With the right strategies and support, you may be able to manage your PTSD and strengthen your relationships at the same time.
For some Veterans who have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), maintaining their relationships may be a challenge. Maybe you feel detached from those around you, like no one understands what you’re going through. Maybe your insomnia or nightmares are making it difficult for your partner to sleep at night. Maybe your loved ones avoid talking to you about important issues because they’re afraid they’ll upset you.
If you’re struggling with PTSD, it doesn’t mean you can’t build and maintain strong relationships. With the right strategies and support, you may be able to manage your PTSD and strengthen your relationships at the same time. Learn more about the impact PTSD can have on your relationships and some tips for managing it, as well as resources available to help.
How Can PTSD Impact My Relationships?
PTSD can cause challenges in your relationships in a variety of ways, including issues that may arise with communication, trust and closeness. This can include your relationships with a partner, your family members or your friends.
PTSD looks different for everyone, so the ways it may impact your relationships will vary as well, but many people with PTSD have common symptoms. These symptoms, such as hyperarousal, numbness and angry outbursts, may impact your relationships in the following ways:
- You may feel distant or numb to what’s going on around you. This PTSD symptom may make it difficult to open up and share your emotions. It may mean you have less interest in social activities or being intimate with your partner.
- You may go to great lengths to avoid your PTSD triggers. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), triggers or trauma reminders are places, people, sounds or situations that can trigger a memory of your trauma. If you’re triggered by loud noises or crowds, for example, you may be unwilling to leave your house or go on dates in public places.
- You may have trouble sleeping. PTSD can cause nightmares, flashbacks and insomnia. This can create tension with a partner who is also unable to sleep because of your PTSD symptoms.
- You may experience hyperarousal, which may make you feel constantly on edge or “keyed up.” This feeling may make it hard for you to relax and enjoy another person’s company.
- You may be angry. PTSD can lead to angry and emotional outbursts as you try to deal with your emotions. These outbursts can scare those around you or make your relationships strained or difficult. According to VA, families of Veterans with PTSD experience more physical and verbal aggression.
- You may be so consumed with managing your PTSD symptoms that you cannot give the people around you the time and attention they need. This may lead to your loved ones becoming resentful or burned out, as they take on more and more responsibilities at home.
How Can I Manage My Relationships?
Managing your relationships when you’re dealing with PTSD can be challenging, but with the right coping strategies, treatment and support, it’s still possible for you to maintain healthy and loving relationships with your partner, family members and friends. Check out these tips and discover what works best for you and your loved ones.
- Seek support from your family and friends. Isolation is a common reaction to PTSD, but research shows that a personal support network can help you cope with PTSD and strengthen your relationships at the same time. When you’re ready, share your feelings openly and honestly. Tell your loved ones about your PTSD symptoms and how they can help you cope.
- Educate the people around you. Education for your whole family, as well as your friends and even your coworkers, can help them understand how your PTSD impacts you daily. The more the people around you understand PTSD, the better they’ll be able to understand you.
- Figure out what your triggers are. If you know what your triggers are, you can put a plan in place to manage them. For example, if you’re triggered by loud noises, talk to your family and friends about keeping the volume on the TV down. If you’re triggered by crowds, discuss places for dates or family outings that feel safer to you. If you’re having a hard time expressing emotions physically or verbally, think of other ways to let people know you care, like little notes or small gifts.
- Get enough exercise. According to the National Library of Medicine, exercise can improve mental health by reducing anxiety, depression and stress. Consider movement and physical activity as a way to connect with loved ones. If sitting around the dinner table isn’t working, try taking a walk together or joining a yoga class. The combination of being together and being physically active may help you feel more connected.
- Determine what coping strategies work best for you. It’s important to have coping strategies that can help you manage your PTSD symptoms. These strategies are like tools in a toolbox that you can use to navigate your emotions and their impact on your relationships.
- Use breathing techniques. Slow and deep breathing is a strategy you can use anytime, anywhere to help calm you down and bring you back from a distressing thought or flashback. Experts suggest breathing in through your nose for four counts, holding for two more counts and then breathing out through your nose or pursed lips for six to eight counts. Check out Mindfulness and Meditation: An Easy Guide for Getting Started for additional ideas.
- Try a grounding technique. A grounding technique is something you do to help you remain grounded and stay in the present moment if you’re triggered by a flashback. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) suggests the 5-5-5 technique, where you name five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste.
- Replace negative thoughts with different ones. NAMI experts also suggest thinking positively for 12 seconds, where you really focus on something positive, such as a compliment you received, for 12 seconds, replacing stress-based thinking with positive emotions. Another suggestion is to temporarily distract yourself with techniques such as counting backward slowly from 100 or naming as many states as possible.
- Find an outlet. Many people who are experiencing PTSD have found relief from their symptoms in ways you may not expect. For example, many Veterans have used creative arts therapy to help them heal. This includes artwork, dance, music and more. Other Veterans have used service dogs to help manage their PTSD symptoms.
- Realize what you’re going through is normal. Having an ongoing response to trauma is normal and recovery happens little by little. The more you and your loved ones understand about dealing with the trauma and the effects of PTSD, the more likely you’ll be to understand and sympathize with one another.
- Get the treatment you deserve. Many treatment approaches recognize that PTSD can impact relationships. Talk to your health care provider about relationship issues you may be experiencing. You and your loved ones can seek treatment that includes one-on-one or group therapy, anger and stress management, couples counseling, support groups, family education classes, family therapy and much more. Remember, PTSD is treatable and consistent treatment can help. Work with someone who specializes in PTSD to get the treatment that’s right for you.
What Resources Are Available to Help?
- Research has shown the negative impact of PTSD on families. To support Veterans, VA offers several resources to help you and your loved ones manage your relationships.
- VA’s PTSD treatment programs include group counseling, couples therapy, family counseling and more.
- VA also offers a lot of self-help tools for coping with PTSD, including mobile apps, peer support groups, videos and much more.
- There are additional resources specifically for family members impacted by a loved one’s PTSD. For example, Coaching into Care, a free service for families and friends of Veterans, helps people figure out how to start conversations about mental health and getting mental health treatment.
- Make the Connection offers stories from Veterans about PTSD and its impact on their relationships.
Maintaining healthy and strong relationships takes work even in the best of times. When you’re suffering from PTSD, it can be even more challenging. However, understanding how PTSD can impact your relationships, having coping mechanisms and getting the treatment you deserve can help your relationships thrive.