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PTSD and Relationships

a person holds their head in the background while their partner looks puzzled in the foreground as they struggle with PTSD and relationships

When a loved one suffers a major trauma, it’s natural to comfort them. But if weeks or months go by with no sign of the affected party “getting over it,” your sympathy may dissipate, and you may lose all desire to continue a relationship with someone who’s become a stranger anyway. This is a particular danger if the trauma survivor develops post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The connection between PTSD and relationships can be challenging to navigate, especially without professional support. 

At BRC Healthcare, we help people who have survived traumatic events and live with addiction. A major cornerstone of our PTSD treatment programs is a focus on family and relationship skills. We recognize that PTSD is not just a private struggle; it affects everyone in the trauma survivor’s life, from family and friends to partners and co-workers. That’s why we’re committed to helping our clients develop better communication skills, stronger emotional regulation abilities, and healthier methods of coping with their symptoms. Learn more about our trauma-informed addiction treatment services by calling today. 

What Is PTSD? 

PTSD is a mental health condition that occurs after a traumatic event. Symptoms can range from flashbacks to sleep disturbances and depression, among others. It’s important to understand that this is not the fault of the survivor; rather, it’s a natural reaction to something traumatic that has happened. 

Traumatic events that can lead to PTSD include: 

  • Military combat 
  • Natural disasters, such as earthquakes and floods 
  • Sexual assault 
  • Car accidents 

PTSD does not discriminate—it can affect anyone regardless of gender, age, or any other factor. It’s important to realize that PTSD is a real condition that requires treatment and support. 

Understanding More About PTSD 

Many people who experience trauma do not end up with PTSD—more than half the population endure some traumatic experience in their lifetimes, while only seven or either percent ever have the disorder. Still, it’s impossible to be certain whether (or how) any individual will be stricken. It’s known that: 

  • The severity of PTSD symptoms varies 
  • Men are 20% more likely than women to experience trauma, but women are two and a half times more likely to develop PTSD 
  • A strong human support network, plus time to rest and recuperate, can lessen the chances of the disorder’s development 

If someone already has PTSD, they still need human support to minimize damage and speed recovery. Which makes it doubly important to understand, and be prepared to deal with, the problem. Balancing symptoms of PTSD and relationships can seem impossible, but loving support can go a long way in managing the long-term effects of trauma. 

How PTSD Affects Relationships 

When you’re close to someone, your own feelings are tied up in whatever they go through. You’re likely to experience sympathetic shock, grief, and even physical pain on hearing the news. In the aftermath, you weep along as your loved one weeps on your shoulder. You struggle with fatigue and depression of your own, even as you take on extra duties to clear space for your loved one to recuperate. 

Normally, this proves temporary and bearable. When someone’s pain progresses to the PTSD stage, however, even those they’re closest to can find empathy being replaced by: 

  • Bewilderment – “I’ve done everything I can think of. Why are they still crying all day?” 
  • Guilt – “I should do more. I shouldn’t be impatient with them after what they’ve been through. I should have been there to protect them so the trauma wouldn’t have happened.” 
  • Resentment – “What happened wasn’t my fault—I’m sick of them taking it out on me. They just want everyone to keep pampering them forever. Traumatized or not, they know better than to drink so much.” 
  • Despair – “They’re beyond hope. The only way I can save my own sanity is to ignore them/stay away from home more/leave them altogether.” 

There are other ways that specific manifestations of PTSD can hurt relationships. If the trauma involved a sexual assault on an intimate partner, they may start avoiding all intimate contact—including with you—or you may feel that your “private territory” has been ruined by the “invasion.” 

Substance Use, PTSD, and Relationships 

Whatever the original trauma, close to half of people with PTSD also have substance use disorder—frequently developed from attempts to numb the PTSD via self-medicating—which is itself a major damage to relationships. People with substance use disorder typically: 

  • “Sneak” their substances in private, and lie about the extent of use 
  • Spend money needed for other purposes on drugs 
  • Humiliate or injure their loved ones through intoxicated behavior 
  • Deny there’s a problem, and become defensive and standoffish toward anyone who insists there is 

Helping your loved one find the support they need is key. 

How to Help Your Loved One 

Though it’s tempting to simply distance yourself from the mess, that won’t help your loved one—and it won’t really help your own guilt and pain. There are effective ways to help someone manage their PTSD. 

First, recognize this isn’t something you can fix. PTSD (not to mention addiction) is a mental health condition that requires professional treatment. Urge your loved one to see a specialist—and, whether or not they agree immediately, get counseling for yourself and other family members. You’ll need it to resolve your own feelings and determine the best ways to help. 

  • Take steps to reduce the risks of serious consequences – Especially, learn about suicide dangers and how to minimize them. 
  • Take care of yourself – Whatever your loved one needs, you can’t supply it if your own health is falling apart. Always leave yourself time for rest and favorite leisure activities. Hire a professional housekeeper or caretaker if need be. 
  • Find the middle ground between avoiding listening to your loved one and prodding for details they don’t want to share – Every person with PTSD has their own comfort zones for when talking helps and when it hurts. No matter how pained or curious you are, let them take the lead. 
  • Make up your mind to stay in this for the long haul—and to let the timeline work itself out – Trying to set your own schedule for someone else’s healing will only do the relationship additional harm. 

Managing your own anxiety and stress levels can reduce the tension between you. PTSD can be triggered by pressure from people who love them, so make sure to focus on your mental health as well. 

Trauma-Informed Treatment at BRC Healthcare 

PTSD is bad enough on its own. Combined with addiction, which frequently begins by using drugs to cope with the symptoms, it’s a new level of struggle. The road to recovery begins with acknowledging and treating both conditions. Contact BRC Healthcare by calling to learn about our dual diagnosis treatment options.