You love your partner and want to support them, but PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) is a complex problem. How can you help? There are lots of ways that partners and partners of those who have experienced PTSD can help their loved ones as they struggle with this difficult and complex condition.
Educate yourself about PTSD
PTSD has many causes and symptoms, which is why it’s important that you learn as much as you can about it. This way you can be not only a supportive partner but also a resource and advocate too. We talk more about PTSD on our trauma page, and MIND has some general information about PTSD, with some ideas for family members. Combat Stress offers support for veterans, while the Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS trust publishes a useful self-help guide. Remember the saying, “Knowledge is Power!”
Be there for your partner
The most basic thing that you can do for your partner is to be there for them. It’s reassuring for them to know that if they have a flashback or other moment that triggers a PTSD response that they are with someone who is loving, supportive, and not judgmental toward them. If your partner is willing to talk about what they are feeling, hear them out and be a sounding board for them. Don’t dictate to or analyse them, just listen.
This tip comes with a safety warning, though. It‘s not generally helpful for someone suffering PTSD to talk in graphic detail about their trauma. And hearing too much detail can induce secondary trauma in the person listening to them. Be there for your partner, and allow them them to talk freely about their feelings, but avoid too much delving into the details of their trauma.
Be patient with your partner
Along with listening comes patience. It’s hard to see your loved one struggling with the fear and anxiety that comes with PTSD. If you knew your partner before PTSD, they may be different than how you remember them. It’s also hard to witness your partner being scared, afraid, or angry over situations that don’t warrant that kind of response. Yet these are the times when they need your patience and love the most.
Be encouraging with your partner
Be encouraging and help your partner stay positive. Even the small victories that happen each day are still victories. For example:
- Getting through the day without a PTSD incident.
- Experiencing joy or laughter.
- Sharing a loving, tender moment together.
- Completing a project.
- Getting to work.
- Having the ability to manage stress when it does occur.
We all need reminders now and again about how well we are doing, including your partner!
Develop a support system
Besides being positive with your partner when things go well, encourage your partner to develop a strong support system to positively cope with PTSD. For example:
- Networking with organizations for PTSD survivors.
- Participating in sports, hobbies, and activities that they enjoy.
- Attending counselling.
It will be important for your loved one to feel that they are understood and to know that they are not alone with this condition. You can point them in the right direction so that they develop a positive support system and don’t drift towards negative coping mechanisms such as alcohol or drugs.
Go to counselling with your partner
PTSD puts a unique strain on a marriage. Part of the process is you attending counselling with your partner. Couple’s counselling will help you both express your feelings in a safe place and learn how to better communicate with each other. A therapist will work with you both and provide new communication tools so that you can each understand where the other is coming from. Along with communication, you will learn stress management techniques.
Don’t forget to take care of yourself
When your partner has PTSD, it’s tempting to put your needs on the back burner to attend to them. This would be a mistake. In order to be helpful to your partner, you need to be able to take care of yourself too. That means eating healthy foods, exercising, and maintaining a sustainable life balance. Take time for yourself as often as you need to.
Helping your partner cope with PTSD means you will have to fill different roles and learn new skills. However, having your love and support is very important to your partner. With your help, he or she will have a better chance of living a full and happy life.
Getting further help
PTSD can be treated, although it’s not always easy to get access to the right services. We offer a variety of trauma focussed therapies including eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR), emotional freedom technique (EFT) and the comprehensive resource model (CRM). While counselling for PTSD is available on the NHS, it’s beyond the scope of their general self-referral service. It would require a GP referral.
We can also provide support for you, as you support your partner, or couple’s counselling as you work through this together.
If you would like to speak with one of our trauma counsellors, please contact us on 0151 329 3637 , email firstname.lastname@example.org or complete our online referral form. We would be happy to speak with you. Contacting us does not commit you to attend counselling with us. We are happy to provide general advice and signpost you to the most appropriate service.
Photo by Noah Buscher via usplash.com.