How PTSD Can Affect Your Relationship
If you or your loved one are struggling with the emotional fallout of PTSD, you’re not alone. Couples counseling can help you both gain a better understanding of how PTSD is affecting your relationship and what to do about it. First, let’s start with a basic look at some of the ways PTSD might be harming your most intimate relationship.
The Challenges of PTSD in a Relationship
There’s a growing body of research to suggest that post traumatic stress disorder makes interpersonal relationships more challenging to maintain. The following are some of the main attributing factors that you might be experiencing in your own relationship. If they look familiar, trauma therapy can help you find a way forward.
Anger & Emotional Regulation
Struggling with the loss of emotional regulation can have devastating impacts on a person’s closest relationships. Excessive or seemingly out-of-place anger can be a trait of PTSD, as well as outbursts or an inability to emotionally self-regulate. Unfortunately, this can also lead to abusive behavior in some situations. If your partner is abusive, a therapist can support you in finding a safe way out of the relationship.
People who have survived a trauma that resulted in PTSD are also more likely to lose interest in things they once enjoyed participating in. They may also seem more distant or emotionally unavailable, which can be distressing for the romantic partner who is trying to get through to them.
Trauma Can Shape Our Interpretation of Reality
It’s important to note that trauma can also shape our view of the world around us. For instance, someone who survives a traumatic event may be more likely to interpret future interactions in a more negative light. Unfortunately, this outlook can also affect how a survivor views themself as well as their loved ones. Here is what one study found regarding how trauma can inform our world view.
Depression and Anxiety
If you or your partner experienced a life-changing trauma, you might also notice depression or anxiety surfacing in your relationship. Either or both can have a staggering impact on your connection as a couple.
Another common occurrence is nightmares, intrusive thoughts, or even traumatic flashbacks. These experiences often wake up the partner, putting the partner in a position to wake up their loved one from the bad dream. Additionally, someone who isn’t getting enough sleep is more likely to be cranky or lethargic during the day, which means fewer quality interactions with loved ones. There are physical side effects to a lack of sleep as well. In the long run, a lack of high-quality sleep can potentially contribute to negative health outcomes.
Someone living with PTSD might also avoid things or situations that remind them of their trauma. For example, a veteran might have a hard time with 4th of July events because fireworks remind them of gun fire. For someone who associates colorful fireworks with fun and celebration, it might be tough to really understand the full extent of their partner’s struggle.
Trauma survivors may also feel emotionally distant or even numb. This sense of having a more limited emotional depth and range (emotional blunting) can make it harder for survivors to relate to loved ones or enjoy life in the ways they used to.
PTSD can also lead to a general sense of hopelessness that things will ever get better. This is a particularly worrisome connection because longstanding feelings of hopelessness can be linked to suicide ideation, not to mention that PTSD is especially common among combat veterans who have weapons training and an increased access to firearms.
Many people with PTSD also experience symptoms of depersonalization, derealization, or dissociation. In fact, as many as 30% of survivors report out-of-body sensations that the world around them isn’t real. Trauma can change the neural activity in individuals, which can continue to fundamentally alter their perception of reality in devastating ways. Creating a new perception of reality that is more balanced can ultimately help individuals heal from PTSD.
How to Help
If you or your partner are living with post traumatic stress disorder, know that there are resources that can help. PTSD isn’t a choice and it’s not something that anyone can just “get over” on their own.
If you love someone with PTSD, here are some simple guidelines to help you support them:
Seek Professional Couples Counseling
If you aren’t already in couples counseling, encourage your partner to seek professional help from a licensed therapist who specializes in trauma therapy. Attending sessions with your partner can provide the solidarity they need to seek outside help.
While it may be difficult at times not to blame your loved one for their PTSD symptoms, take care to avoid minimizing their trauma or lashing out in frustration. There are times when you may need to excuse yourself from certain interactions and remind yourself that you aren’t equipped to handle the situation, but a professional is. This also includes not telling your loved one how they should feel or trying to fix things. Remember that couples counseling can provide you with much needed support as well.
Empathy and Reflective Listening
Allow your partner to share their feelings if they find it helpful, but don’t push them to open up. Showing empathy instead of offering unsolicited advice will help deepen their trust in your ability to support their healing process. We often just want to say the right thing or make things better, but honing your reflective listening skills is a gift for everyone in your life.
Understand Your Partner’s Triggers
Couples counseling can also give you a deeper understanding of your partner’s triggers, as well as how to help minimize their impact on your relationship.
Have a Plan
If your loved one is known to have thoughts of suicide, a therapist can work with both of you to create a suicide prevention plan. An important follow-up step, of course, is to remove any weapons from your home.
Schedule Couples Counseling
If you’re interested in learning more about trauma therapy and how it can be used to help your relationship, please fill out the contact form below. You can also give us a call at (310) 453-8788 to talk to a skilled therapist. And, as always, our team is happy to answer any questions you have.