Marriage is rarely, if ever, a breeze. While there are plenty of happy and healthy marriages, even the best relationships experience their ups and downs, fights, disagreements, and issues. And, ultimately, it’s the couples that learn how to weather these storms, and love each other in spite of shortcomings and circumstantial factors, that end up cultivating healthy long-term relationships that span decades.
While every marriage will have major tests, some relationships have to deal with bigger issues than others. For thousands of couples, this big issue is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
What is PTSD?
PTSD is a psychiatric disorder or mental health condition that occurs in people who have experienced traumatic events like a natural disaster, act of war, serious accident, or violent personal attack. While rates are much higher among combat veterans, law enforcement officers, and individuals in other high-risk professions, anyone who is exposed to trauma can develop PTSD. In all, 3.5 percent of adults have PTSD at any given time, while 8.7 percent of the population will experience it at some point in their lives.
“People with PTSD have intense, disturbing thoughts and feelings related to their experience that last long after the traumatic event has ended. They may relive the event through flashbacks or nightmares; they may feel sadness, fear or anger; and they may feel detached or estranged from other people,” American Psychiatric Association explains. “People with PTSD may avoid situations or people that remind them of the traumatic event, and they may have strong negative reactions to something as ordinary as a loud noise or an accidental touch.”
Typically, PTSD symptoms fall into one of four categories:
- Intrusive thoughts. Whether it’s a nightmare, distressing daydream, or sudden flashback of a traumatic event, PTSD creates intrusive thoughts that are hard to shake.
- Avoiding reminders. Individuals with PTSD will often go to great lengths to avoid reminders of the traumatic event. This may include avoiding people, places, activities, and even objects.
- Negative thoughts/feelings. PTSD has a way of making individuals feel shame, horror, or guilt. As a result, they often find less enjoyment in activities that they once loved.
- Arousal and reactive symptoms. Sufferers of PTSD are prone to random outbursts and frequently feel as if they’re “on edge.” A small trigger can lead to a quick and destructive action.
PTSD often goes undetected and undiagnosed for years before all of the details come to the surface. As such, the disorder has a way of embedding itself into otherwise healthy marriages.
3 Tips for Addressing PTSD in Marriage
There’s no easy way to address PTSD in a relationship, but here are some practical suggestions that many couples have found useful in their attempts to restore marital bliss:
1. Get the Proper Assistance
PTSD isn’t something that should be dealt with privately or on your own. It’s imperative that couples get proper assistance from trained mental health professionals.
Not sure you can afford the right assistance, or uncertain of where to turn? You probably have more options than you realize. For example, if you’re a veteran, PTSD could qualify you for VA disability. Depending on the rating you receive, this could provide financial support for medical services like counseling.
Whatever the case may be, the first step is to reach out and get some help. Until the underlying issue is dealt with, it’ll be difficult to make progress.
2. Stop Enabling and Start Supporting
Many spouses think they’re helping when they’re actually enabling. In the end, this creates even more problems. The challenge comes in deciphering between the two.
Enabling looks like taking charge of all duties so that your spouse doesn’t have to lift a finger. Supporting looks like recognizing when your spouse is capable and allowing him to pull weight as needed.
Enabling looks like allowing your spouse to shut down and withdraw from conversations. Supporting looks like asking questions and patiently engaging in productive conversations.
Enabling looks like protecting your spouse from any and all stressful situations. Supporting looks like encouraging and motivating your spouse to handle challenges.
The difference between the two is nuanced, but there’s tremendous power in seizing opportunities to support your spouse in the midst of difficulties.
3. Build a Larger Support System
You and your spouse both need support systems to help deal with the challenges that stem from PTSD. You need a support group that can encourage you and offer a shoulder to cry on when times are tough. Your spouse needs a support group of people who are going through similar situations and actually know what it’s like to suffer from PTSD.
When you both have the necessary support on the outside, you can be more honest and supportive of each other inside the marriage.
Life Beyond PTSD
PTSD is a condition, not a choice. Once couples realize this, they find it easier to navigate some of the complexities that come with this mental health disorder. And while there’s no easy solution, there is freedom beyond the throes of PTSD for couples that are willing to work hard and push away feelings of anger, resentment, and inadequacy. How will you respond?