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PTSD and Love: Feeling Safe in Your Relationship

Navigating the complexities of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) within a romantic relationship can be both challenging and deeply rewarding. From understanding triggers to fostering open communication, the journey of loving someone with PTSD is one that requires empathy, patience, and a willingness to learn. While some bumps in the road can be common in any relationship, those bumps may look different in a relationship where one partner has PTSD. However, a stable, safe, and healthy relationships is possible.

What is PTSD?

For some people, a traumatic experience may be so painful or triggering that it interrupts function in daily life. Unresolved trauma can severely impact one’s psyche, and if left unresolved for more than 30 days, it may result in PTSD. Symptoms can include flashbacks to the traumatic event, persistent negative thoughts or feelings, and heightened reactions. Trauma impacts a part of the brain called the amygdala which is the brain’s alarm system. For those who go through trauma, that system can’t distinguish burnt toast from a house fire – to their brain, a threat is a threat. Even what most of us may consider a small issue can elicit a big reaction from someone with PTSD.

How might this create roadblocks in a relationship?

“PTSD hinders one’s perception of safety and trust both internally and relationally, which makes it so that they have a hard time feeling a sense of safety and security both within themselves and with others,” says Cindy Paauw, Clinical Supervisor at Centerstone. Certain traumas leave those diagnosed with PTSD with a distorted vision of what a secure, healthy relationship looks like which can hinder them from forming their own healthy connections. If this trauma is experienced early in life, it typically creates a template for how they may perceive future relationships. “They may subconsciously believe that relationships aren’t safe and they can only rely on themselves,” adds Paauw. Additionally, people with PTSD sometimes have a tendency to either turn up or turn down their emotions or emotional responses in order to protect themselves.

How do I discuss my PTSD diagnosis with my partner?

Transparency is key and is important in order to build that sense of safety and trust in your relationship. There are a few tips that may be helpful to know before heading in to the conversation with your partner:

  1. Wait until you and your partner have developed a certain level of trust and intimacy in your relationship.
  2. Choose a safe and private environment where you are both comfortable and able to have an open and honest conversation.
  3. Communicate your needs and clearly communicate what having PTSD means for you and what support you may need from your partner which can help them understand how to best support you moving forward.
  4. Be prepared for their reaction and understand that your partner may react in any number of ways and may have some questions. Know that you may need to provide them with information and reassurance.

Paauw says that it may be helpful to have a third party present, such as a therapist, to help the partner on the receiving end of the information fully understand their partner’s diagnosis and help answer any questions they may have.

What is the best way to support my partner who has a PTSD diagnosis?

One very helpful thing to do would be to learn their triggers and ask the best way to support them. Asking questions like “what can I do to make you feel safe?” can go a long way. It may also be helpful to create a crisis response plan together. Know their warning signs in advance and how you can be most helpful to them during an episode.

A diagnosis of PTSD does not mean there is no hope for a healthy, stable relationship. Attachment wounds can be healed and a sense of security can be developed over time. Navigating PTSD in a relationship may require extra support that Centerstone can provide. Call us at 877-HOPE123 (1-877-467-3123) or visit our counseling services page or military services page to learn more.

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