How Someone Else’s PTSD Can Change Us

Many people don’t understand the impact of PTSD on the spouse. even though it can be devastating. In fact, veteransspouses can develop symptoms of PTSD, and don’t always know where to turn. They suffer in silence while dressing someone else’s wounds.

But how exactly can someone else’s PTSD change a person?

Impact of PTSD on Partners

Living with a PTSD sufferer is a unique experience that touches and molds everyone close to him, especially his partner. The ways our partners’ PTSD can affect our lives are complex:

  • Sometimes, you feel like you’re having a nervous breakdown. In one study, almost 50 percent of wives felt like they’d had a nervous breakdown on at least one occasion.
  • You might feel pushed aside or ignored, a common feeling among caregivers, in general. After all, we aren’t the ones with a diagnosis.
  • Maybe every little task feels overwhelming, even activities that used to feel effortless–showering, doing the laundry, giving the kids a bath, figuring out what to make for dinner, etc.
  • Perhaps you’re frustrated because you can’t fix your marriage or help your spouse.
  • Sometimes you might feel hurt, helpless, mad, and distant towards your partner.
  • There might be physical, psychological, or emotional abuse leaving you feeling scared and controlled by your spouse and her condition.
  • You might be suffering from secondary trauma and not even know it.
  • Maybe you deal with stressors such as money problems, loss of friendships, managing your partner’s PTSD or drinking problem, or handling crises.
  • You may find that the worse the PTSD gets, the worse you feel.

Among wives of combat veterans with PTSD, there was an increased risk not only of PTSD, but somatic disease, clinical depression, panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and an increased risk of suicidality.

Daniel B. Block, MD

Self-Neglect

On top of everything else, you might feel guilty when you finally take much-deserved time for yourself. I know sometimes I do.

“Does it bother you when I spend so much time writing?” I’ve asked my husband multiples times.

“Was buying new boots for myself selfish?”

“I’m sorry I slept in so late. I didn’t mean to.”

Unfortunately, unearned guilt is a common and self-destructive pattern for some veterans’ partners. What we don’t realize is, we don’t have to neglect ourselves to be good wives. We don’t have to feel bad about taking care of ourselves and doing things we enjoy. When we neglect and abuse ourselves, we’re only making the situation worse. We have to keep something for ourselves.

Avoidance

You may find yourself avoiding objects, circumstances, and places that trigger your spouse’s PTSD. The wrong movie, tight crowds, fireworks–these are everyday phenomena that threaten my family. So they aren’t a part of our lives. It’s what works for us.

What doesn’t work for us is trying to avoid dealing with my husband’s PTSD, altogether. Sometimes he needs to talk to me about something but won’t or can’t. Or I need to talk to someone, but I’m not sure how.

Trying to ignore what’s possibly tearing your family apart doesn’t solve anything. Pretending that no one’s hurting and everyone’s OK slowly builds walls that, sometimes, can’t be surmounted.

Isolation

Wives of combat vets often feel isolated and alienated, partly because the stress of living with someone wounded by war can damage relationships outside the marriage, especially if there’s abuse involved.

There are times I don’t want to talk to anyone because I don’t want to discuss what’s really going on. Talking about it makes it too real. And when I do try to open up, people simply don’t understand. That’s one of the reasons I started this blog. I know there are women and men out there who know exactly what I’m talking about.

Domestic Violence

Sudden rage has been associated with combat-related PTSD, which can result in verbal or physical abuse if it gets out of control. I’ve seen my husband’s anger spin out of control a few times. Fortunately, he’s never put his hands on me, but the way he’s assaulted me emotionally hurts just as much as a punch to the throat.

When our relationships get abusive, we may start to do stuff like:

  • get sick more often
  • get depressed, ashamed, angry, and suicidal
  • use drugs and alcohol to try to cope
  • be constantly on edge
  • feel sleepy all the time
  • feel tense or anxious
  • experience changes in our eating or sleeping habits
  • have sexual problems
  • feel bad about ourselves
  • feel hopeless, untrusting, or unmotivated
  • question our faith
  • tremble involuntarily
  • have issues with our periods
  • develop symptoms of PTSD, including racing thoughts, flashbacks, and nightmares.

If you suspect your relationship may have abusive elements, there is help available, whether you want to leave your partner or not. And try not to feel ashamed: I’ve had to reach out for a little help, too, and I’m grateful I did.

Symptoms of PTSD

Can military spouses get PTSD even if their relationships aren’t abusive? To answer that question, let’s look at the symptoms of PTSD:

  • Flashbacks
  • Nightmares
  • Anxiety
  • Uncontrollable thoughts
  • Memories that won’t leave you alone
  • Dramatic reactions to things that remind you of what happened
  • Not wanting to talk about what happened
  • Staying away from people, places, and things that remind you of what happened
  • Negativity
  • Hopelessness
  • Memory issues
  • Problems with intimacy
  • Lack of interest
  • Numbness
  • Being easily scared
  • Hypervigilance
  • Self-destructive behavior
  • Problems sleeping
  • Problems focusing
  • Aggressiveness
  • Guilt

As the wife of a combat vet, I can relate to quite a few of those symptoms. Maybe you can, too.

Just as the soldier deals with the fallout of PTSD, wives of soldiers can experience anxiety, depression, relationship struggles, fear, and even abuse if PTSD remains untreated.

Black Bear Lodge Rehab Center

I’m not saying I can relate to my husband completely, because I can’t. I’ll never know what it’s like to be him, but I do know what an anxiety attack feels like. I know what it feels like to have a head jammed full of parasitic thoughts that won’t leave me alone. I know how it feels when a resentment overwhelms me because I can’t forget what happened, or when I suddenly overreact to something that seems so small but just does something to me.

I know what hopelessness, sleeplessness, pessimism, fear, self-hatred, shame, and guilt feel like. I know what it’s like to feel like an island.

I can tell you what it’s like to go numb because, sometimes, that’s the only way I’m going to survive.

My partner’s wounds have become a part of me, too.

So whether or not we technically warrant a diagnosis of PTSD, soldiers’ partners experience emotions and behavioral issues that can change us and our lives in profound ways.

Sometimes they destroy us.

Our pain is real. Our struggle, our challenges, our obstacles, our scars and fear and desperation are real.

But so is our strength.

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