People with PTSD can experience difficulty in marriage. But with informed support, they can overcome symptoms and experience a fulfilling relationship.
As challenging as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be for the person experiencing it, it can also be hard for those around them. Some of the symptoms of PTSD involve issues with components of a healthy connection, such as:
In marriage, there are numerous stressors, which is why working as a team and learning how to solve problems as a couple is important. PTSD in the mix can make daily life more difficult, potentially driving a wedge between you and your spouse.
But PTSD can be managed. If both people are willing to put the work in to heal and are committed to finding a solution together, they can ultimately create a stronger bond.
Those who have PTSD may be challenged significantly in relationships.
Dr. Carla Marie Manly is a clinical psychologist and trauma and relationship expert in Sonoma County, California.
She says “in my work with veterans and the general public, I’ve certainly found that those who have PTSD — especially if the trauma was relational in origin — certainly have more difficulty feeling safe and secure in their relationships.”
Laurel Roberts-Meese, licensed marriage, and family therapist and clinical director of Laurel Therapy Collective in Los Angeles, says folks are more likely to be hypervigilant in future relationships if they’ve experienced:
- other forms of sexual violence
Take heart: There’s absolutely hope. With treatment and healing emotional experiences, people can overcome their symptoms and fully engage emotionally with new trustworthy partners.
Any unaddressed mental health issue can have significant psychological repercussions and impact the traumatized person on intrapersonal and interpersonal levels.
Unresolved trauma can surely affect a marriage on many fronts, Manly explains. PTSD can significantly impact a marriage by fostering various issues such as:
- emotional reactivity
- reduced sex drive
While PTSD can make any relationship challenging, it’s not the only factor to consider.
“PTSD is as varied in its presentation as the people who experience it, so there’s no one-size-fits-all rule about how it impacts marriage,” says Roberts-Meese.
She adds that trauma sometimes can create tension in relationships by making people:
- startle easily
- have outsized reactions to everyday stimuli
- experience sleep disruptions
Department of Veterans Affairs research involving partners of veterans with PTSD showed a negative impact on:
- marital adjustment
- general family functioning
- the mental health of significant others
This led to issues including:
- problems with parenting
- family violence
- sexual difficulties
PTSD, if left unmanaged, could contribute to the end of a marriage in the same way any unaddressed mental health issue could permanently impact a marriage.
Love alone is not enough to eliminate the need for:
If someone refuses to get support for their PTSD, that doesn’t bode well for either person’s happiness and feelings of closeness. And it will likely erode a marriage over time, Roberts-Meese explains.
It can be difficult to know how to best support someone with PTSD, which can be frustrating on both sides.
“PTSD itself cannot destroy a marriage, but unresolved symptoms of PTSD can certainly harm — and even ruin — a marriage in the long run,” says Manly.
She adds that since many partners aren’t equipped to address and appropriately support a partner who experiences PTSD, they can exhibit their own symptoms, such as:
- compassion fatigue
Here are several techniques you might consider to strengthen your relationship:
Speak to a mental health professional
When PTSD is treated in therapy, partners often move through the mental health experience feeling more connected. However, if the partner who has PTSD is not willing to seek treatment, resentment and distress often arise, Manly says.
She also stresses the importance of getting individual treatment for the person with PTSD and couples therapy to support the relationship itself.
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Mindfulness for the supporting spouse
The partner who does not have PTSD can often benefit from mindfulness practices such as breathing exercises and journaling to “rebalance” and de-stress.
Talk with your partner
Regular marriage communication is a way to show support and show your partner you care.
Your spouse is much more likely to be patient through tough times if they can understand what you are experiencing, Dr. Samia Estrada, a clinical psychologist in Vacaville, California, explains.
Remind yourself you’re safe
Never underestimate the power of self-talk.
“It is common to feel anxiety or a certain unease with PTSD, but if you think about it, you are usually safe when feeling this way,” says Estrada. “Remind yourself, ‘in this moment, I am safe.’”
Engage in activities that help to calm the nervous system
For example, Estrada explains that effective methods include:
When you feel calmer, you can better engage in the relationship and even intimacy.
Daily movement is essential for your mental health.
“Exercise and physical activity can lower your levels of cortisol (one of the stress hormones) and release endorphins that help to give your mood a boost,” Estrada says.
We all need physical and emotional connections! You can:
- spend time with your partner
- hold hands
- give massages, kisses, and hugs
Every time we have physical contact with another person in a caring, loving way, our body rewards us with the happiness trio of hormones that help us to feel happy and loved:
Eat well-balanced, nutritious foods
“PTSD can cause you to be moreirritable, and spikes in your blood sugar can take that irritability to the next level. When you eat well-balanced nutritious meals, you keep your blood sugar levels steady, and you have a better chance of keeping your cool,” says Estrada.
Our brains have a tendency to focus on the negative things in life. Gratitude helps to counteract this tendency and maintain positivity.
Estrada says nobody likes to be around someone negative, so she suggests you get a journal and write 2–3 things you are grateful for — and your partner will thank you.
Having PTSD can sometimes make folks feel threatened and without a locus of control. These feelings, coupled with PTSD symptoms can wear on a marriage if left unaddressed.
Taking the first step is the hardest part. You might try pushing yourself to do something fun that still feels safe, Estrada suggests.
For example, if you’re uncomfortable in crowds, maybe you can go for a hike in a solitary place.
As fulfilling as marriage can be, married life also comes with stress. If one partner has PTSD, it can be an additional obstacle to overcome. That’s why strong communication skills and effective collaboration is crucial.
With individual therapy, couples therapy, and self-help strategies for overall wellness, PTSD symptoms can be managed, leading to a healthier marriage.