Trauma and PTSD’s effect on marriage

sad man morgefileHaving recently celebrated the Fourth of July in the U.S., we remember and honor those in the military. However, in recent years many of those vets are coming home with significant trauma and/or PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) that can significantly impact their relationships and marriages.

In addition to soldiers, other survivors of trauma, such as survivors of childhood sexual abuse or survivors of disasters, terrible accidents or kidnapping, can also experience PTSD. Even those who suffer grief, particularly sudden and unnatural deaths of a loved one, can experience PTSD. Sufferers can experience great emotional and sometimes physical pain. These after-effects can impact the way the individual functions in everyday life, and they can certainly affect the survivor’s marriage.

Symptoms of PTSD can include nightmares, depression, trouble sleeping, feeling jittery or irritated, dependence on drugs or alcohol, feeling like you’re in danger, and more. Read PTSD symptoms here. The symptoms following trauma are normal; when they last more than three months, they are considered PTSD. Survivors may experience a loss of interest in social activities, hobbies, sex, and relationships. They may feel distanced from others, numbness, or hyper-vigilance and on guard, and unable to relax and be intimate. They may struggle with anger, improper impulses, memories of the trauma (re-experiencing the trauma), decision-making, and concentration. Work and daily activities can become a struggle.

The partner/spouse can feel isolated and alienated and frustrated from the inability to work through the problems together. They may even fear the actions of the survivor. Therefore, the partner may distance him or herself from the survivor, adding to the marital discord. However, a sense of companionship can help alleviate feelings of isolation.

A therapist trained in dealing with PTSD can be a big help to the individual survivor as well as the spouse. If the survivor is not willing to admit problems with PTSD, the spouse may want to insist on marital counseling, because PTSD does increase the rate of divorce. Both therapy and medications have been successful in treating individuals who have PTSD.

For the wellbeing of both partners, a support network of helping professionals and community support can be beneficial. Some individuals feel a sense of guilt or shame or fear in asking for help. According to PsychCentral, PTSD is treatable. “Psychotherapy involves helping the trauma become processed and integrated so that it ultimately functions as other memories do, in the background, rather than with a life of its own.”

Therapy for PTSD initially focuses on coping and comfort, restoring a feeling of safety, calming the nervous system, and educating the person about what they are experiencing and why and – through the process of talking – interrupting the natural cycle of avoidance (which actually perpetuates PTSD symptoms though it is initially adaptive and self-protective).

Therapy provides a safe place for trauma survivors to tell their story, feel less isolated, and tolerate knowing what happened…Through treatment, survivors begin to make sense of what happened and how it affected them, understand themselves and the world again in light of it, and ultimately restore relationships and connections in their lives.” According to PsychCentral, “Successful treatment of PTSD allows the traumatic feelings and memories to become conscious and integrated – or digested – so that the symptoms are no longer needed and eventually go away. This process of integration allows the trauma to become a part of normal memory rather than something to be perpetually feared and avoided, interfering with normal life, and frozen in time. Recovery involves feeling empowered, reestablishing a connection to oneself, feelings, and other people, and finding meaning in life again. Recovery allows patients to heal so that they can resume living.”

According to SheKnows.com, individuals with PTSD can create and maintain successful intimate relationships by: 1.Establishing a personal support network that will help the survivor cope with PTSD while he or she maintains or rebuilds family and friend relationships with dedication, perseverance, hard work, and commitment. 2. Sharing feelings honestly and openly with an attitude of respect and compassion 3. Continually strengthening problem-solving and communication skills 4. Including playfulness, spontaneity, relaxation, and mutual enjoyment in the relationship

Thankfully, trauma doesn’t always have the last word. Many individuals and couples find they experience recovery and even growth after coping with a traumatic experience. The Generous Husband blog recently wrote about the concept of Post-Traumatic Growth (PTG), which means the changes or growth that occur after an individual or a couple has overcome a traumatic event. “Disaster does not have to ruin you or your marriage,” Paul writes, adding that tragedy can end well. Those who experience PTG experience one or more of the following: 1) Spiritual growth 2) improved relationship with others 3) See new possibilities/goals for life 4) improvement in self-image or 5) a new more positive view on life.

