may want to avoid crowds at malls and movie theaters. Also, people with PTSD may hesitate to go to bed, or not sleep soundly, because of fear of nightmares.
In the above, we've already mentioned avoidance, haven't we? But another way the PTSD sufferer displays avoidance is through engaging in emotional numbing. In other words, the person with PTSD wants to avoid feeling the emotional pain left from his or her exposure to the bad things associated with the traumatic event or longer-term trauma (in the case of war, or growing up in an abusive household, for example). So, the PTSD sufferer may self-medicate with alcohol or drugs not so much to get high as some addicts might, but to just dull that emotional pain. He or she may use and abuses substances essentially just to try and feel normal.Another category of symptoms, hyper-arousal, might be viewed as the PTSD sufferer's brain and body remaining in a fight or flight mode. Hence, he or she continues to remain hyper-vigilant long past the traumatic event. So, you hear of those who were in war zones coming home and wanting to patrol the perimeters of their homes when there is no need to do so. If such a person has guns in the house, he or she might shoot a family member returning home late at night without considering first that this could be a family member as opposed to an intruder. Furthermore, because of hyper-arousal, the PTSD sufferer may act irritated or angry much of the time.
By reading through these, you can immediately realize why you're loved one with PTSD may engage in challenging behaviors. Hopefully, though, he or she will get help for the PTSD and hence, those symptoms will become less debilitating for the sufferer and less problematic for you as the partner. But meanwhile, how do you cope in ways that help your partner as well as your relationship without, at the same time, destroying your mental health?
Well, first you seek to understand them and their ramifications to the PTSD suffer, you, and your family. Certainly, you're striving to do that now.And then you must cone up with strategies that work for each of you as well as for all of you. Certainly, that's more than I want to deal with here, but if you'll read my how-to/self-help book, The Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder 'Relationship: How to Support Your partner and Keep Your Relationship Healthy, you'll find this kind of guidance. I not only provide the kind of information you need, but I also introduce you to new skills you can learn that should certainly help the two of you as well.
Less Information & Fewer Supportive Services for Partners
As the partner of someone with PTSD, you suffer right along with your partner. Furthermore, your partner can be helped by having a knowledgeable and supportive partner. So, you want to become knowledgeable. You want to develop new relationship skills. But are you able to find the kind of information and supportive services you need?
I certainly hope that's the case today. However, when I first wrote my how-to/self-help book, I realized this was probably not going to be the case for the group of people I was most concerned about at the time--warriors wounded by PTSD, their spouses, and their children. (The United States had military overseas fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq then, and since I'd just been working with military members and their families as part of the mental health team at a clinic at a NATO base in Italy, I had some sense of what knowledge and skills they might require to best deal with all that PTSD would drag into their relationships.) However, despite my particular concern for this group of people, I nonetheless strove to write the book so it would be helpful to all couples impacted by PTSD--no matter what the nature of the trauma the PTSD sufferer endured. Fortunately, there are more services for warriors wounded by PTSD, as well as for their partners, than when I wrote my book. But I still believe it could prove beneficial since I write as someone with a more diverse background than your average mental health professional.
That all said, there are now other books such as mine out there. So, I'd encourage you to read as many of them as you can. After all, you face challenging times, and different authors may cover slightly different material--all of which could somehow prove beneficial. However, even if they cover essentially the same material, they'll do so in different ways or styles. And frankly, some of these may resonate with you more so than others. Oh, and some information might seem less useful to you today than it will be tomorrow. Your needs can change over time. So, you might want to review the same books from time-to-time.
Of course, working with a psychotherapist or other professionals with an understanding of the impact of PTSD on the individual and the couple can be very helpful. This mental health professional will have an understanding of your unique needs, and so he or she can target information and skills to these specifically. Thus, I always encourage people to seek out this type of help. By the way, I talk about how to find the right professional for your situation in my book, too.
That all said, my book covers many subjects briefly so that you'll have an understanding of the type of information and help you might need. Of course, you can then pursue those things in more depth on your own. But again, my book can help point you in the right direction mo matter what the original source of your partner's PTSD.
Coping with New Financial Strains
Yes, sadly, this is something else you're likely to face. And why is this the case? Well, because the PTSD sufferer may be incapable of attaining and maintaining the same type of job he or she did prior to developing this mental health disorder. For example, the PTSD sufferer may feel unable to now work around a large number of people. Rather, he or she may want to be outdoors working in nature. Anyway, it's important to realize the limitations the PTSD has created and strive to cater to them. After all, working outdoors in nature can be calming and healing for the person with PTSD. Then perhaps later on, he or she might be able to deal with a different type of work environment. That said, though, you must realize this might not be the case, either.
