HOW THE PTSD NUMBERS STACK UP
The statistics that confront you in the countless PTSD infographics don’t do much to help the situation. They bluntly point out that 70% of adults will experience at least one traumatic event in their lifetime. And that 1 in 4 of these people will go on to develop
We know that PTSD can be caused by any type of traumatic experience, whether it be a single event or repeated exposure.
PTSD affects both men and women equally, and at any age.
Put simply, PTSD doesn’t discriminate.
It’s no surprise that the risk of developing PTSD is much higher for military and emergency servicepersonnel, generally around 30%. However, considering that a majority of any armed force or emergency service is not usually exposed to trauma, then the harsh truth of what this average figure is hiding becomes more apparent.
Even more alarming is the understanding that most of these groups suffering with PTSD, such as veterans, do not end up seeking any help or support.
Yet they are probably likely to be in a relationship or married, possibly with children. And, like it or not, their PTSD – treated or untreated – will have direct consequences on their relationships and the lives of their loved ones.
Welcome to PTSD relationships.
STATISTICS ABOUT PTSD RELATIONSHIPS
If you’ve seen any of the figures about PTSD relationships then no doubt you would’ve found them quite upsetting.
Average divorce rates in most Western countries hover around the 50% mark, however the divorce rate for PTSD relationships may climb alarmingly to around 70%.
Yes, you read that correctly. Only about 3 out of 10 marriages will survive longterm once PTSD enters the relationship.
Disheartening, to say the least.
But when you consider that many cases of PTSD go undiagnosed, and that rates of divorce do not include de facto or other relationship types, then accurate statistics of any kind are virtually impossible to calculate.
And divorce only tells part of the story. It’s really only the tip of the iceberg. Do we honestly assume the remaining 30% of these marriages happy and healthy amidst the challenges of PTSD?
The damage that PTSD can wreak on relationships can be extensive, especially when help and support is not available or accessed.
And many of us will struggle through, barely uttering a word.
DIFFERENT TYPES OF PTSD RELATIONSHIPS
What first comes to mind when you think of PTSD relationships?
It’s likely to be the type you’re already involved in. Or perhaps you’re automatically assuming, because of all this talk of divorce rates, that a discussion on PTSD relationships is only relevant if a couple is married?
Wrong. PTSD relationships take many different forms, and all have their own unique obstacles.
Read on to see where your relationships fits.
Whether your partner was diagnosed with PTSD before you met or after, committing to a ‘forever after’ as a PTSD spouse can change the dynamics of your marriage. Many spouses will benefit from seeking their own support network and building their knowledge about post traumatic stress disorder.
Similar to a married couple but with one key distinction. Those who encounter PTSD during their engagement may be more likely to question whether they’re ready to commit to a partner with PTSD. The partner may or may not be accepting of their PTSD diagnosis or receiving treatment, making the future uncertain.
More casual PTSD relationships, and those still in the early stages, will usually be somewhat buffered from the full effects of PTSD. The person with PTSD will often try to push aside their worst symptoms for the sake of the budding relationship. And the early ‘honeymoon effect’ also helps to overshadow most of the confronting signs of post traumatic stress.
Ex (with children)
Your intimate relationship may have ended, either before or after your partner’s PTSD diagnosis. But with children to consider you still need to maintain an ongoing effective relationship with your ex partner. Your children will also need guidance and support in navigating their own relationships with their PTSD parent.
Ex (without children)
Generally more straight forward than a PTSD relationship that breaks down when children are involved. There still may be mutual friends, colleagues and social groups to negotiate if you have separated from your partner with PTSD. There may also be shared property or investments to work through together.
Depending on the cause, those who have a parent with PTSD may likely not have any memory of their parent without a psychological injury. Their parent’s PTSD symptoms will be viewed as normal personality traits. Younger children are at risk of blaming themselves for their parent’s PTSD symptoms and episodes. Adolescents may struggle against their boundaries. And once grown, adults may seek their own support and gain more awareness of their parent’s PTSD.
Your child with PTSD may still actually be in their childhood or they may already be a grown adult themselves. With children and adolescents, your role as their parent is to not only love and support them unconditionally, but to ensure they have regular access to the best professional support. For adult children, your role will still be one of love and support.
