PTSD Living with someone who has PTSD
“You may be hurt by your loved one’s distance and moodiness or struggling to understand their behavior—why they are less affectionate and more volatile. You may feel like you’re walking on eggshells or living with a stranger.” – Helpguide.org
Living with someone who has post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be difficult. There are many different symptoms that can affect the person who has PTSD and those around them, including anger outbursts, anxiety attacks, depression, irritability, isolation due to fear of being in crowded places, and flashbacks causing nightmares. It’s important for partners caring for someone who has PTSD to educate themselves about the condition in order to better support their partner.
Caring for someone with PTSD can be extremely hard because those caring for them feel as if they’ve done something wrong or that there is nothing they can do to help their partner. This isn’t true: supporting your loved one does not mean you’re responsible for fixing what happened in their past; rather, it means that you are willing to stand by them through difficult times and offer comfort when needed. It’s important caring partners understand how much strength and courage it takes. It can be helpful to join a support group in order to have a place where caring partners can share their thoughts and feelings with others who are going through the same thing. This not only provides comfort in knowing you are not alone, but it can also provide insight into others’ experiences and tactics that may help you and your loved one.
It is important caring partners find ways of coping themselves, such as talking to friends or family members about what’s happening, finding outlets like exercise, yoga, or meditation, practicing healthy sleep habits, eating well-balanced meals, etc. Because caring for someone with PTSD takes up time and energy, it’s easy for caring partners to get flustered. Setbacks and frustration do not mean you’re not helping enough! It simply means that your partner still has some battles left before things will get back on track.
Ways that you can help your loved one include :
- providing a non-judgemental listening ear when your loved one is ready to talk
- being patient with your loved one if they are not ready to share
- keeping communication open, even when it’s difficult
- not judging or trying to “fix” your partner
- not acting like you know what they have been through or seen
- helping out with household tasks and errands when possible
- attending therapy sessions together (or separately, as needed)
- actively participating in support groups whether they are in person or online
A very important step in providing support includes providing social support. It is very common for individuals, including Veterans, to withdraw from social interaction and gatherings. This can become especially challenging if you have children or a busy household. It is important to get creative with socializing opportunities for your loved one and your family in these cases. It’s also important that caring individuals understand how their actions may be perceived by someone who has PTSD so they avoid triggering behavior such as being critical of decisions made in regards to planning outings or even going out at all – this could easily create fear of leaving the house again.
Avoiding triggers means avoiding anything that reminds them of what happened before, no matter how small it seems on the surface; there are often things that trigger memories from previous traumatic experiences without anyone realizing it until after the fact when something sets off anxiety attacks or other symptoms associated with PTSD. This includes not pressuring your loved one to talk about what is happening at the moment. They might not be ready to share their feelings when an event or setting triggers them. One of the most helpful things to do in this situation is to be understanding and allow them the space they need.
It is also beneficial to do “normal” activities with your loved one, things that you might have done before they experienced symptoms of PTSD. Encouraging them to participate in activities that they feel comfortable with such as exercise, seeing friends, or pursuing hobbies can be a part of this. While it is important to encourage them, it can be detrimental if they feel forced or extreme pressure. Letting them take the lead rather than telling them what they need to do is an excellent way to provide support without being overbearing.
Patience may be one of the biggest and most important struggles you may feel along the supportive journey. Caring individuals may feel like their caring partner has changed and it can be difficult not to take this personally. Caring partners must do things for themselves, whether they are big or small. This includes taking time to decompress after a long day or week by participating in activities you enjoy doing without your loved one. Taking time for yourself does not mean you are ignoring your loved one, in fact, it may be one of the best ways to support them.
Dealing with outbursts and anger can be difficult to address, but one of the most essential aspects of this is remaining calm, asking how you can help, and always putting safety first. Do not engage in arguing or screaming matches and avoid taking things personally. Avoid escalating the situation by making your partner feel like they are wrong for feeling a certain way, even if you disagree with how they’re behaving. This type of response can cause them to withdraw further into themselves rather than allowing caring individuals to provide support.
The symptoms of PTSD can cause issues you never thought would happen such as job loss, substance abuse, and relationship disruption. Caring for someone who has PTSD is not only emotionally difficult, but it can also be very physically and mentally tiring. Remember that caring for someone with PTSD is a long-term commitment, but it is one that can be very rewarding if done right. There will be good days and bad days, but you can make it through anything with the correct tools.