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How to Support a Partner with PTSD

mens mental health

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is a mental health condition that is usually diagnosed after an individual experiences symptoms beyond one month following a traumatic event. PTSD symptoms may not show up until months, or even years later. There are three main types of symptoms that appear prior to being diagnosed:

  1. Difficulty sleeping, trouble concentrating, or being easily angered or agitated
  2. Avoidance of people, places, or activities that may remind the individual of the traumatic event
  3. Re-experiencing the traumatic event through dreams or flashbacks

According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, PTSD is a common condition and 7-8% of individuals will develop PTSD at some point in their lives. One of the most important things to remember is to try not to take the symptoms your partner may exhibit personally. Your partner may be less affectionate, show anger, or be more “on guard” and irritable. Supporting a partner suffering from PTSD can be overwhelming. Offering support to your partner can help make a difference for their recovery and ability to overcome PTSD symptoms. You can’t force your partner to get better, but you can provide support towards their healing process. Specifically, you can:

Offer Social Support

Your partner may withdraw from family and friends, but it’s important to continue to offer face-to-face support while still respecting boundaries. It may not be easy to show love and support to your partner as you did previously, but spending time together is important. Your partner may or may not want to talk about their experience. Letting them know that you’re there to listen if they do what to talk without pressuring them can be comforting.

Engaging in normal day-to-day experiences can help take their mind off of the traumatic experience. Exercising together, spending time with friends, or working on hobbies can allow you and your partner to spend quality time together in a non-threatening social situation. Just be sure that your partner is able to feel calm and safe doing whatever activity you choose to participate in.

Listen to Your Partner

Your partner may or may not want to share their experience with you. Don’t push them to talk if they’re not ready, but if they do choose to share, listen without judgment or expectations even if what they are sharing is hard to listen to. Be an active listener and don’t worry about necessarily giving advice, just make it clear that you care about what they have to say. In some cases, your partner may need to talk about their experience repeatedly. Letting them reshare is an important part of their healing process.

Work on Safety and Trust

Experiencing a trauma can make the world seem constantly dangerous and untrustworthy. Rebuilding a sense of security is important for your loved one’s recovery. Creating structure and routine for your partner creates stability and can minimize stress at home. It can be as simple as keeping regular meal times, grocery shopping together on the same day of the week, and creating a highly predictable schedule or them to follow. By maintaining consistency, you’ll allow them to rebuild trust.

Be Encouraging

Don’t be afraid to talk about your future together. Oftentimes, individuals with PTSD may feel that they are limited by their condition. By talking about future plans, you’re demonstrating that you believe they’re able to recover and have future success.

You should also encourage your partner to join a support group or seek out counseling. Being around other individuals going through a similar experience can help your partner not feel so alone in their struggle.

Help Manage Symptoms

Triggers that remind your partner of their trauma can set-off PTSD symptoms. Some triggers, such as fireworks for a combat veteran, are obvious while others are not. Triggers can be a person, place, thing, or situation. It may take time for triggers to present themselves, such as a particular song that was playing during the traumatic event, or even a distinct smell.  Dates and anniversaries can also be triggering to some individuals, or situations that have nothing to do with the event itself but evokes negative feelings, such as being in crowds or stuck in traffic.

Work with your partner to figure out the best way to help them cope and respond to their particular triggers. Knowing how to respond in the future gives you an actionable game plan to make the situation less stressful or to help them calm down quickly.

If your partner experiences flashbacks,you can help to remind them that even if it feels real, the event is not happening again. Help them control their breathing and reground themselves.

PTSD can manifest itself in many ways both physically and emotionally. Your partner may be moody, impulsive, or express anger. Trouble sleeping is also common and increases symptoms since they are also exhausted. If you feel that your partner is showing anger or agitation, try to remain calm and diffuse the situation as soon as you see the signs. Give them space and ask how you can help, but also keep your own safety in mind. Remove yourself from the situation if necessary. Don’t be afraid to call 911 if you feel your partner or yourself is in danger.

Take Care of Yourself, Too.

Don’t let yourself burnout caring for your partner. Many partners develop their own symptoms due to the stress and feelings of being overwhelmed. Get enough sleep, exercise, and eat healthy foods to maintain your own physical health. You should also take the time to develop and nurture your own support system. Lean on family, friends, or a counselor who can help you navigate caring for your partner and yourself.

Don’t be afraid to maintain your previous friendships, hobbies and activities. Reach out to others if you need to take a break from caring for your partner. By knowing your limits and creating healthy boundaries, you can be realistic about the care you’re capable of giving.

Remember, PTSD is not part of your partner’s personality. It is a mental health issue that can be treated through counseling, support and sometimes medication. Recovery has no set timeline, but with quality support, you can help your partner to have a better quality of life.

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