Sibling relationships vary greatly, not only family to family but also due to differences in gender and age. A person with PTSD may lean heavily on a close sibling for support, or possibly not even disclose their diagnosis with an estranged sibling. With limited information, a sibling with PTSD may display symptoms that could be taken out of context and damage the relationship even further.
Extended family encompasses all those who are often, but not always, slightly more removed from the day to day issues of PTSD relationships. Examples include grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles and cousins. The amount of information offered by the individual about their PTSD will ultimately determine the effects on this PTSD relationship.
As with any PTSD relationship, a platonic friendship can encounter issues when a person is struggling with PTSD. The support and compassion offered may differ depending on the genders involved. And some PTSD problems, such as alcohol abuse, may be difficult to navigate in certain friendships, particularly those between men.
KEY ISSUES IN PTSD RELATIONSHIPS
No matter the type of PTSD relationship you and your loved one may find yourselves in, most PTSD relationships will encounter a similar set of difficulties to manage.
Some of these issues will become more pronounced in those people who are less accepting of their PTSD diagnosis or who remain largely untreated. And many of these problems can even arise within the relationship well before a formal diagnosis of PTSD is uncovered.
You may be familiar with at least a few of the following struggles. Or perhaps you’ll tick of every last one.
Don’t be discouraged. PTSD relationships can continue to thrive despite the daunting statistics and the many obstacles.
1. PTSD relationships deal with mental health stigma
Many people still misunderstand PTSD. Our society is gradually becoming more accepting of some of the more common mental illnesses, such as depression and anxiety. However PTSD is much more than its associated depression and anxiety. Most people cannot comprehend the endless nightmares. Not many people have heard of disassociation. And our society is still very quick to blacklist anyone struggling with alcohol abuse.
2. PTSD relationships endure more anger
Anger and aggression can be more prominent when the underlying anxiety of PTSD is not well managed. Anger or aggression becomes a means for the person to relieve the uncomfortable feeling of being anxious. In the same fashion, hypervigilance can also lead to increased anger and aggression.
3. PTSD relationships battle social withdrawal
Phone calls may go unanswered and invitations might get turned down. People with PTSD will struggle with social interaction if their PTSD is not adequately managed. Most PTSD relationships will ultimately feel the effects of this social withdrawal and isolation.
4. PTSD relationships often struggle with intimacy
PTSD can affect emotional connection and libido. This is largely due to the associated symptoms of anxiety and depression. Your loved one can also be adversely affected by their PTSD medications. Additionally, you may have built up resentment and anger over time towards your PTSD partner, which also contributes to ongoing struggles with intimacy.
5. PTSD relationships deal with poor quality sleep
Your loved one will likely be struggling with nightmares and bouts of insomnia. You might struggle to keep similar sleep routines as each other. Your partner’s nightmares may continuously disturb your own sleep. And your sleep quality may also be affected by side-effects of your partner’s PTSD medication.
6. PTSD relationships can induce feelings of guilt
Children, particularly, take on the burden of PTSD in a family setting. They might assume that their own behaviour is the cause of their parent’s PTSD symptoms. Spouses may feel guilty for not being able to help their partner heal. And spouses can also feel guilty for wanting to get on with their own life.
7. PTSD relationships may be troubled by financial insecurity
If your partner’s PTSD is a result of their line of work, then it follows that their career may end abruptly. This leads to financial instability due to a reduced capacity to work or ability to move into a new field. Your income may also reduce as you take more time to care for your loved one. And private or additional costs for therapy and treatment will add to financial burden within a PTSD relationship.
8. PTSD relationships can lead to associated trauma
A loved one may develop secondary post traumatic stress when they learn more about their partner’s traumatic experiences. Secondary post traumatic stress symptoms generally mimic PTSD. Therapists, trauma workers and caregivers are at risk of vicarious trauma, which is also known as compassion fatigue.
9. PTSD relationships become complicated by enabling
In a PTSD relationship, we only want what is best for our loved one with PTSD. We want to support them, and we want to care for them. But many people fall into the cycle of enabling instead of supporting. Because, ultimately, enabling can look very much like love.
10. PTSD relationships can lead to caregiver burden
Most partners automatically and unwittingly fall into the role of caregiver. But being a caregiver is an emotionally draining and physically tiring task. Caregivers must learn how to keep themselves healthy, both physically and emotionally, or they’ll be at risk of caregiver burnout.