Yes, you may discover there aren't many jobs that the PTSD sufferer can perform. Or, those which he or she can may pay less than the PTSD sufferer made previously. For that matter, they could be part-time (or the sufferer is only capable of working part-time). As a result, as the partner, you may find the burden of supporting the family falling solely on your shoulders. But on top of this, you may be facing new costs due to the medical and other needs of your loved one with PTSD. So, you may feel as if you've fallen into quicksand and are sinking rapidly. What is to be done?
I include information in The Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Relationship that should prove helpful with regard to this challenge. Also, government, state, and/or local agencies or not-for-profit organizations may be able to provide some assistance. Furthermore, there's a government organization which should be found in every county of this country. It provides helpful information and guidance in this area as well as in others that could prove beneficial to you. It's called Cooperative Extension. Your local Extension Agent should be able to provide sound information that can help with budgeting, cost-cutting, and much more.
Combating the Emotional or Psychological Strains of Prolonged Care-Taking
For the person with PTSD to become more resilient, it helps to pursue a lifestyle that is balanced or heals the body, mind, and spirit. For you to deal with the emotional or psychological strains of being the partner of someone with PTSD who requires prolonged care-giving, a balanced lifestyle is a necessity for you as well. Fortunately, though, the two of you can participate in some of these activities together. For example, consider not only exercising together, but to get in better touch with that part of the inner self that perpetuates healing and spiritual growth, spend time together meditating or engaging in iRest Yoga Nidra.
By the way, iRest Yoga Nidra was developed by psychologist Richard C. Miller, Ph.D., and it has been used with enthusiasm and success by wounded warriors at Walter Reed. Oh, and when I called to ask Dr. Miller more about this program, he told me that early on, a number of the warriors wounded by PTSD asked if their spouses could come and participate in this activity with them. In fact, that's why I'm suggesting that the two of you might like to do this together.
Another thing to remember is your resilience, or your ability to deal with such stresses and strains in the first place, will be enhanced through proper nutrition, adequate rest, and relaxation. Cooperative Extension can provide information about preparing healthy meals. However, also check out the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American Diabetes Association for guidance regarding this topic. (What the latter organization proposes for diabetics can actually provide a healthy diet for any of us). AHA can also provide information about heart-healthy and stress-busting exercise. Needless to say, iRest Yoga Nidra will help you with relaxation.
The Social Stigma of Having a Loved One with a Mental Disorder
Despite the best efforts of advocates working on behalf of the mentally ill to overcome the stigma these individuals have faced in our society, that stigma yet remains. Furthermore, as many a warrior wounded by PTSD has discovered, even though the military has been striving to change the attitude that the development of PTSD signifies personal weakness or a character flaw, we know there's still progress to be made with regard to this attitude as well. So sadly, as the partner of the PTSD sufferer, you'll need to be prepared to deal with individuals who may cling to outdated beliefs as to why people develop PTSD. Therefore, it becomes important for you to think about what you're going to say in response to ignorant or hurtful comments. In fact, what could you say or do to help educate others versus cause them to become defensive and remain steadfast in their current way of thinking about PTSD and its sufferers? Since I wouldn't expect you to be able to do these things without some help, consider contacting the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Thankfully, this organization continues to battle against social stigma for all people and families impacted by any mental illness.
Challenges Working with Medical and Mental Health Professionals
Professionals are often prepared to work with the PTSD sufferer, but they may be less equipped to work with you as the partner. In fact, some professionals don't perceive the partner as someone who can support the PTSD sufferer and help him or her to jump onto and walk down that pathway toward recovery. Instead, they'll see the partner as someone who is apt to get in the way or make the PTSD sufferer's recovery process more challenging yet. Of course, this latter possibility certainly exists. But if your intention is to become an educated and supportive partner, you could also easily become the professional's ally.
That all said, if you're already a partner struggling to work with a professional who sees you as the enemy, you may need to assert yourself. Let it be known that you intend to be actively involved in all matters associated with your loved one's care and recovery. Now, there will undoubtedly be paperwork that your loved one needs to sign in order for professionals to talk to you about his or her medical issues. Also, it may become necessary for you to attain a medical power of attorney. Furthermore, doing these things right from the start might be good a idea if you believe your loved one is currently not capable of making medical decisions in his or her best interests.
