Are you in a relationship or does your marriage face Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or Complex PTSD (CPTSD)? If your answer is yes, you may have come to learn that there are all sorts of issues. Even more, issues on top of those that come without PTSD involved. PTSD is often misunderstood as it is but adding a relationship to the mix will create a whole different kind of journey. Being married with PTSD doesn’t mean that you are doomed, just that it requires a little more work and love.
For example, think about the typical frustrations and challenges of marriage. You may think of finances and parenting styles. In addition, sharing roles in the home like chores, income earning, vehicle maintenance, meal preparation, and the list goes on. Married with PTSD brings on a myriad of complications. Take all of that and add a psychological injury on top. In essence, giving you a marriage with PTSD. First, let’s quickly review a few details pertaining to PTSD. This will give you a better perspective as to why it complicates being married with PTSD further.
PTSD Basics & Statistics
PTSD is an invisible disease that affects more people than you may realize. According to statistics last updated in 2013, PTSD currently affects 44.7 people across the world. This includes both combat and non-combat related PTSD and CPTSD. During a traumatic event the brain locks out the part of the brain used for soothing, creativity, and memory. Therefore, when your body senses danger, brain prepares your body for survival. Then, after you don’t feel threatened any more the soothing part of your brain re-activates to sooth your anxiety and adrenaline.
PTSD Brains & How They Function
PTSD is known by professionals in the psychological industries as a psychological injury. In fact, PTSD comes without a cure. Technically, one part of the brain that gets injured, due to shrinkage, helps us distinguish between past and present memories. Then, the injury causes activity in another area in the brain to increase. This part of the brain helps process emotions and contributes to our natural fear responses. Our fear responses include fight or flight reactions. Finally, the third portion of the brain injury affects what manages our reactions to various negative exposures (stimuli). Additionally, this also shrinks due to PTSD.
As you can see, a person with PTSD has a brain that functions differently. Essentially, their brain gets stuck in the fight or flight, prepare for danger, state. In turn, this prevents the traumatic event to process as a memory. In turn, this causes multiple memory problems. Instead, it is re-occurring for the trauma victim, playing on loop. The symptoms that derive from one’s brain preparing your body and senses for danger also get stuck “on”. These symptoms are very intense, leaving you or your partner in a challenging way. However, PTSD affects everyone differently. But, one thing is true, those in relationships or being married with PTSD have it harder than those without the disease.
Information about Being Married with PTSD
There isn’t a couple out there, who are married with PTSD, who have expressed their relationship had improved since the diagnosis. What I have noticed in my marriage facing PTSD is that during the first year following my husband’s diagnosis was the worst year. That being said, it did eventually improve. Improvement takes a lot of work from both partners. Following diagnosis was a home full of toxicity, pain, conflict, and instability. Due to the horrific PTSD episodes that took place, being married with PTSD compounded our issues. We both had to make some changes.
Initially, my husband realized that he needed therapy but he did not work his therapy. Instead, he fell victim to his condition and dwelled in that victimizing head space. Because I am a supportive partner, I stayed with it hoping and praying for peace and relief for my husband. Because he did not embrace his journey and continued to ensue hellacious episodes, I was at a loss. Much like you may be, in your marriage or relationship facing PTSD today. Through my therapy I learned of something called a “Healing Separation”. First off, divorce and separation were never an option for me. Equally, the safety of my children was and is priority.
What is a Healing Separation for those Married with PTSD?
Through therapy a couple dealing with PTSD will learn about taking a time-out and using a “safe-word” in order to do so. For example, our safe-word was “superhero”. When either of us spoke this word, it indicated that anxieties were flying high and we needed a time-out. When the environment gets heated and PTSD symptoms are engaged, a time-out is necessary for both of you to stop, calm down, and reset.
But what do you do when your time-out methods do not work anymore? What if you need a longer time apart than what ten or twenty minutes gives you? Of course, this sounds bad – like a separation. Separation has such a bad wrap because of the association to divorce. This is exactly why this was named “Healing Separation“. Regardless, your goal is to build a stronger marriage with PTSD. In turn you will gain a stable and peaceful home for your family.
Achieving A Healthy Mindset
A healing separation allows those married with PTSD the time and space needed to get into a better head space. You two need to distance yourselves as far as possible to allow new energy into your home. Additionally, you want peaceful time in order to collect your thoughts and ground yourselves. Whereas, if you remain in the same area, harsh words are exchanged, altercation can escalate quickly, and toxicity sets in. Hence, a healing separation will allow you to salvage what you have. Specifically, try to avoid using irrevocable behavior and words while giving any PTSD symptoms to subside appropriately.
Due to tendencies for abusive behaviors, intense rage, and hours of uncontrollable aggression, your marriage with PTSD episodes may need major repairs. And that’s okay. You are not the alone and should not feel ashamed for what has happened in the past. The good news is that you are reading this article looking for answers to help improve your marriage or relationship. With the same token, you are doing all that you can to save what is most important to you and your partner.
Preparing For Healing Separation
Prior to stomping off in different directions or threatening to leave the home or marriage, it’s best to plan to avoid this. Before things get to that point, have the healing separation details agreed upon. Save it in your back pockets in case you need to enact it. In like manner, you both will know what to expect a head of time. It will be very helpful in knowing what your healing separation looks like. And, the best part, you can always adjust the terms as you go. This has been found helpful for those trying this kind of “time-out” for the first time.
Decide if one of you will leave the home and where will that partner stay throughout your healing process. Couples with children, who are married with PTSD affecting their family, need to determine if it’s in the best interest of the child/children to set up visiting times. Explaining what the parents are doing is important for the children too. This will eliminate confusion and minimize pain for your little ones. Sharing the time 50/50 may be ideal, however, depending on your circumstances it may not be the best for your kids.
Agree on how long your healing separation with last. Will it be for two weeks? Perhaps a month is more appropriate. My husband and I have tried a couple of days and realized very quickly that it wasn’t long enough. Two weeks are our minimum. And, two months has been our longest time healing apart.
Be sure to select who will take on certain roles. Needless to say, you don’t want to assume that your spouse is paying the bills and they are assuming that you are paying them. Fine-tuning all of these little aspects in advance will alleviate tons of confusion. Stick with any routines previously set up to preserve normalcy. Another thing to consider is whether or not the two of you will spend any time together during your break. Some couples will agree to a date night once a week. In reality though, if you two are playing a game of bowling, and the conversation turns south, the date ends and you two separate again. After all, date nights are supposed to be fun right?
Provided that you do see each other, is intimacy an option? It’s crucial to identify this in your plan. Marriage with PTSD needing a healing separation may benefit from that level of connection. And then again, the two of you could be so drained and damaged that sex is not even on your minds. Either way, it is important to realize, whether you like it or not, that sex and intimacy is crucial for any marriage to succeed. This time of healing will get you back to the loving and intimate place that makes a marriage with PTSD stronger. In general, anyone in a relationship needs to feel loved, appreciated, and safe before they find themselves engaging sexually.
Married with PTSD: Heal Your Connection
Enacting a healing time-out does not mean that you are that much closer to a divorce. It will take a while to get your head wrapped around it. Actually, it is pretty uncomfortable to even think about. But after the first “time-out”, you will be closer and feel renewed. A healing separation is exactly what your marriage with PTSD is in desperate need of. Below is a downloadable Healing Separation Agreement, the same one that my husband and I have used, revised, reused, and still initiate to this date if need be.
Important to point out, after you figure out what works for you and your honey, the healing separations become fewer and shorter as time goes on. This saved my marriage with PTSD, let it save yours too.
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