Helping a Partner Cope With PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) isn’t something that affects only the patient. This condition can take its toll on the lives of the people close to them as well, as many of the symptoms of PTSD spread to the world around them. 

Reactions to the emotional upheaval caused by the condition can be involuntary. The patient may not have any control over their responses and lashing out may seem intensely personal when in fact an episode may have nothing at all to do with you.

PTSD and relationships

The impact on combat-related PTSD and relationships shows marked increases in divorce rates, an indication of how challenging it can be to have a partner with PTSD, no matter the origin of the condition. 

Close contact with someone going through the symptoms of the disorder can even create a condition called secondary trauma. Furthermore, this can turn into a form of PTSD for the partner if symptoms persist.

However, secondary trauma isn’t a guaranteed result of partnership with a PTSD patient, nor is it an unresolvable conflict. Any relationship must overcome challenges, and while PTSD may add unique and intense experiences, these, too, can be overcome with awareness, understanding, and compassion. 

While PTSD can manifest in many ways with often unique symptoms, there are proven strategies that may help you cope in a relationship with a PTSD partner.

Self-care is key

It’s natural to assume a caretaker role when your partner suffers the effects of PTSD. It’s equally natural for the caretaker to lose themselves in the demands of the PTSD condition. Knowing this and building your own social system and support network is an important part of being an effective caretaker. It may also serve as a guard for you against secondary trauma.

Know the triggers

Understanding what starts a PTSD episode may help your partner avoid them. These could be sounds, smells, people, behaviors, or sequences of events that trigger the symptoms of your partner’s PTSD. While it may be difficult to discuss these with your partner, it’s important information in navigating a life that doesn’t needlessly add the strain of PTSD episodes.

Express your love

It’s a common pattern that those with PTSD feel they are unlovable or not worthy of the loyalty of others. Expressing your positive emotions for your partner outside of symptomatic PTSD episodes may help to erode the doubts they have about themselves.

It’s not personal

Though their behavior may target you during a PTSD episode, it’s a symptom of their reaction to trauma, not a personal reaction to you. This is perhaps the most difficult part of your role. During PTSD episodes, the partner isn’t acting like their true self, so let go of resentment for the person and leave it with the condition.

Facing PTSD is never easy, as a patient or a partner. Dr. Hina Sidhu and her team at Revîv Functional Psychiatry & Functional Wellness are specialists in the diagnosis and treatment of PTSD. When you need help coping, for yourself or your partner, contact the office by phone or by using the online booking tool. 

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