Let me provide a rather frightening example of why this could prove important--if not life-saving--for your beloved with PTSD. While this happened about the time I was writing my book, with the level of addiction to prescription drugs we're currently seeing in our society, I could still image this happening today as I write this sentence in 2017.
See, some warriors wounded by PTSD had been given a cocktail of medications that so heavily sedated them, they died in their sleep. In fact, I came to speak with one wife who took action to ensure this did not happen to her husband. But then, he knew four warriors wounded by PTSD who'd died in this way. Yes, they'd ingested a prescribed, yet lethal, cocktail of drugs.
Anyway, his concerned wife attained a medical power of attorney. She then saw to it that her husband's doctor removed him from these medications. Oh, and why did she do this specifically? Well, because she'd become familiar with the tell-tale signs of over-sedation. She then came to see them in her husband. At that point, she stepped forward and took action because her husband was too sedated to save himself from likely death.
Again, you know your situation and i do not. But I always suggest erring on the side of caution.
Become the Resilient PTSD-impacted Couple
As the partner of a PTSD sufferer who comes to learn healthy ways to cope with the PTSD and its impact on your relationship, you're more likely to dismiss emotionally painful actions your partner takes as symptoms of this mental disorder versus taking them personally. This should help to make things better and less conflict-ridden for the two of you. Also, as an educated and supportive partner, you're likely to continually strive to do things that make it more comfortable for your partner with PTSD to engage in activities--perhaps by having helped others ahead of time to better understand and accept the changes the PTSD has created. Furthermore, you're likely not to dwell on the past or what your partner was once capable of doing. Instead, you likely strive to accept that while life with your partner has been changed by the PTSD, there are news ways the two of you can find meaning and purpose in your relationship and lives.
You are likely awakening each day and renewing your commitment to be the best and most supportive partner you can possibly be in the face of your loved one's PTSD. As a result, you have likely chosen to believe that while there have certainly been losses to endure, there have been some positive things that have resulted, too. For example, you may have come to take pride in your ability to tackle and solve problems--just as I would hope you're partner with PTSD has been doing. Or, you may take pleasure in what might well be labeled your newfound resiliency.
These are wonderful things. You should celebrate them. After all, you have both been tested, and you're both showing you're up to the task, right? (Or, you intend to get started down this new pathway soon, I suspect.)
Let me remind you of something. As children, we were often taught not to be boastful. We were made to think it was wrong to take pride in a job well done. Well, perhaps our parents were trying to protect us from annoying others in our midst. After all, it's true that some don't want to hear about the successes of others. But that doesn't mean that you can't acknowledge them privately. In fact, I believe you should celebrate them!
And maybe you don't have to do it alone, either. Perhaps you can find--or found--a support group for couples facing similar challenges and together, you can celebrate the progress you're making to sustain rich and meaningful lives despite the presence of PTSD in your relationship. And when you do so, remember that most people can handle the good times--the fun times. It's how we handle the challenging times that make the grandest statements of who we really are.
You were provided the opportunity to make such statements because of the arrival of the PTSD into you relationship. I know, this isn't what you really wanted. But you do have an opportunity here nevertheless. So, seriously, what statements are you making? Can you take pride in them? If so, so do. If not, then try to start doing those thing that should fill you with pride.
If you're doing these things and still aren't filled with pride, then you might want to tell yourself you're not going to listen to that critical parent voice in your head any longer. Again, you have a right to feel good about yourself. And yes, this is very different from the person who has great pride about something he was handed--such as feeling pride because he's wealthier than others simply because he inherited great wealth. Or, she takes great pride in the fact she's more intelligent than others when indeed, she might want to merely consider herself fortunate (and be grateful) that she won that jackpot. Here, on the other hand, we're talking about consciously deciding what type of person you want to be in the context of difficult or challenging circumstances, and then you consciously choose to be that way. So, can you see why I say you have a right to your feelings of accomplishment? This is different than the sense of entitlement, for example, of the narcissist.
It has long been said that people find happiness through being of service to others. You are doing this--you are being of service to your partner with PTSD. So, allow yourself to acknowledge that you've chosen a purpose and are living it. After all, this will give you a mental boost when the days become particularly challenging--as they invariably will. Perhaps you'd have preferred not to be on this journey, but since you are on it, make it a good one. Let others benefit from your positive role model. After all, even though few may say anything, some are obviously watching you nonetheless. Furthermore, their lives may be changed positively in ways you can not appreciate because you've elected to use this journey to both discover and live as your highest and best self within these circumstances.
I wish you and your partner the best!