Tag Archives: Trauma

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

Enhance the Resilience of Your Relationship

Resiliency:  The capacity to adapt and bounce back in the face of adversity. It’s a trait we would all like to have. And we would like our relationships to benefit from the trait as well. Wherever you are on your marriage journey, infusing your relationship with more characteristics of resiliency can be beneficial.

Scott Haltzman, M.D., recently shared with me a couple of interesting facts about resiliency. The first is that one-third of our predictive ability to withstand stress is based on genetics. The second is that children exposed to moderate levels of adversity or failure are shown to better handle adversity later in life.  So, part of being resilient you may attribute to your family of origin or how you were raised. A large part is still self-determined.

This is the last post in which I will share some tidbits from the book, Healing Together, which I have recommended for couples dealing with any kind of loss or trauma. Authors Suzanne Phillips and Diane Kane say resilience is needed for couples to move forward with their lives after a loss. Resilience, in my view, is important to all of us, particularly at crisis times in our lives. In the book, Phillips and Kane assess factors that are associated with resilience and guide the reader on how to incorporate those qualities in the relationship. So these factors are discussed below in terms of relationship resilience, not individual resilience. These are only some of the factors discussed in the book.

Hardiness—This quality is essential for thriving under stress. Hardiness is made up of commitment, control and challenge. As a couple you actively work on the addressing the situation and express commitment to one another during the recovery. (“I’ll be there for you no matter what it takes.”) Each person recognizes what they can and cannot control. (You cannot control an illness, but you can face it together.) Together, you view the event as a challenge, reframing it for the opportunities it presents in your life. You find inner resources you didn’t know you had.

Positive Outlook—Resilient people don’t just put a smile on their faces. They use positive coping strategies, including seeking the benefits of a situation, using humor, or finding a positive meaning.

Positive Affirmations—I’ve previously shared research on how celebrating positive events in one another’s lives can boost our relationship bond. When going through a trauma, particularly a loss of someone close, the tendency is to avoid celebrations of your own life and happiness. Our loved ones would not want that for us. “Celebration of life and each other gives you the strength to recover as well as to hold on to the memories of those you have loved,” say the authors. Couples should take time to affirm one another’s successes (even small ones!) and positive experiences. Celebrate the joys and pleasures that you experience in life, and share them with your spouse.

Social Networks—Meaningful, supportive connection with others, including a spouse, is the most important component of recovery. Discuss as a couple how you can benefit from the support of others while maintaining your privacy and boundaries of confidentiality.

Laughter/Humor—Being able to laugh together during tough times can be very healing. “Humor has been reported to promote intimacy, belonging, and cohesiveness,” say the authors.

The Capacity for Hope—After a trauma, people often can’t see the future as anything positive. There are no dreams for a better life, only pain. “Hope is the ability to have options” according to trauma expert Yael Danieli, who adds that the greatest source of hope is the feeling of belonging. Thinking of others who love or need us gives us hope.

Problem-Solving Skills—Assess the problem, brainstorm solutions, evaluate pros and cons, decide on a plan, including who is best suited for what part of the plan.

Couples going through a crisis often take turns being resilient, supportive and hopeful, while the other is struggling. It may help to remind your partner of the resilient traits they possess, such as a great sense of humor.

Hope is such a strong concept for me. It’s the hopes and dreams for ourselves and our loved ones that make life so exciting. This blog really is dedicated to providing hope to couples that they can experience what marriage is meant to be. My hope for you is that whether you are healthy and happy this year or recovering from illness or loss, that you can remain hopeful in your relationship. Share your hopes and dreams with your spouse, and support one another as you move toward those dreams.

Which of these factors do you think are most important to resiliency? Do you come from a resilient family? Do you believe your relationship is resilient or not? Why?

Photo Credit: ©TEA/PhotoExpress.com

Helping a Partner Heal from Loss or Trauma

While December is a time of joy for many, the holidays can also increase a sense of loneliness or depression for those who have experienced trauma or loss of a loved one. If you or your spouse—or both of you—are experiencing a difficult season, the following tips may help you. The good news is that research says having a spouse by your side while coping with the aftermath of a life disaster can be quite helpful with long-term healing.

The book Healing Together: A couple’s Guide to Coping with Trauma & Post-Traumatic Stress has a wealth of insight for spouses who have experienced a natural disaster, a serious injury or accident, violence, loss of a loved one, war service, or other kids of trauma. It also provides some guidance on when professional assistance may be needed. If you’re doing well this season, keep an eye out for neighbors or friends who may be hurting, and perhaps recommend the book.

