The PTSD Toll on Relationships
Loving someone with PTSD can be a frustrating, difficult rollercoaster. Trauma does a number on the brain, affecting trust, anxiety, and emotional availability. If you care about someone who has been through a trauma, no matter what kind, I hope this blog post can help.
As I was recovering from the attack that left me with PTSD and other medical issues, it was difficult for me to see the toll it took on my relationship. I was so immersed in trying to find answers, to fix myself, to get back to normal, that it was almost impossible to be plugged into my relationship with my boyfriend at the time. There was so much going on, and he struggled to understand, just as I struggled to explain what was happening.
Flashbacks: There were a hundred things that would remind me of what happened, and when a flashback occurred, it put me right back where I’d been that day. For people who have been through something terrifying or deeply emotionally impactful, anything from a smell to a sound can trigger those memories and make them as vivid as the day of the event.
When your partner is in the midst of a flashback, try to be patient. Reassure them that they are safe, in a calm, quiet voice. Don’t try to hold your partner if he or she doesn’t want to be touched. Respect their boundaries, and just be there. Know that the flashback is as real to them as the event itself, and that their terror or upset is powerful.
Social Isolation: A person with PTSD may want to withdraw. For me, it was overwhelming to be around other people. They had questions and concerns, and I was barely holding myself together, never mind able to reassure other people.
If your partner is isolating themselves too much, have a frank conversation with them about their withdrawal. They might not see it, or agree with you, so it’s important to be available and to check in with them. Avoid social situations that can be overwhelming to them. What your partner needs is time and room to breathe, but also a safe space to talk about any feelings that are coming up.
Relationship Withdrawal: This is a tough one, because it can sometimes happen very gradually. I wasn’t even aware I was withdrawing, because all I could think about was not being a burden. I was holding so much inside and it was extremely difficult for me to explain the cacophony of feelings in my brain (look for more on this in my excerpt later this month).
If your partner isn’t plugging into the relationship, it’s really tough not to take that personally. You have to understand that it’s not necessarily you—it may just be their brain protecting them. Concentrate on your own strength, and reach out to your own support system. Remember the old oxygen mask advice—you can’t help another if you don’t put your mask on first.
There is a lot of pressure inherent in Valentine’s Day itself, and when you compound that with the social media pressure to be a “happy” couple, it may feel isolating and depressing when your partner is struggling. That’s why it’s important to arm yourself with knowledge and with people who understand and can help you when you need that assistance. Please encourage your loved one to reach out for treatment if they are struggling with addiction or their mental health.
Most of all, have grace and compassion. You both are together because of a foundation of love. Let that love be the foundation of your support during this difficult time.
For more on my story, visit my website. Look for more in this series all through the month of February!