11. PTSD relationships must manage an uncertain future
A diagnosis of PTSD often leads to a loss of identity. It can mean the end of a career. Your own career and family focus may also be impacted. Everything suddenly feels like it’s been turned upside down. Without a clear direction, it can feel like you’re trapped in limbo for years.
12. PTSD relationships should NEVER be abusive
Abuse can occur in many different forms. Physical abuse, verbal abuse, emotional abuse, intimidation, sexual abuse, and financial abuse can all emerge within a PTSD relationship. But PTSD is never an excuse for abusive or immoral behaviour. If you find yourself tolerating abusive or immoral behaviour because of your partner’s PTSD, then seek help now.
LEARNING TO THRIVE IN PTSD RELATIONSHIPS
If you’re struggling, then you’re not alone.
Most people tend to struggle with PTSD relationships.
Bad habits become ingrained. There can be a tendency to become complacent. And it can be very difficult to find good information that can guide us through with better ways to manage.
You wouldn’t be the first one to get to this point and stop.
The solutions might be there. They all sound perfectly logical. But it suddenly feels too overwhelming. And this PTSD relationship has already worn you thin.
I mean, where would you even start? And what if it doesn’t work? Or, even worse, makes things more difficult?
There are two main points to keep in mind.
Firstly, you cannot change everything at once. Choose just one issue or solution to work on, and let that be your single focus. Only once it’s working and feels instinctive should you move on to the next thing.
Secondly, you cannot solve all the issues on your own. Remember, you’re just one part of this PTSD relationship. There’s plenty that a willing partner could be doing too.
PTSD RELATIONSHIPS: Y O U R MINDSET
Build your knowledge of PTSD
Have you heard that knowledge is power? It is, but only if you know how to apply it. Understanding more about post traumatic stress disorder will help you support your partner. You will have more empathy when their PTSD symptoms are triggered. And you will be better positioned to live in the moment together.
Reach out for your own support
Psychological trauma therapy is vital to successful ongoing management of PTSD. We know it helps the outcomes for both PTSD and PTSD relationships. However caregiver burden is common in PTSD relationships. And the supporter almost always benefits from having their own professional support too.
Learn how to be supportive without enabling
Everyone only wants the best for their loved one with PTSD. We hope that love will conquer all. But unfortunately love isn’t all it takes. And sometimes our love can lead us blindly into the vicious cycle of enabling. It’s so important to know the difference between supporting and enabling for the best balance in PTSD relationships.
Set some healthy boundaries
Creating boundaries might seem like a selfish thing to do. But without them, you’ll soon find yourself feeling angry, resentful or exhausted. Healthy boundaries are all about choosing to live according to your own core values. They are not about restricting or punishing your loved one.
Make regular self-care a priority
Caregivers are so accustomed to directing all their energy and attention towards their loved one, they often forget to look out for themselves. Self-care is about reserving some of that love and compassion for yourself. Allowing regular time for self-care not only restores your peace of mind, but keeps you healthy too.
Connect with others in PTSD relationships
Talking with other people on a similar journey can be very comforting. When you find and connect with others who truly get it, the relief and encouragement you gain is very valuable. You could find local support groups for PTSD partners, or search for communities online.
PTSD RELATIONSHIPS: T H E I R MINDSET
Seek professional therapy and medical support
If you’re not already receiving professional therapy and medical support for your PTSD, then it’s time to reach out now. Longterm recovery depends on a supportive network of trauma professionals. Effective therapy and treatment are also vital to maintaining healthy PTSD relationships.
Learn about your PTSD
What are your biggest triggers? What are your best ways to manage anxiety attacks, triggers and dissociative episodes? Learn what speciality PTSD treatments are available in your area and that might help your PTSD. And are there any new ideas about how to self-manage PTSD symptoms that you could investigate further?
Address any substance abuse issues
PTSD sufferers tend to have much higher rates of alcohol abuse and other substance abuse. While it might seem to help with your PTSD symptoms in the short-term, substance abuse will only have negative affects on your health and relationships longterm. Don’t let embarrassment stop you reaching out for help.
Create daily habits to manage PTSD symptoms
PTSD symptoms can be predicted at times, but more often than not there’ll be unexpected triggers or anxiety attacks. Regular healthy habits, such as mindfulness practice and exercise, can help manage PTSD symptoms. Therapists or psychologists can help you formulate a plan to work in with your lifestyle.
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