PTSD and trauma can make married life challenging difficult, but help is available. There is hope for a life beyond the trauma–a life that once again includes happiness and joy.

Lori Lowe has been married to her husband, Ming, for more than 18 years. She is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here. Photo courtesy of morguefile.com

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13 responses to “Trauma and PTSD’s effect on marriage

  1. Janine Clancy

    Sensoimotor Psychotherapy is very helpful in the treatment of PTSD.

  2. Pingback: What exactly is PTSD? | Facing the Predator

  3. I was referred here by Beth from Messy Marriage…I have PTSD, and it’s definitely affected my marriage.

    One thing to consider is that combat trauma becomes a defining factor in life, and isn’t completely negative – at least, it’s not perceived that way by the survivor. It does set up an obstacle to healing, in that ‘moving on’ can seem like a potential loss of grounding, or even loss of identity.

    Without my flashbacks, I’d feel like a part of me was lost. Without the hypervigilance, I’d feel like a civilian, and that’s not a positive thing. Without the stratification of crowds into potential threats and ‘mushrooms’, I’d feel vulnerable and weak.

    Combat changed me, and so I carried my war home, because without it, who would I be? Not who I was, that’s for sure.

    The soft landing is hard to achieve. I have a very patient wife; I’m lucky. But it’s been hell for her.

    • Thank you for sharing your perspective. It’s very interesting. Thanks also for your service. It’s true war changes soldiers. Glad you have your soft landing, and peace to you both.

  4. Pingback: How does trauma affect health? | Mental health articles

  5. My husband left me and the kids recently after 17 years, he had PTSD and was in the military and went to eat, reading this is exactly how he is, I
    Just don’t know what to do he won’t seek help or take medicine, my world feels upside down right now and I don’t know what to do or how to handle him so that I don’t push him away further

    • My heart goes out to you. I’m so sorry for your situation. He may not be able to see the issues clearly due to the PTSD. I hope you are getting support for yourself and the children. My thoughts and prayers are with you. Talk to someone with experience in this area.

      • Thank you I’m really trying, but it’s just so hard. Eating and sleeping is hard, but I’m praying a lot for him and me and the kids, thank you for the comments and concerns

    • Stormie, for what it may be worth – it isn’t about you, or the kids. It’s about what is happening inside your husband’s soul.

      Good help is very hard to find, and asking for help goes against the warrior ethos. It was very hard for me to do…and to some degree the decision was taken out of my hands, as I worked with a fellow whose wife was a therapist, and he set it up. Our boss made therapy a condition of my employment.

      Please,take care of yourself through this time.

      • I’m trying it’s just so devastating, eating and sleeping has been hard for me, I’m just trying to stay in prayer cause there’s not much I can say or do

  6. Thanks, Andrew.

  7. My wife suffered physical and verbal abuse from her father as a young child all the way up until age 20 and has suffered with PTSD her whole life (she is 61). She has suffered with suicidal thoughts and depression and when she has a protracted PTSD attack, she can transition into long periods of emotional chaos and instability.

    Her Christian counselor suggested cognitive therapy. She then assigned me to read her called “cognitions” — affirming word statements which are the opposite of the poisonous thoughts going through her head (about her lack of value and her worth as a human being). As it turned out, these cognitive statements really didn’t help. However, in place of the cognitions, I began reading her over and over chapters from Joseph Prince’s book Unmerited Favor which explains about the New Covenant and how loved we are by God as his blessed children. That is the only thing in the world that has ever calmed her down consistently (aside from just holding her as tightly as possible). Learning about her true identity in Christ Jesus, that she is totally loved and totally free from condemnation (Romans 8:1) caused her to question and then reject the enemy’s voice. She has been finding victory. However, this is still a work in progress.

    Lori, thank you for this particular column — it is indeed timely and needed given how many people struggle with this disorder (born-again believers included).

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