I’ve interviewed enough couples to know it isn’t rare to experience a crisis or loss in one’s marriage. It can be almost unbearable to watch a partner experience a terrible loss or tragedy. Sometimes both partners are suffering and grieving in their own way, such as with the loss of a child. It’s difficult to know how to help a partner cope, even when both spouses are are suffering from the same loss. That is because each person will experience different emotions and thoughts about the event. It’s important to support one another and express your commitment, concern and acceptance.

Any kind of trauma will affect our relationships, say co-authors Suzanne Phillips, Psy.D., and Dianne Kane. “Trauma puts up a wall that for a time locks a couple out of their familiar world and leaves them frozen in the traumatic event. Suddenly there is no past, and the future feels impossible.” Sometimes we experience trauma as individuals—as when a violent act is committed against one person—and sometimes the loss is shared. In both cases, by virtue of being married, both partners as well as the marriage itself are affected.

Avoidance, withdrawal, numbness and hyperarousal are common symptoms of trauma, but most of these symptoms are resolved to a large degree within about a month, say the authors, adding that flare-ups are common for some time. A persistent pattern of symptoms may mean the person has post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). While the book provides insights on how and why the events affect relationships, I will focus on some of the tips I gleaned. However, I strongly recommend the book for a greater understanding as well as lots of helpful examples of how couples effectively managed various crises.

Recovery steps:

  • Remembering and mourning the event helps individuals to move it into their history, rather than their present.
  • Slowly the couple can begin to revisit the trauma to make sense of it. A spouse has an important role in listening to the partner’s feelings, memories, thoughts, and dreams.
  • The act of reconstructing an event to someone in a safe and protected relationship has been shown in research to produce changes in the way the brain processes a traumatic memory—helping a person move it to a part of their life story without the traumatic feelings associated.
  • Mourning the loss as a couple allows both spouses to slowly face and redefine the loss while supporting one another.
  • Even when a group of people experiences the same event, trauma disconnects people from those they trust and leaves them feeling isolated with their feelings, for example, blame, loss, shame or despair.  The authors say reconnection is the final and most crucial state of recovery from trauma, and state that the presence of a caring partner can be very helpful in establishing this reconnection.

In the first hours and weeks after a traumatic event, the authors say offering psychological first aid is important. This involves providing human connection, safety, basic needs, information and support. Partners often have the most soothing effect due to the compassion, long-term support and empathy they have built in their relationship.

The four principles of couples’ psychological first aid, according to Healing Together, are:

  1. Be a compassionate presence for each other—The physical presence of someone we find to be compassionate can reduce stress and hyperarousal after a traumatic event. Just being there when words do not suffice, and listening when words finally come, can be healing.
  2. Establish physical and psychological safety—A 2005 study showed if a person feels supported and cared for by others in the early hours after the event, there was a greater likelihood he or she would seek connection in the following days and months. Help the affected person to feel safe and secure, as well as accepted no matter what.
  3. Identify and respond to needs—Ensure your partner is sleeping and eating adequately, because their body may be so stressed as to neglect their basic needs. But don’t enforce solutions. Instead, simply ask how they are doing and offer to help. Try to reduce stress. The person suffering should try to use “I words” to express their needs, and perhaps suggest a solution. For example, “I feel lonely. I need to be with someone.” Needs that are not expressed or met, can over time lead to resentment.
  4. Offer practical assistance. For instance, you or another family member may offer to help with bill paying, errands or cooking meals.

Unfortunately, recovery from a traumatic event isn’t as simple as following a few tips or steps. Unexpected feelings, such as anger, depression or resentment, can enter the relationship. In fact, anger and hostility are associated with PTSD as a common response to trauma. And depression is a “common sequel” to the experience of trauma. Men may express depression by showing fatigue, irritability, and anger, according to a 2005 study by the National Institute of Mental Health. I found it reassuring to read that the expression of anger is not damaging in itself; it is simply a human emotion. However, anger can become part of a destructive path if not managed well.

The authors say, “We believe that anger can be managed effectively within a relationship if partners have a mutual commitment to respect and protect each other from destructive anger, use preventive steps and communication to control the escalation of anger, and take on the challenge of couple anger management.” Again, the book has many more specifics on how to respond to difficulties associated with trauma.

Next week, I will provide information to help couples recognize when professional help may be needed, as well as the importance of sharing dreams (the sleeping kind), and factors of resilience.

Is this a topic that hits close to home for you? Do you have experience recovering from a personal crisis? What words of experience do you have for those suffering from loss this holiday season?

Photo Credit: ©Stanisa Martinovic/PhotoXpress.com