Being in a Relationship with Someone who has PTSD
Did you know that approximately one in every 11 people will be diagnosed with PTSD in their lifetime? If you are in a relationship with someone with PTSD, or considering forming a relationship, there are many things you should know. Being educated about PTSD can help you know what to expect, how to sympathize with what your partner is going through, and how to be a support system for them in times of need.
What is PTSD?
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that can occur when people experience or witness a traumatic event. Some examples of traumatic events that might cause PTSD include sexual violence, natural disasters, and serious injuries. PTSD can affect people of all ages and backgrounds. PTSD is treatable, and the earlier someone gets help for PTSD the greater the chance of recovery.
What Should I Expect When Dating Someone with PTSD?
While PTSD affects everyone differently, here are some items your partner may be experiencing:
#1 – Flashbacks
People who experience PTSD often relive moments of their traumatic event. They may have flashbacks of the actual event, or nightmares surrounding the event. Many things can trigger a flashback, such as a symbolic reminder of the event. For example it may be a date, a sound, a smell, a word or more. Frequent, intrusive thoughts of the event may play in their mind. PTSD doesn’t just affect the mind – it can affect the body too. People with PTSD may feel actual physical sensations when experiencing a flashback, such as pain or nausea.
#2 – Avoidance
People with PTSD have experienced trauma, and they may seek to avoid the feelings of distress caused by trauma. Avoidance comes in many different packages. People with PTSD may use alcohol or drugs as a coping mechanism. They may cut themselves off from family or friends, or they may avoid anything that reminds them of the trauma. They may feel physically or emotionally numb, or even detached from their body.
#3 – Feeling “on edge”
People with PTSD may experience symptoms that people with anxiety experience. They may feel overly alert, on edge, jumpy or startled. They may have troubles sleeping or concentrating.
#4 – Difficult Beliefs & Feelings
People with PTSD experience difficult beliefs and feelings. They may feel like no one understands them, or that they cannot trust anyone. They may blame themselves for the traumatic event, or feel other highly intense emotions such as guilt, sadness and shame. They may feel like certain situations or places are not safe, even if there is no relation to that situation/place and the traumatic event.
How Can I Help my Partner who has PTSD?
First, remember that you are not a mental health professional. The best thing you can do for your loved one is to help get them professional help. The second best thing you can do is to be there for them in a way that is healthy for both of you.
#1 – Check in With Your Partner
There are likely certain things that trigger your partner’s PTSD. One of the best things you can do for your partner is to check in on a frequent basis to understand their triggers and ensure that you’re creating a safe environment (and that you’ll know how to respond if the environment becomes triggering). Ask them what their triggers are, and actively try to understand the root of the trigger – is it a smell, a noise? Check in with them when you’re entering new environments and ask them if they’re feeling safe and secure. Having an open dialogue will help ensure you’re creating a safe environment and that you’re prepared to respond in a healthy way should anything become unsafe for your partner.
#2 – Help Form a Routine
Structure and routines provide a sense of safety. Consider what the routine in your relationship looks like and try to stick to it. Do you cook dinner together every night and then go for a walk? Do you wake up, make the bed, have coffee and read the news? Work with your partner to create a system that can provide a sense of safety and comfort.
#3 – Practice Patience & Understanding
It’s hard to walk in someone else’s shoes. One of the best things you can do for your partner is to understand that you cannot fully understand what they are going through. Their feelings are unique and they need your support. If an event becomes triggering, understand that you may need to change your plans to keep your partner safe. Ensure them that you are okay with this change of plans because you prioritize their safety.
#4 – Avoid Toxic Positivity
We’ve all been in situations before where someone has told us to “look to the bright side” and that “everything will be okay”. People often tell us these things when we are experiencing extremely uncomfortable situations, like the death of a loved one. Statements like this can minimize the feelings of the person experiencing trauma. Instead, try to sympathize with what your partner is feeling. Saying something like “I am sorry you are in so much pain” or “that sounds like it must be uncomfortable – I am here for you”. When we’re upset, were often looking for reassurance and support more than a solution.
#5 – Take Care of Yourself
We want to help as much as we can, but we’re only human! Remember that you cannot be there for your partner the way you’d like to be if you aren’t taking care of your own mental health. You cannot be there for your partner if you are overextended trying to be there for them. Be sure to take care of yourself first and remain vocal about what you need as well.
Get Started with Mental Health Treatment
Are you or a loved one ready to get started with mental health treatment? Mind Springs Health offers 12 outpatient locations throughout the Western slope. Learn how to make the first appointment today!