Love

6 Things To Know Before Falling In Love With Someone With PTSD

Photo: Boris Jovanovic, sinseehophotos | Canva
A loving hand reaching out to help your loved one with their PTSD

For those of you who love someone with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), I know what that's like.

Shortly after we started dating, I realized that my now-husband Marc had severe PTSD and needed help.

I knew what to look for and where to get treatment, but I had no idea how the disease would affect me in the short and long term.

Every person's experience varies, but these are ways that loving a person with PTSD affected my daily life.

RELATED: 5 Ways People With PTSD Love Differently In Relationships

Six things you should know before committing to someone who has PTSD

1. Your sleep is likely going to be affected

One of the symptoms of PTSD is nightmares.

The person’s brain is stuck trying to process the horror of the previous event, and it replays over and over in their dreams, which brings forth feelings of rage, guilt, shame, and terror — to name a few.

The nightmares can be vivid and include night sweats and sometimes disorientation.

Many trauma survivors try to avoid sleeping as much as possible and try (to bring themselves to utter) exhaustion — the hope being that they will crash into a dreamless sleep due to hitting the brink of exhaustion — or pass out from drugs, alcohol, or using sleep aids.

Before meeting Marc, I was a great sleeper. I loved to sleep — I still do. Nothing is better than climbing into fresh sheets and waking up feeling refreshed and ready to take on the day.

Within weeks of being with Marc, I began listening for the change in his breathing to note that he was having a nightmare so I could wake him up quickly. As a result, I became a light sleeper with supersonic ears.

After waking him, it would take a few minutes to shake off the horrors of the dreams, and I would stay awake for a few extra minutes, making sure he did not slide back into the same dream.

This would happen multiple times a night, and after 2-3 times in one night, sleep was no longer possible for either of us.

2. Avoidance is the norm

Trauma survivors tend to avoid possible triggering events, people, places, or things.

Once triggered, they fear the onslaught of emotions and the rapid deterioration in their ability to control those emotions. I learned very quickly which things were safe and which things to avoid.

Our most epic fight was during our first 4th of July together. I wanted to go on base and enjoy the festivities, and I could not understand why Marc put up such a fuss.

As a war veteran, the fireworks sounded like shots fired, and the crowd was unnerving. We went, but the energy it took to get through the evening was taxing.

It became easier to remember what to avoid, and I started doing this subconsciously. My world became smaller, just as he had.

3. Isolation will happen

The terror your partner felt makes the world seem unsafe.

If you have been raped, you feel you can no longer trust your instincts, even if your instincts were right the whole time, and you place all people in the unsafe category.

Isolating yourself from any potential danger seems the safest course of action.

From an early age, we are taught fairness — which equates to if you are good, good things happen to you, and if you are naughty, bad things will happen.

With trauma, this translates to "What did I do to deserve this?" and "I must somehow be responsible." Feelings of guilt and self-loathing arise, so it is more challenging to be around others.

As the partner, I noticed myself isolating and becoming a habit over time.

I could not confide in my friends because then I would be sharing secrets that were not mine to share. I was one of the few people Marc trusted, and breaking that trust was not an option — I knew he would see it as a betrayal.

When I did go out, I worried about Marc, worrying if he was okay, and I was afraid of leaving him for too long by himself.

RELATED: What It's Really Like To Live With Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

4. Exhaustion is a daily standard

The lack of sleep and enduring mood swings to make things as stable as possible at home is exhausting.

Mental stress is far more taxing than physical stress, and it causes the body to break down quickly.

When the person you love is wounded, and you can see their pain and suffering reflected in their eyes, your heart bleeds.

Helping someone else through panic attacks, nightmares, depression, and a tornado of anxiety is draining. We typically think of caregivers for children with disabilities or elderly with significant physical ailments. However, caregiving also includes PTSD or any other mental health issue.

Stress has a way of wearing you down to the point of exhaustion.

