Living With A Partner Suffering From PTSD – How To Be Helpful?

ptsd stress

A person who suffers from PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder has a hard time trusting others, opening up about the incident and their feelings and even communicating. They usually struggle with a constant sense of vulnerability as the person is forced to relive the trauma memories as flashbacks or nightmares. This makes the trauma survivors irritable, on guard, worried and anxious most of the time, which in turn interferes with their ability to relax, listen, socialize or take cooperative decisions.

These after-effects of PTSD take a heavy toll on relationships and can leave their partners overwhelmed. According to the research findings of the National Center for PTSD, there are severe and pervasive negative effects of PTSD on intimate relationships, general family functioning, and the mental health of partners. As the PTSD survivors become emotionally numb, their partners begin to feel hurt, alienated and discouraged. It becomes hard to understand the volatility and loss of affection in their behavior. Although, it is difficult to not feel angry and frustrated about the relationship, but a partner’s support is vital in the healing process. This article will help you learn how to be supportive to your partner with PTSD and aid the recovery.

Arm yourself with knowledge

Most of the PTSD survivors have a hard time communicating and expressing their feelings. They feel uncomfortable, sharing the experience due to shame, guilt, fear and grief. Therefore, in order to understand what they are going through, it’s important to have an insight on the condition. The more you are aware of the symptoms, effects and treatment options, the better you will be equipped to help your partner and keep things in perspective. The knowledge will also enable you to react, respond and relate to your partner.
Rebuild trust and make your partner feel safe

Trauma tends to damage a person’s ability to trust others as well as themselves. There is a constant sense of vulnerability and the world seems to be a perpetually dangerous and frightening place. People have a hard time feeling safe in their own home as well. As such, rebuilding trust and providing them a sense of security and stability can contribute in a big way in the healing process.

Simple things like expressing commitment towards the relationship, keeping promises, reminding your partner about his strength’s and making plans for the future can help them regain trust over a period of time. Apart from that, you should also create a structure and routine for daily activities. Predictable schedules can help restore stability and make the person feel safer.

Social support

Another common tendency of trauma survivors is to withdraw from family and friends. After suffering a trauma, the person becomes emotionally numb and looses interest in his favorite activities. The hurtful memories of the past force them to detach from others. You must remind yourself that their behavior is not due to lack of love or caring, but due to the pain they are experiencing. They need you to respect their boundaries and support to overcome the feelings of grief and despair.

The best thing to do when it comes to providing social support is engaging in normal activities, which have nothing to do with the traumatic experience. This way they can gradually open up and feel safe. You can try pursuing hobbies or just take a dance or fitness class together.

Pay attention to self-care

A study on the impact of PTSD on partners and children of Australian Vietnam veterans revealed surprisingly disappointing results. The partners of the veterans showed significantly higher levels of somatic symptoms including anxiety, insomnia, social dysfunction and depression. Providing support to someone with PTSD can have a ripple effect of secondary trauma. It is important to take care of yourself in order to have the strength to comfort and be there for your partner with PTSD. Getting enough sleep, eating properly, exercising regularly etc. can help you nurture and care for yourself. You must recognize your limits and make time for your own needs as well.

PTSD can affect the foundation of a relationship. In order to battle the condition, the partner needs to get emotionally and physically strong. You must remember that coping with PTSD can become difficult, challenging and a very long process, but it doesn’t necessarily ruin the relationship.

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About Jennifer Hill

Jennifer Hill is a licensed Family & Marriage Therapist and certified EMDR Specialist. She has dual Masters Degrees in Special Education and Mental Health Counseling, and specializes in working with adolescents. She currently serves as the Clinical Counseling Supervisor for the Pregnancy Resource Center in Vista, CA and her private practice. View more at

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