PTSD And Me: Dating Someone With PTSD
Updated July 13, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Amy Brown
If you’re dating someone with PTSD, your relationship may feel like a rollercoaster. While your partner’s mood may not always be stable, your relationship can be.
What Is PTSD?
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric condition that can manifest after someone has experienced or witnessed a traumatic event. Affecting nearly 8 million adults every year in the United States, PTSD is an incredibly common condition that can be overcome with the right support system. Despite its commonality, people with PTSD are often misunderstood.
What Are The Symptoms Of PTSD?
Some PTSD symptoms may include:
- Dissociation from reality (having flashbacks to a traumatic event);
- Distressing dreams and nightmares;
- Invasive, upsetting thoughts or memories;
- Difficulty remembering the details of a traumatic incident;
- Sleep disruptions;
- Feelings of detachment or numbness;
- Physical reactions to reminders of past trauma;
- Disinterest in preferred activities;
- Active avoidance of anything associated with past trauma;
- Development of a negative self-perception or world-view;
- Difficulty concentrating on everyday tasks; and
- Constant feelings of fear, anger, shame, or guilt.
It is important to note that no two people experience trauma in the exact same way and that there is no one right way to cope with trauma. People with PTSD may develop any number of these symptoms to varying levels of severity.
How Does PTSD Impact Intimate Partner Relationships?
For people with PTSD, dating can be incredibly difficult.
People say that “we accept the love we think we deserve.” For people with PTSD, truer words have never been spoken. While many survivors know that their past trauma is not their fault, some may still continue to blame themselves for what happened, causing them to believe that they are worthless or unloveable. These deeply-held beliefs can impact their relationships in a big way. When people with PTSD aren’t able to see their own value, they may push other people away in an attempt to protect themselves (or an attempt to try and protect others from them), making close relationships difficult to maintain.
Furthermore, people with PTSD who are in relationships may struggle to feel safe and secure in those attachments. Trauma from domestic or sexual violence may make someone wary of trusting new partners out of fear that they may end up reliving their past. This lack of trust can make it difficult for those with PTSD to talk with their partners about their needs.
PTSD from your Partner’s Perspective: Learning to Love Someone with PTSD
Educate Yourself About PTSD
You know that old saying “knowledge is power?” Go ahead and make this your personal mantra. Taking the time to learn about the effects of traumatic stress and treatment options can help you better understand and even empathize with your partner.
Build And Maintain Healthy Boundaries
People with PTSD may struggle to set healthy boundaries within a new relationship. Some people with PTSD may set rigid boundaries with their partners in an attempt to protect themselves from being hurt again. Because of this, they may be slow to open up to you or struggle to trust the things you say to them. Conversely, your partner may also adopt porous boundaries to try and focus on something other than themself. When this happens, they may overshare personal information and/or focus all of their attention on caring for you or another person. In either capacity, you must take some time to sit down with your partner and talk about setting healthy boundaries in your relationship.
Learn Your Partner’s Triggers
Even old trauma can create new wounds. People with PTSD often relive their past traumas when triggered by certain sights, sounds, scents, or feelings. Take some time to talk with your partner about their triggers so you can learn to avoid these later on. If your partner can’t yet identify specific triggers, take note of what seems to be unusually upsetting to them in your day-to-day interactions. Recognizing these behavioral changes early on can help you ensure your partner doesn’t have to continue reliving these experiences when they are with you.
Often, people with PTSD feel unloveable. This is typically caused by a negative self-perception that has been developed because of the trauma they’ve experienced. When you notice that your partner is struggling to see their own worth, take some time to remind them that they are valued and loved. These little assurances can go a long way.
Create Open Lines Of Communication
Someone with PTSD may find it difficult to communicate their thoughts or needs with a current partner, especially if they’ve had negative experiences with dating in the past. When your partner does come to you for support, provide them with unconditional love and acceptance. Refrain from acting shocked when your partner shares details of past traumatic events; instead, consider thanking them for trusting you with such important information and letting them know that it is safe with you. This type of response helps to validate your partner’s feelings and lets them know that you understand the importance of them sharing this with you. This can, in turn, cause your partner to feel safer and more comfortable talking to you, knowing that you are not judging them for what has happened and, ultimately, they may choose to share more of their past with you because of this.
Shape A Safe Space
People suffering from PTSD seldom feel truly safe. While your partner may know that they are physically safe from harm, their past trauma may trick their brain into believing that there is a constant threat of danger. Because of this, your partner may quickly become upset over small disagreements or perceived danger, causing them to potentially act abnormally apologetic or angry. To better support, your partner, ask them about what safety means to them and how you can help them feel safe when you’re together.
Don’t Take It Personally
Many people with PTSD struggle to come to terms with their past every day. Often, survivors of traumatic events may lash out at others when they are feeling particularly vulnerable. If and when this happens, remind yourself that this is pain talking, not your partner;. At the same time, their words may feel very personal, they are usually nothing more than an immediate (albeit inappropriate) response to a particular stressor. Take a deep breath and choose to respond with kindness as opposed to anger; your partner will probably see the pain they’ve caused and apologize anyways. If this happens frequently, consider talking with your partner about how their words and actions affect you.
Be Patient With Your Partner
Patience is a virtue you must have if your partner has PTSD. While many of us want to know everything about our partners, people with PTSD may be hesitant to share their stories with you out of fear of judgement or rejection. Instead of asking your partner about what happened to them, let them know that you are willing to listen to their story if and when they are ever ready to share. Letting your partner tell their story in their own time helps empower them to make the decision to trust you.
Build Your Partner’s Support System Up
People with PTSD may struggle to stay connected with members of their support systems. Past trauma may have caused your partner to push away their friends and family, damaging their existing relationships. Furthermore, this trauma can also impact their future engagement in social activities. While your partner should be able to come to you with anything, make sure they also have a support system outside of you that they feel comfortable turning to when they need to talk. This expanded network can allow them to feel a greater sense of connection within their community and help them rebuild their confidence.
No matter how much you love your partner, caring for someone with PTSD can be both physically and emotionally draining. Neglecting your own needs to prioritize your partner’s is a surefire way to create contempt within your relationship. The only way you can sustainably provide your partner with the love and understanding they need is to take care of yourself first. Consider setting aside some time each week to work on your own mental health; take some time to exercise, eat a healthy meal, engage with friends/family, or just enjoy your much-needed “me-time” by doing something you love.
If some TLC doesn’t fully recharge your battery the way, it normally would consider seeking professional help. When you are dating someone with PTSD, you are inherently helping them carry the weight of their emotional baggage. When this baggage gets to be too heavy for you to handle, extra support from a mental health professional can help you process your emotions in a safe and confidential environment without having to unload on your partner. This support may come from 1:1 or couple’s therapy or even a therapeutic support group for partners of people with PTSD. Don’t know where to go for help? Consider reaching out to ReGain’s team of trauma-informed mental health professionals for assistance.