Effects of PTSD on Relationships If Both Partners Have PTSD
The effects of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) on relationships when both partners have PTSD create both problems and benefits. Living in the aftermath of trauma is difficult enough on its own, but navigating a relationship in which both partners have PTSD can be an emotional minefield. Fortunately, learning how to be in a relationship with someone who has PTSD is easier to understand when you live with PTSD too.
My husband and I both have PTSD. Though it may sound strange, sharing PTSD is part of the reason we bonded so quickly after we met (we married a week after our one year anniversary). Although we developed posttraumatic stress disorder as the result of different--but not wholly dissimilar--traumas, we have some of the same symptoms, and are able to understand the daily burden of pain we each experience. Love is not only based on positivity and tenderness; being understood is powerfully attractive as well.
In my experience, the effects of PTSD on relationships when living with a partner who also has PTSD have both benefits and pitfalls. This checks out with the experiences of other couples I've interviewed and read about. I'm not a psychological expert, but the following is a list of the benefits and disadvantages I've gathered about being involved with someone who also has PTSD.
The Effects of PTSD on Relationships
The Benefits of Both Partners Having PTSD in Romantic Relationships
- Flat affect: Although the symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder differ greatly, one symptom that many of us share is flat affect. To the average onlooker this can be interpreted as anger or boredom. At best, it gets the label: "resting face." For those of us who have PTSD ourselves, we recognize that the other person isn't mean or angry; he simply feels detached from or has difficulty expressing his emotional self outwardly.
- Mood swings: People with posttraumatic stress disorder are afflicted by shortened emotions. Those we feel, however, tend to be intense, abrupt, and often negative. Rage is a feeling that I access more easily than other emotions, for example. Not to say that I'm abusive, I just become angry easily (research shows that PTSD and anger are only slightly linked). My husband understands that, and is usually quick to forgive, and vice-versa.
- Unusual behavior: It's not fun (or sometimes possible) to explain why you need to avoid a certain street that would make your route home quicker, or can't answer the knock on the door, or need to--yet again--cancel a date. When the person you live with also has PTSD, you probably don't need to explain these things, or at least not as much as you would otherwise. Likely, she does them sometimes too, so the effects of PTSD on your relationship, in this case, would be slight. Ultimately, the most beneficial aspect of having a partner who also has PTSD is that she understands your symptoms, and loves you without needing you to explain them.
PTSD Relationship Problems When You Both Have PTSD
- Triggering each other: PTSD manifests differently in different people, and intimacy issues in PTSD can arise. What helps one person feel safe may trigger or even violate the other person. In a rather extreme example, when my husband feels triggered, he enjoys having sex or even just cuddling or touching in a sensual, romantic way. Because my trauma involved teenage sexual abuse, that type of touch is sometimes extremely triggering to me. There are times when my husband unwittingly causes me to dissociate or have intrusive, negative memories simply by cuddling me for comfort.
- Being triggered by the same thing or at the same time: In her essay, Tales From The Other Side: A Neurochemical Romance, Survival Is A Talent, blogger August Blair describes a time when she and her partner could not even complete a shopping trip at the grocery store because they were both so triggered and anxious.1 Their anxiety and accusatory, one-upping behavior toward one another led them to leave without making a single purchase. This caused them to feel "sorry for [themselves] because [they] cannot even get groceries without having a meltdown."
- Not giving the other person space to heal: If you keep very stringent track of Trauma! A PTSD Blog's schedule, then you know this post is a couple days late. That's because my husband and I recently shared a troubling experience. It was not nearly as traumatic as what caused our PTSD, but it was upsetting and triggering for both of us.
- Because this event affected larger aspects of my husband's life than mine, he was more triggered than me and required more attention. He also reacted more severely (at least outwardly). Because the trauma involved being abandoned by a crucial part of his support system, I became his entire de facto support system. But I needed support too. So in this instance, the effects of PSTD on our relationship were hurtful. His need harmed me because it ended up forcing me into a sole caretaker role that I was not equipped to embody. It was not his fault. Sometime, the situation will undoubtedly be reversed--that's a part of living with PTSD in intimate relationships.
