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  • Understanding PTSD and its Effects on Marriage

    Understanding PTSD and its Effects on Marriage

    June 26, 2016

    By: Staci Lee Schnell, M.S.,C.S., LMFT

    Understanding PTSD and its Effects on Marriage

    Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that occurs following a life-threatening event such as military combat, natural disasters, terrorist incidents, serious accidents, or physical or sexual assault.   Approximately 8% of all people will experience PTSD at some point in their life. That number rises greatly to about 30% for Combat Veterans.

    Those suffering with PTSD may experience several different types of symptoms:

    • Reliving: Becoming emotionally and/or physically upset when reminded or triggered. Nightmares and Flashbacks are extremely common.
    • Avoidance: Staying away from places or people that remind one of the traumatic events. Isolating behaviors.
    • Numbing: Feeling numb is typical and numbing oneself with substances such as drugs and alcohol is prevalent.
    • Anxiety: Feeling on guard, unable to relax, irritable, anxious, or startling easily are all characteristic.
    • Addictive: Participating in addictive behaviors such as excessive gambling, pornography, and/or substance abuse.


    PTSD not only affects one’s mental health but it can negatively impact one’s marriage as well. The symptoms of PTSD can create problems with trust, closeness, intimacy, communication, decision-making, and problem-solving often giving rise to the destruction of relationships. The loss of interest in social activities, hobbies, and/or sex can lead to one’s partner feeling a lack of connection or being pushed away. A PTSD spouse can feel isolated, alienated and frustrated from the inability to work through the problems and help their partner. Partners may feel hurt or helpless because their spouse has not been able to get over the trauma. This may leave loved ones feeling angry or distant toward their partner.

    The anger outbursts and improper impulses may particularly scare one’s spouse. Verbal or physical violence can even occur, significantly adding to one’s marital discord. Naturally, their spouse may become fearful of the abusive behaviors exhibited. They may feel pressured, tense, and even controlled by the survivor or by PTSD. Symptoms can be so severe and debilitating that spouses often feel like they are living in a war zone, in constant threat of danger, or may experience feelings of having been through trauma themselves.

    Work and daily activities often prove to be a struggle as well for those diagnosed with PTSD, and may contribute to higher rates of divorce and unemployment. Veterans who have been diagnosed with PTSD have reported significant marital difficulties.  Studies have shown that nearly 50% of their marriages end in divorce and that they are three times as more likely to have multiple marriages end in divorce.

    People with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder can maintain and/or rebuild successful marital relationships with dedication, commitment, and perseverance by:

    • Attending Individual and Couples Counseling regularly.
    • Being open and honest with feelings. Sharing.
    • Being respectful and compassionate.
    • Learning and practicing problem solving and communication skills
    • Integrating fun and playfulness into life.
    • Learning relaxation techniques and engaging in them alone and together with one’s spouse.
    • Being compliant with medication, if prescribed.
    • Avoiding addictive substances such as drugs and alcohol.
    • Avoiding addictive behaviors such as gambling and pornography.


    Treatment is essential for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Both therapy and medications have been successful in treating individuals who have PTSD. There isn’t a single medication that cures PTSD, but medication can help reduce the symptoms associated with PTSD. Antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, and sleep-aids are sometimes prescribed by physicians.  Remaining compliant is crucial.

    A therapist trained in dealing with PTSD can be a big help to the individual survivor as well as the spouse. Individual Psychotherapy can be very effective for PTSD. Therapy can provide the necessary skills to manage the symptoms of PTSD. Exposure therapy may also be used to help one confront their trauma in a safe environment. Virtual reality exposure therapy has shown promising results with combat veterans as well.  Marriage counseling is extremely beneficial and highly recommended. Education and support groups are also helpful.



    U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs National Center for PTSD:


    National Institute of Mental Health:


    Anxiety and Depression Association of America:


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