Although tempting as it may be to throw in the towel, my advice would be to hang it there the best you can — especially if your spouse is trying to get well to restore normalcy in the relationship.

The mere act of trying is commendable, as PTSD is a disease of avoidance, and facing your demons is traumatic and painful.

Compassion fatigue (known as secondary traumatic stress) is the end stage. This occurs when caregiving has become too much for you. You have nothing else to give, and your empathy and compassion dwindles.

Typically, self-care is at a minimum, especially if children are involved. So, you need to take good care of yourself to avoid burnout.

5. Recognize their fortitude

As the wife, I see the battle my husband has gone through and continues to go through. I know the cost — the number of times he has gone to therapy to bare his soul to a stranger — and the different medications he has tried despite hating them.

I see the warrior who has persevered, the father willing to do anything to be here another day for his kids, and the man I adore.

6. Trauma treatment is a lengthy process.

Sometimes, you have to return to treatment due to your symptoms reappearing. I have learned to look for the small changes and to celebrate those successes: Panic attacks being contained in a few minutes without any medication, going to the movie theater and being able to sit next to a stranger, sleeping through the night, sitting anywhere in a crowded restaurant on a Saturday night.

Things I used to take for granted and I now see as accomplishments.

I have gotten help when needed, we belong to many different organizations that help those who suffer, we have a PTSD service dog, and I am always looking for new treatment options to help improve Marc’s life.

Our world continues to expand because we do not let it shrink; it takes strength and courage from both sides.

Loving Marc was always worth it, and still is, even with all we have to endure due to his post-traumatic stress.

There are a few tips that help me be a good support person while maintaining a healthy life for myself.

RELATED: 8 Common Symptoms Of PTSD That Can Affect Anyone

A few tips that can help ease the stress of PTSD in a relationship:

1. Make sure that you have time to relax and rejuvenate.

Find things you enjoy and do them often.

Some examples are taking a morning walk, noticing 3 things in nature, having coffee in the garden, reading a book or a magazine, and engaging in creative work.

2. Daily mindfulness practice, meditation, yoga, or Tai Chi has been found to reduce stress.

You can take a class at your local gym or go online and find classes nearby. 6 or 8-week classes are the best because it takes a few weeks to practice new skills,

3. Find a way to exercise and eat healthily.

Get a routine physical by your doctor to check that you have no vitamin or mineral deficiencies causing you to feel run down.

Regular aerobic exercise is as effective as an antidepressant, with the added benefit of looking great.

Eating healthy will give you longer endurance, and watching your sugar intake will help with feelings of fatigue and sugar crashes.

4. Talk to a therapist if you are feeling overwhelmed, anxious, depressed, or starting to feel burned out.

There are support groups for you that are dependent on where you live.

If you do not have insurance, do not worry — there are online support groups and different therapy models like talkspace.com where you can message a therapist for a flat weekly fee.

5. Animals can help both you and your loved one.

Animals help humans with a lot: emotional regulation, decreased emotional numbness, improved sleep, increased sense of purpose, decreased need for pain medication, lowered stress levels, and, depending on what type of animal you get, they are just plain cute and adorable. And they have pets specially trained to help people with PTSD.

If having a dog or a cat is not feasible, then gazing at fish in an aquarium helps reduce stress and lowers your blood pressure.

6. The person you fell in love with is still in there.

Approach them with compassion, kindness, and respect. Find ways inside their heart since isolation and pushing away may be their way of trying to protect you from the demons that are consuming them.

Make space for continued intimacy and spend time together doing things you love.

Sometimes, in understanding what many people with PTSD and their loved ones go through, we feel less alone.

Hopefully, my experiences and advice will help you find hope and ways to make life a little simpler in this process.

RELATED: 7 Things You Should Never Say To Someone With PTSD

Sonja Raciti, Psy.D., and Marc Raciti, PA-C are the authors of I Just Want To See Trees: A Journey Through P.T.S.D and the blog, HealingWounds