Finding a partner who understands the unique pain and trials that accompany life with posttraumatic stress disorder can be a relieving break from romantic partners who just don't get it. On the other hand, you may both need a level of care from each other that you or your partner might sometimes find difficult to provide.
Many will say that people who have a mental illness should wait to be in a relationship until they have dealt with the bulk of their issues. Because PTSD can have such a long healing period that is so intensely connected to a need for a community, it may be hard to resist connecting romantically with someone who understands you. Hopefully, this anecdotal list will help you determine whether dating someone else who has posttraumatic stress disorder is right for you.
- Tales From The Other Side: A Neurochemical Romance by August Blair.
Brico, E. (2017, December 8). Effects of PTSD on Relationships If Both Partners Have PTSD, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, October 22 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/traumaptsdblog/2017/12/you-and-partner-have-ptsd
Author: Elizabeth Brico
Love always wins. Love will find a way. " Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails." (1 Corinthians 13:7-8).
If each spouse has PTSD and genuinely loves the other spouse, notwithstanding the symptoms of PTSD that manifest, and are divisive; a commitment to 'pursue love', and remain committed to the marriage and each other 'in sickness and in health' will lead to a self sacrificing compassion toward one another and acting in a way that demonstrates that. Not seeking one's own way, not being proud or selfish, but seeking the good of the other (at least when you are able) will yield tremendous results. As anyone with PTSD knows, what we need is "unconditional" love, acceptance, understanding, grace, mercy, and forgiveness. When one knows that is what one needs to make it, then it follows that one's spouse ALSO needs that. A marriage in which each partner does his or her level best to make choices that give to the spouse what they need (at least when one is able), will produce a safe, secure, and loving place for each to heal. Failures will occur because each spouse will have their episodes of PTSD. And sometimes the effects of PTSD will be present in both spouses at the same time. At those times each spouse will be needy and not so able to give what is needed to their spouse. God promises to help us with Grace in those times. If we pursue love and make conscious choices to love without condition, accept the PTSD of our spouse, bear, believe, hope, and endure without demanding our own way, it is guaranteed that LOVE will not fail. Before giving up and giving in to the lure of divorce and the 'promise' of greener pastures on the other side of the fence, take three months and give yourselves to this instructive passage of scripture. Pursuing love is not about pursuing a feeling, it is about pursuing actively by making practical choices to behave towards your spouse in this way. Do this and you WILL see results!
My now-ex and I both have PTSD, and we trigger each other because what we need in these moments are opposite. There was also an incident last month that affected both of us; I relate strongly to your husband in the "space to heal" section. After six years, we're both finally working with doctors (I did 6-7 years ago, but it's time to finish the work, plus last month set things off worse than ever). But we love each other, so how do we not lose each other?? We're on the brink right now. I constantly feel abandoned by my person, and I freak out on him, pushing him further. If we need to take x amount of time, fine, but I need to save us. He's too avoid-y to say the same, but whenever I've pulled back, he asks me not to... until this last week. How do we keep temporary responses from ending us permanently? This is the only... Why aren't there resources for when both partners have PTSD? Sorry, I've been super emotional lately.
How did you negotiate the space you needed to heal? I'm in a similar situation, where my girlfriend relies solely on me, but i'm not able to fulfil her needs for support because i'm suffering from PTSD myself. I want to go away for a few days with my friends to recover, but she won't let me because she thinks i'm abandoning her. Any advise would be great!
My boyfriend uses ptsd as a reason to be going off he destroys things pushes me down an screams he also does drugs. I have PtSD also from a tragic life...cursed If you will,he sets me off into a mania, I feel I am doomed I am scared of him! help ...broken soul
I feel your pain. I’m in the same boat. Hopefully therapy will help us. ❤️
That situation is toxic and you need to remove yourself till he gets help. All situations where there is abuse only escalate. Drug use can not be tolerated on top of the rest. Either one of those situations is unsafe and the ONLY resolution is to part. I know that it so hard to hear and likely won't be received. I've been in those tight spots and I know beyond any doubt it ONLY gets worse because while you are there, he has NO REASON in his mind to seek help.
I like your emphasis on finding a way out of things. Sometimes I feel that friends can be quite destructive by over sympathizing. I remember the best description of sympathy is that it is a word in the dictionary between sh*t and syphallis !