If you're dating someone with PTSD, your relationship may feel like a rollercoaster at times. Knowing about PTSD can help you support your partner, navigate your relationship, and create a solid foundation.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric condition that can manifest after experiencing or witnessing 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 and treatment. Despite its commonality, people with PTSD are often misunderstood.
Some PTSD symptoms may include:
It is important to note that no two people experience trauma and its aftereffects the same way, and coping with trauma is very personal. People with PTSD may develop any number of symptoms at varying levels.
How Does PTSD Impact Intimate Partner Relationships?
For people with PTSD, dating and relationships can be challenging in some cases.
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 continue to blame themselves for something that happened. This may cause them to believe that they are worthless or unlovable. These deeply held beliefs can impact their relationships in significant ways. When people with PTSD cannot see their value, they may push other people away to protect themselves—or in an attempt to protect others from them. This can make close relationships difficult to maintain.
Furthermore, people with PTSD in relationships may find it challenging to feel safe and secure even in healthy attachments. This lack of trust can make it difficult for those with PTSD to talk with their partners about their needs. A person who has trauma from past domestic or sexual violence or a past abusive relationship be wary of trusting new partners out of fear that they may end up reliving their pastor out of worry that the relationship will trigger challenging feelings and emotions.
If you or a loved one is experiencing relationship abuse or domestic violence, please seek help. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is free and private and offers support 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. The number is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). You can also text "START" to 88788 or start a live chat on the website at TheHotline.org. The Hotline provides essential tools and support to help survivors of domestic violence live their lives free of abuse.
Educate Yourself About PTSD
You know that old saying, "knowledge is power?" You might try to make this your mantra. Taking the time to learn about the effects of traumatic stress and treatment options can help you better understand and empathize with your partner and be knowledgeable about ways to support them.
Build And Maintain Healthy Boundaries
People with PTSD may struggle to set healthy boundaries within a relationship. Some people with PTSD may set rigid boundaries with their partners 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 to focus on something other than themself. When this happens, they may overshare personal information and focus all of their attention on caring for you. In any case, taking time to communicate with your partner and talking about setting healthy boundaries in your relationship for both of you can be a helpful step.
Learn Your Partner's Triggers
Even old trauma can create new wounds. People with PTSD may relive their past traumas when triggered by certain sights, sounds, scents, feelings, experiences, and more. Understanding your partner's triggers can help you learn what might be distressing to them. Suppose your partner can't identify specific triggers or doesn't feel comfortable discussing them. In that case, you might take note of what seems to be unusually upsetting to them in your day-to-day interactions. Recognizing behavioral or emotional changes may help you help your partner or teach you to prevent your partner from experiencing triggers when they are with you.
Often, people with PTSD feel unlovable. This feeling can be caused by a negative self-perception that has developed because of the trauma they've experienced. If you notice that your partner struggles to see their worth, reassuring them that they are valued and loved may be helpful. Even 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 in past relationships. If your partner comes to you for support, providing them with unconditional love and acceptance can be reassuring and encourage conversation. It can be helpful to refrain from reacting with shock if your partner shares details of past traumatic events; instead, consider a more positive response, such as thanking them for trusting you with such important information and letting them know that they are safe with you. This type of response can help validate your partner's feelings and let them know that you understand the profound significance of sharing their past and feelings with you. In turn, your partner may feel safer and more comfortable talking to you. They may know that you are not judging them for what has happened to them in the past, and, ultimately, they may choose to share more with you.
Shape A Safe Space
People who have PTSD may seldomly feel truly safe. While your partner may know that they are physically safe from harm, their past trauma may trick their brain into believing there is a constant threat of danger. Because of this, your partner may quickly become upset over small disagreements or perceived danger. They may then become overly apologetic, emotional, or even angry. To better support your partner, you might 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 this happens, you might try reminding yourself that this is likely their pain talking, not your partner. While their words may feel very personal, they may be more of an immediate (even if inappropriate) response to a particular stressor. Taking a deep breath and responding with kindness instead of anger can be a positive step and may help defuse the heightened emotions. However, if lashing out happens frequently, talking with your partner about how their words and actions affect you can be a smart step. You also deserve to be treated with kindness and respect.
You may have heard the saying, "Patience is a virtue." It certainly can be if your partner has PTSD. For example, 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 judgment, rejection, or triggering feelings. 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 ready to share it. Letting your partner tell their story in their own time can help build trust in the relationship.
Try to Help Strengthen Your Partner's Support System
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, which may have damaged their existing relationships. Furthermore, this trauma can also impact their future engagement in social activities. While your partner may feel they can come to you with anything, having a support system apart from you that they feel comfortable turning to can help them heal. This expanded network can feel a greater sense of connection within their community and rebuild their confidence. If your partner has not had support from a licensed mental health professional or would benefit from more therapy, you might respectfully discuss this with them and offer to help them find a therapist who would be a good fit. Some excellent therapists offer trauma-informed care. They can offer support to your partner. They may also be a good resource for you to learn how to best support and be in a healthy relationship with someone living with PTSD). Other options for support may include PTSD survivors' groups or groups for those in relationships with PTSD survivors.
No matter how much you love your partner, caring for someone with PTSD may be both physically and emotionally draining at times. Neglecting your own needs to prioritize your partners may create contempt or resentment within your relationship. You can sustainably provide your partner with love and understanding is to take care of yourself first. Consider setting aside some time each week to work on your mental health; take some time to exercise, eat healthy meals, engage with friends/family, and enjoy much-needed "me-time" by doing something you love.
If TLC doesn't fully recharge your battery, you might consider seeking professional help. When you are dating someone with PTSD, you may inherently be helping them carry the weight of their emotions. If this weight gets too heavy for you to handle, support from a mental health professional can help you process your emotions in a safe and private environment. This support may come from individual or couple's therapy or even from a therapeutic support group for partners with PTSD. You might consider reaching out to ReGain's a team of licensed mental health professionals for therapy. Many provide trauma-informed mental healthcare and relationship counseling.
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