Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that can develop after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event and has challenging symptoms that impact the life of the person that experienced the trauma. But what about the impact on their relationships? I’ll tell you from personal experience… PTSD can have a huge impact on a relationship. My husband developed PTSD early in our marriage after his first deployment to Iraq, and the symptoms took a toll on our relationship and on me for nearly a decade. People with PTSD may withdraw from their partners, have difficulty communicating their feelings, and become irritable, angry, and violent. Their partners are often left feeling confused, frustrated, or even scared by their partner’s behavior.

I Focused Entirely on His Symptoms and Ignored My Own

A lot of the PTSD symptoms that caused difficulties in my marriage were related to my husband’s inability to connect with me. He slowly pulled away, avoiding any intimacy at all. His sexual desire for me completely disappeared, then he began to shy away from affection, and finally stopped engaging in conversation with me. He had vivid night terrors, was often violent toward me, but had no recollection of the events the following morning. He was on edge most of the time, and self-medicated with alcohol daily. Throughout this experience, I focused on his needs and his healing without any consideration for my own self-care. I knew that he was the person suffering from significant trauma, and I was convinced that once we helped him heal, everything would go back to normal. This way of thinking left me feeling isolated, fearful, exhausted and hopeless.

PTSD Caregivers and Partners Need Support, Too

In all the efforts the Army made to support my husband’s mental health, nobody ever reached out to me offering support. What I didn’t know at the time was how common it is for the romantic partners of people living with PTSD to develop secondary trauma, anxiety, depression, and relationship dissatisfaction. Some studies show up to 51% of people supporting a partner with PTSD will have secondary traumatic stress or compassion fatigue. He was the war veteran diagnosed with PTSD, but I was suffering alongside him. I felt guilt and shame about my feelings, because I had no idea that what I was feeling was normal.

What I wish I’d known at the time was how helpful couples therapy could have been for me, for my husband, and for our marriage. A therapist could have helped me understand that PTSD was causing his intimacy challenges, and it wasn’t anything I had done wrong. A therapist could have helped us learn to talk to one another about how PTSD was affecting both of us, and how it was impacting our marriage. Research consistently shows that therapy improves relationship satisfaction, anxiety, and depression for partners of someone with PTSD but the results are even better when the couple enters therapy together.

Benefits of couples counseling when one or both partners has PTSD

• Increased communication: Couples counseling can help you and your partner to communicate more effectively about your experiences and feelings. This can help to reduce misunderstandings and build trust.

• Improved coping skills: Couples counseling can teach you and your partner coping skills for managing the symptoms of PTSD. This can help to reduce the impact of PTSD on the relationship.

• Increased understanding: Couples counseling can help you and your partner understand PTSD and how it affects your relationship. This can help clear up misconceptions and myths, and normalize feelings or experiences that each of you may be having.

• Improved intimacy: Couples counseling can help you and your partner rebuild intimacy and closeness in your relationship. This can help to strengthen the relationship and make it more resilient to the challenges of PTSD.