PTSD and Relationships

It’s no secret that PTSD can strain relationships, particularly with a spouse or partner.

There have been many cases of strong marriages unable to withstand the effects of severe PTSD. Though both members may want to maintain the relationship, there are times when people are unable to resolve the inherent issues with PTSD.

In 2019, Meagan Drillinger wrote a piece for Healthline called “6 Things I Learned From Dating Someone With PTSD.”

In the article she explained, “For three years, I was in a relationship with a man who experienced PTSD symptoms daily. My ex, D., was a decorated combat veteran who served in Afghanistan three times. The toll it took on his soul was heartbreaking.”

She went on to say:

Being the partner of someone who has PTSD can be challenging — and frustrating — for many reasons. You want to take away their pain, but youre also dealing with your own guilt at needing to care for yourself, too. You want to have all the answers, but you often have to come to grips with the reality that this is a condition that cant be loved out of someone.

In this section, we will look at some of the things you can do to support loved ones with PTSD. That being said, it’s extremely important to know that supporting someone with PTSD does not mean you’re responsible for making them better.

If you have a relationship with someone who has PTSD, you can’t heal them with support. You can make their road easier, but your loved one should seek professional help to give them the tools needed to help with their disorder.

With that said, there are some things that you can do that might help ease their burden and lessen the strain in your relationship:

1.      Understand that PTSD is real. Perhaps one of the first steps in helping someone with PTSD is acknowledging that it’s a real disorder that produces real symptoms. Though mental disorders are difficult to understand or relate to for those who are not experiencing them, to people with the disorder, it is very real and very debilitating.

2.  Give them room not to talk. Talking about a traumatic event might help someone who has PTSD, but that doesn’t mean they’re always willing or able to discuss the details of their trauma.

●       Their resistance to talking about the traumatic event is not a sign of being unloving or untrusting, it’s more likely because they want to avoid thinking about the event. Bringing it up often is more likely to cause them to pull away and become uncommunicative.

●       Gently encourage them to talk about it when it seems appropriate but allow them to be the one to discuss it when they’re ready.

3.  Work with a routine. A routine is a good way to help establish order in your home for a person suffering from PTSD. Doing this can give a person with PTSD a sense of security and stability and provide comfort in a world that feels chaotic and out of control.

●       The schedule you use will be different than someone else’s, but it may include exercise, meditation or prayer, planned mealtimes, and daily chores.

4.  Learn more about PTSD. Educating yourself on PTSD will be one of your biggest strengths for helping a loved one and yourself cope with the reality. You can do this by reading, watching videos, talking with other people who have PTSD, or discussing it with a therapist.

5.  Understand that caregiver burden is real. People taking care of someone struggling mentally or physically can be extremely stressful and draining.

●       In a study published in part by the National Institute of Health, the authors explain,

Unlike professional caregivers such as physicians and nurses, informal caregivers, typically family members or friends, provide care to individuals with a variety of conditions including advanced age, dementia, and cancer. This experience is commonly perceived as a chronic stressor, and caregivers often experience negative psychological, behavioral, and physiological effects on their daily lives and health.

●       Though the study was specifically talking about people taking care of loved ones with cancer or advanced age, the sentiment is the same for general, non-professional caregivers. Long-term care of a person can lead to secondary issues and can be a burden for them as well.

●       To help lighten this load, if you’re a caregiver, it’s a good idea to take time for yourself.

Every moment of every day can’t be consumed with PTSD. Take time to do things that you love and enjoy.

●       Another good solution is to find a support group for those who are also caring for loved ones with PTSD. Finding a community of people dealing with the same thing can help you manage your own feelings and concern.

●       In addition, seek loved ones in your life and allow them to be part of your greater support network.

6.  Seek Professional Treatment

Seeking outside help is essential for helping you and your loved one cope with PTSD. Although some may feel there’s a stigma with working with professional help, this viewpoint is becoming less common as people open up about mental health issues across the board.

There is no shame in seeking professional help.

If you’re living with or helping care for someone with PTSD, it is often beneficial to seek therapy as well.

Treatment for PTSD

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to PTSD, and it isn’t something that will be resolved in a short amount of time. Not only that, but if there are comorbidities involved, it will take longer for the therapist to determine what diagnosis and treatment are appropriate.

Note: If substance abuse is present, look for a therapist trained to help with both PTSD and substance abuse.

What type of treatment you or your loved one will get is up to your therapist, but below are some common forms of treatment for people with PTSD.

Cognitive Processing Therapy

Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) is a specific type of therapy used to help people change the way they view trauma. It has been effective in helping reduce symptoms of PTSD, and many mental health specialists recommend this course of action for people diagnosed with the disorder.

It’s thought to be one of the most effective treatments available.

CPT is usually performed over 12 sessions (often 12 weeks) in 60-90-minute sessions. Sessions can be either individual or in a group setting.

Trauma changes the way a person feels about themselves and the world, often causing them to develop an overly negative and hopeless view of things. This type of therapy can help them begin to reprocess the way they think about things.

Prolonged Exposure Therapy

Since avoidance is a symptom of PTSD, therapists will sometimes use a treatment called Prolonged Exposure therapy (PE). This treatment helps people confront the things they’re avoiding in increments.

PE is usually broken down into 15 individual sessions lasting around 60-120 minutes. Sessions usually begin with the therapist asking questions about the original trauma to help develop an understanding of the issue.

This type of therapy will induce more anxiety and stress than CPT typically does, so therapists will try to equip their patients with anxiety-reducing coping skills. For example, a patient might be taught breathing exercises to help manage the stress.

There are several ways that therapists expose a patient with the thing they’re avoiding. These techniques are:

●   Imaginal exposure. In this type of exposure, the patient describes the traumatic event in present tense.

●       In vivo exposure. This type of exposure is performed outside of the therapy session. The therapist and patient work together to come up with a list of things the patient has been avoiding. Then they agree on which ones to confront between therapy sessions in a gradual fashion.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

EMDR is a different kind of treatment than talking through traumatic events. Instead, the patient is asked to think about the traumatic event while the therapist directs their eye movement.

It’s thought that the eye movement while remembering a traumatic event can help drain the emotion and negative feelings attached to it.

This type of therapy is still relatively new and is considered a non-traditional form of therapy. Though non-traditional, It is still considered to be an effective form of therapy.

Medication For PTSD

For some, medication may be helpful in addition to therapy. According to the National Center for PTSD, antidepressants are sometimes effective for treating symptoms of PTSD. These types of medications include SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and SNRIs (serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors).

Your medical doctor can help you determine if medication might be right for you.

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