Effects of PTSD on Relationships If Both Partners Have PTSD
The effects of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) on relationships when both partners have PTSD create both problems and benefits. Living in the aftermath of trauma is difficult enough on its own, but navigating a relationship in which both partners have PTSD can be an emotional minefield. Fortunately, learning how to be in a relationship with someone who has PTSD is easier to understand when you live with PTSD too.
My husband and I both have PTSD. Though it may sound strange, sharing PTSD is part of the reason we bonded so quickly after we met (we married a week after our one year anniversary). Although we developed posttraumatic stress disorder as the result of different--but not wholly dissimilar--traumas, we have some of the same symptoms, and are able to understand the daily burden of pain we each experience. Love is not only based on positivity and tenderness; being understood is powerfully attractive as well.
In my experience, the effects of PTSD on relationships when living with a partner who also has PTSD have both benefits and pitfalls. This checks out with the experiences of other couples I've interviewed and read about. I'm not a psychological expert, but the following is a list of the benefits and disadvantages I've gathered about being involved with someone who also has PTSD.
The Effects of PTSD on Relationships
The Benefits of Both Partners Having PTSD in Romantic Relationships
- Flat affect: Although the symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder differ greatly, one symptom that many of us share is flat affect. To the average onlooker this can be interpreted as anger or boredom. At best, it gets the label: "resting face." For those of us who have PTSD ourselves, we recognize that the other person isn't mean or angry; he simply feels detached from or has difficulty expressing his emotional self outwardly.
- Mood swings: People with posttraumatic stress disorder are afflicted by shortened emotions. Those we feel, however, tend to be intense, abrupt, and often negative. Rage is a feeling that I access more easily than other emotions, for example. Not to say that I'm abusive, I just become angry easily (research shows that PTSD and anger are only slightly linked). My husband understands that, and is usually quick to forgive, and vice-versa.
- Unusual behavior: It's not fun (or sometimes possible) to explain why you need to avoid a certain street that would make your route home quicker, or can't answer the knock on the door, or need to--yet again--cancel a date. When the person you live with also has PTSD, you probably don't need to explain these things, or at least not as much as you would otherwise. Likely, she does them sometimes too, so the effects of PTSD on your relationship, in this case, would be slight. Ultimately, the most beneficial aspect of having a partner who also has PTSD is that she understands your symptoms, and loves you without needing you to explain them.
PTSD Relationship Problems When You Both Have PTSD
- Triggering each other: PTSD manifests differently in different people, and intimacy issues in PTSD can arise. What helps one person feel safe may trigger or even violate the other person. In a rather extreme example, when my husband feels triggered, he enjoys having sex or even just cuddling or touching in a sensual, romantic way. Because my trauma involved teenage sexual abuse, that type of touch is sometimes extremely triggering to me. There are times when my husband unwittingly causes me to dissociate or have intrusive, negative memories simply by cuddling me for comfort.
- Being triggered by the same thing or at the same time: In her essay, Tales From The Other Side: A Neurochemical Romance, Survival Is A Talent, blogger August Blair describes a time when she and her partner could not even complete a shopping trip at the grocery store because they were both so triggered and anxious.1 Their anxiety and accusatory, one-upping behavior toward one another led them to leave without making a single purchase. This caused them to feel "sorry for [themselves] because [they] cannot even get groceries without having a meltdown."
- Not giving the other person space to heal: If you keep very stringent track of Trauma! A PTSD Blog's schedule, then you know this post is a couple days late. That's because my husband and I recently shared a troubling experience. It was not nearly as traumatic as what caused our PTSD, but it was upsetting and triggering for both of us.
- Because this event affected larger aspects of my husband's life than mine, he was more triggered than me and required more attention. He also reacted more severely (at least outwardly). Because the trauma involved being abandoned by a crucial part of his support system, I became his entire de facto support system. But I needed support too. So in this instance, the effects of PSTD on our relationship were hurtful. His need harmed me because it ended up forcing me into a sole caretaker role that I was not equipped to embody. It was not his fault. Sometime, the situation will undoubtedly be reversed--that's a part of living with PTSD in intimate relationships.
Finding a partner who understands the unique pain and trials that accompany life with posttraumatic stress disorder can be a relieving break from romantic partners who just don't get it. On the other hand, you may both need a level of care from each other that you or your partner might sometimes find difficult to provide.
Many will say that people who have a mental illness should wait to be in a relationship until they have dealt with the bulk of their issues. Because PTSD can have such a long healing period that is so intensely connected to a need for a community, it may be hard to resist connecting romantically with someone who understands you. Hopefully, this anecdotal list will help you determine whether dating someone else who has posttraumatic stress disorder is right for you.
- Tales From The Other Side: A Neurochemical Romance by August Blair.
Brico, E. (2017, December 8). Effects of PTSD on Relationships If Both Partners Have PTSD, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, July 15 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/traumaptsdblog/2017/12/you-and-partner-have-ptsd