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Can PTSD Ruin a Marriage?

written by: mmarler • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 4/12/2011

Is your marriage in trouble because of PTSD? Although the disorder can ruin relationships there are plenty of ways to prevent this from happening. Read on to find out more.

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    Can PTSD Ruin a Marriage?

    The simple answer is yes. According to PTSD USA the marriages of two out of three combat veterans suffering from PTSD are failing. Veterans or soldiers are not the only ones who experience PTSD. Anyone who has been through a traumatic experience can but be struck with the disorder, but it is most prevalent in combat veterans with statistics showing that 1 in 5 returning troops have been diagnosed.

    How can PTSD ruin a marriage?

    People diagnosed with PTSD can show certain abnormal behaviors which can cause marital problems if left untreated. Nightmares along with thrashing/flailing and temporary loss of reality may cause someone with PTSD to physically hurt or mentally hurt or scare their partner - which can lead to distrust and fear. Sexual dysfunction can rise to 90% in PTSD patients which can add more stress to the relationship. More often, people with PTSD are less likely to communicate and have more trouble handling marital disputes than your average couple.

    People with PTSD often have triggers that may lead to violent outbursts. The inability to cope with the traumatic experience may cause a loss of interest in common daily activities and friends/family.

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    What can couples do to help the marriage?

    Steps to prevent PTSD from ruining a marriage.

    In order to save the marriage, you must first come to terms with the PTSD and work to resolve the symptoms before dealing with your marital problems. Only when the person affected is comfortable and stable will you be able to begin to salvage the relationship through counseling. There are several steps partners can take to help reduce the problems stemming from PTSD.

    Counseling

    Going to counseling together is a great start. This can help the partner learn what the other is going through and give them some understanding. Without understanding they will have no idea what the person with PTSD is going through. This alone will be one of the most effective strategies to help with the marriage.

    Give space when needed

    If you notice a flare up in your partner's PTSD, be rational, reasonable and calm. If the person is unresponsive and talking doesn't seem to be helping simply give them some space and leave them be until things calm down. Do not get impatient and try more aggressive approaches, you will most likely make matters worse. Patience is key here; therapy and counseling take time so give them the time to work.

    Activities

    Find a common activity you both enjoy or one that your PTSD partner particularly enjoys and spend time together on its pursuit. Activities will help take both your minds off the problem and can help strengthen the relationship. If you don't already know some of the things he or she loves to do, simply ask. Make time whenever possible to engage in these activities. Try to choose a more calming one if you have choices like fishing, hiking, camping, movies, etc. Try to avoid activities that are competitive or involve alcohol as these can cause flare ups and more problems in the long run.

    Positive Reinforcement

    Acknowledge progress when it's made. Show and remind your spouse that you love them. Be careful in the manner in which you acknowledge what progress is made. Do not "baby" them or make them feel like they are a child or a pet that has done good. A simple "well done honey" or "you're doing great" can go a long way in helping them feel better about themselves and that they are making progress toward overcoming the PTSD.

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    Therapy and Medication

    Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

    CBT is based on the idea that thoughts can cause our behavior and feelings. The therapy works by changing the way a person feels when recalling past events. There are several approaches to CB, including Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, Rational Behavior Therapy, Rational Living Therapy and Cognitive Therapy. CBT is considered one of the most rapid approaches in terms of results with most patients only needing 16 sessions. CBT often relies on "homework" or assignments the therapist gives the patient.

    CBT Statistical Success Rate

    According to Ptsdforum.org, "CBT on average across clinical studies demonstrates an overall effectiveness of above 80%." The Australian National PTSD course has reported rates from 50% to 90%, depending on location, course structure and physicians involved.

    In EMDR Therapy (Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing) the therapist works gently with the client and asks him/her to revisit the traumatic moment or incident, recalling feelings surrounding the experience, as well as any negative thoughts, feelings and memories. The therapist then holds his or her fingers about eighteen inches from the client's face and begins to move them back and forth like a windshield wiper.

    The client tracks the movements as if watching ping pong. The more intensely the client focuses on the memory, the easier it becomes for the memory to come to life. As quick and vibrant images arise during the therapy session, they are processed by the eye movements, resulting in painful feelings being exchanged for more peaceful, loving and resolved feelings. The therapy works by 'unblocking' the brain's information processing system that has become stuck due to extreme stress and trauma.

    Medications to lessen the effects of PTSD

    Medication is sometimes prescribed to people with PTSD to relieve secondary symptoms of depression or anxiety. Antidepressants such as Prozac and Zoloft are most commonly used for PTSD. However, they are not a cure.

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    References

    PTSD Foundation of America, http://www.ptsdusa.org/statistics.htm

    Mayo Clinic, http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/DS00246

    Love Sessions, http://www.love-sessions.com/save_marriage.htm

    PTSD Forum, http://www.ptsdforum.org/c/wiki/cognitive-behavioral-therapy/

    Help Guide, http://helpguide.org/mental/post_traumatic_stress_disorder_symptoms_treatment.htm