While many people realize that a person’s exposure to traumatic events such as combat or terrorism can create significant physical and mental challenges, there may be less awareness about how these events also affect that person’s loved ones. Post-traumatic stress (often called PTSD) can have a profound impact on relationships, including those with family members and friends.
Symptoms of PTSD
Up to 3 percent of the population is likely experiencing PTSD at any given time. While the condition presents itself slightly differently in each person, many common symptoms have the potential to disrupt relationships.
For example, some people with PTSD may feel emotionally numb and distanced from others. These feelings may be accompanied by a decreased interest in both social and sexual activities. Others may feel constantly jumpy, anxious, or worried, and this constant need to be “on-guard” may make it impossible to relax or develop intimacy. Anger and impulse-acting can likewise be problems.
Activities that people without PTSD are able to experience without issue are also often problematic for PTSD sufferers. For example, an individual may avoid activities that trigger memories or make him or her feel out of control, such as being in crowded areas or traveling by airplane. Sharing a bed with a partner may also be difficult if the person with PTSD has trouble sleeping or is prone to nightmares.
PTSD negatively impacts relationships. But for victims, there is always hope.
Impact of PTSD on Relationships
Researchers have known for decades that PTSD negatively impacts relationships. In fact, the National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study found that veterans with PTSD were twice as likely to divorce, three times as likely to divorce more than once, and generally had shorter relationships than veterans who didn’t develop PTSD.
Because the symptoms of PTSD often directly impact areas that are critical for strong relationships, it’s common for friends and partners to feel cut-off or hurt. The stress of caring for someone who is constantly on-edge can be draining and may even make loved ones feel like they have also experienced a trauma.
Seeking Help can Bring About Healing
Although PTSD can make relationships more challenging, providing social support is one of the most important ways to help someone who is suffering from PTSD. Where possible, encouraging someone who has been through a trauma to develop a broad support system rather than relying entirely on just one or two people can be beneficial for everyone.
Professional help can also be an invaluable tool. Ideally, try to identify a therapist who has experience with PTSD and with treating families and couples.
Also, the effects of PTSD aren’t limited to the person who experienced the trauma initially. PTSD can impact how a person interacts with everyone around him or her, and re-learning to navigate those relationships may require patience, understanding, and professional support.
For PTSD victims, there is always hope.
At Warriors Heart, we understand the extreme levels of psychological hurt that first responders endure. Our treatment programs are specifically designed to heal damage caused by post-traumatic stress. If you’re struggling, reach out to us, and begin your path to healing.