PTSD and relationships

Understanding Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness Day is marked on June 27 worldwide.

It is a day to recognise the effects post-traumatic stress has on the lives of those affected by it.

PTSD is increasingly a common topic, but it isn’t well understood by the average person. We often associate PTSD with soldiers returning from war or those who have survived living in a warzone for years.

However, any traumatic event can lead to PTSD. Recent estimates indicate that almost 800,000 Australians manage PTSD, making it the second most common mental illness in the country.

The good news is that PTSD can be effectively managed through a combination of medication and therapy. What is most important, however, is identifying PTSD as soon as possible; the longer the disorder goes untreated, the more difficult it can be to break the traumatic patterns and begin to heal.

PTSD can also have a substantial impact on family and intimate relationships. Understanding PTSD can help to improve relationships with those affected.

What is PTSD?

PTSD stands for post-traumatic stress disorder. The condition can arise after a person has experienced significant trauma. The trauma can be a singular event, such as

  • a car crash,
  • a severe weather event, like a bushfire
  • or assault

PTSD can also occur when someone has survived a long-term situation such as

  • Child abuse or neglect
  • Domestic abuse
  • Living in a warzone

Sufferers may have symptoms like sleep disorders, reliving traumatic events (flashbacks) and emotional numbing (an inability to feel positive emotions).

These symptoms can be challenging for partners or family members. If a partner is regularly waking from nightmares or night terrors, it’s unlikely either person is getting a good night’s sleep. Emotional numbing can make it feel like a partner isn’t cared for or desired.

Some people with undiagnosed or untreated PTSD may also be prone to angry outbursts or threatening behavior.

Understanding PTSD and knowing when to seek help can assist with building supportive relationships.

It’s Less Frightening When You Know What’s Going On

The symptoms of PTSD – nightmares, depression, angry outbursts, flashbacks, isolation – can be difficult to deal with. You may want to help your partner, but not know how. It may even seem like your attempts to help – getting someone to go out and do something they used to find fun, for example – are counterproductive.

Once there is a PTSD diagnosis, you at least know what’s going on. You can encourage and support your partner during treatment. However, while a strong support network of friends and loved ones can assist with managing PTSD, often the symptoms tend to drive people away.

Family therapy, in addition to one-on-one therapy, may be one strategy to improve relationships at home.

Family Therapy Can Help with Issues Beyond PTSD Symptoms

Family therapy is often designed around how to support an individual with PTSD through healthy family habits. Therapy can help participants understand why someone is behaving in a way that may seem contrary to their nature.

PTSD often wreaks havoc on family boundaries. People get used to tip-toeing around to try and avoid triggering anger, flashbacks or depression. Family therapy can help partners and children understand what is – and what is not – their responsibility.

Kids, In Particular, Can Suffer From Undiagnosed PTSD

We often think about the effect of PTSD on the individual and their partner. However, in families, children can also be affected in a household where someone has undiagnosed or unmanaged PTSD.

While adults may think they’re protecting children, kids are generally more aware than we expect. They may not understand why their parent is suddenly withdrawn, then angry, then exhausted, then angry again. Without an explanation, they can feel that this is their fault.

Kids living in environments where they don’t feel safe, or where they feel disproportionally responsible for what’s happening around them, are at higher risk for depression and anxiety disorders throughout their life. Getting treatment and managing PTSD is important for the health of everyone in the family.

Diagnosis Can Help You Acknowledge That You Need Breaks

One serious problem in relationships where someone has PTSD is that the caregiver can begin to overwhelm themselves with taking care of their struggling partner. With a diagnosis of PTSD, you may be able to see that you can’t cure someone else’s mental illness. You can begin to reach out to other family members or loved ones for support for yourself or opportunities to get away from home to rest and recharge.

How Do You Get Help?

If you are struggling with recovering after a trauma, talk to a health professional to help diagnose and treat any issues.

If you are a partner to someone who is struggling, you don’t need to wait for them to be diagnosed to seek help for yourself. In fact, getting your own mental health care can help maintain your boundaries and keep yourself from burning out. If you have children, this may be the right way to support them as you and your partner seek a balance in your relationship.

To find out how we can help you, talk to the team at Psychological Health Care today.