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To start, PTSD stands for Post-traumatic stress disorder and can develop after traumatic experiences such as assault or military combat. People who have PTSD may relive the traumatic experience, have intense anxiety, avoid things that remind them of the experience, and experience overwhelming emotions that may affect the way they relate to other people. Deteriorating relationships can harm a person’s recovery from PTSD. It can also change the way that their loved ones interact with them. This can add extra challenges like:
- experiencing a loss of emotional regulation
- losing interest in family activities
- having no interest in sexual activity
- feeling an increased dependency on a partner
- experiencing excess anger, may come out as being distant, critical, or abusive
- have a reduced ability to problem solve in instances they experiences anxiety or feels overwhelmed even in small conflicts
- making the partner without PTSD feel like they have to be a caregiver
- reducing the support that couples get from family members who do not understand the trauma or appreciate the severity of PTSD
Symptoms of PTSD
Here are a couple of warning signs to look out for:
- Re-experiencing the trauma through nightmares, flashbacks, or intrusive thoughts.
- Intentionally avoiding things that remind them of the traumatic event.
- Easily startled.
- Unusual angry outbursts.
- Seem anxious or depressed, especially in ways that directly relate to the trauma. For instance, a survivor of sexual assault might be more anxious or depressed about sexual activity in the relationship.
- Have a distorted sense of reality about the traumatic event and may feel guilty or ashamed.
- Lose interest in activities they once enjoyed doing.
- Struggle to remember parts of the traumatic event.
How to help a loved one with PTSD
Firstly, recognize the fact that PTSD is not a choice or something that another person can cure. Supporting a loved one may give them the confidence to pursue recovery, and reassurance can remind them that someone loves them and will be there for them. You can also help by:
- Don’t blame them for their symptoms, minimize the severity of their trauma, or telling them to “snap out of it”
- Encourage them to seek treatment and offer to help them do so
- If your loved one has thoughts of suicide, find a therapist to work with to develop a suicide prevention plan. Remove any and all weapons from the house
- Encourage them to talk about how they feel if they want, but try not to force them to do this
- Do not tell them how they should fell or give unsolicited advice
- Regocgnize the effect of PTSD on the relationship, but do not blame all of the problems on PTSD
- Identify their triggers and work to minimize the exposure to them. For instance, if loud noises or voices are a trigger, avoid leaving the television on
- Have a talk about ways to minimize the effect of PTSD on the relationship. For example, some people may fear abandonment, so making threats to leave may intensify the symptoms and make the conflict worse
- Be sensitive and empathetic to their emotions and how they are feeling. Offer them comfort and warmth, especially during flashbacks or times of intense anxiety
- Know that it is ok to walk away. Romantic partners and other loved ones are not trained therapists and are not equipped to deal with the issues that may come with PTSD. It is important for a partner to protect their own emotions in situations that may feel overwhelming or difficult.
Some people who have PTSD may become abusive, but most research that has been done has focused on combat veterans and is not the case for everyone in a particular group. People who are being abused should seek safety immediately. This includes leaving the relationship. Couples counseling may help with relationship conflict, but most counselors advise against counseling when domestic violence is involved. If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.
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