How to Cope as a Spouse Married to a Veteran with PTSD

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Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD as it's widely known, is a formidable foe that leaves a lasting, deep-seated impact on one's mental well-being.

Characterized by intense anxiety, haunting nightmares, and relentless flashbacks, PTSD is often the unwelcome companion of individuals who have borne witness to or experienced profoundly disturbing events.

Such traumatic encounters are all too common on the battlefield, making PTSD a recurring issue among our brave veterans.

The spouses of veterans with PTSD also find themselves in the eye of the storm, wrestling with the emotional turbulence that comes with their partners' disorder.

In this article, we'll explore a variety of proven methods that can aid partners in navigating the complexities of PTSD in veterans. 


Trauma & PTSD Counselors

Sarah Webster, SWC

Sarah Webster, SWC

Colorado
(719) 696-3439
Laura Hunt, LPC

Laura Hunt, LPC

Colorado
(719) 452-4374
Brooke Moraski, LPCC, NCC

Brooke Moraski, LPCC, NCC

Colorado
(720) 449-4121
Katie Bennett, LPCC, NCC

Katie Bennett, LPCC, NCC

Colorado
(719) 345-2424
Jenifer Seas, LCSW

Jenifer Seas, LCSW

Colorado Springs, Colorado
(719) 452-4374
Deja Howard, MSW, SWC

Deja Howard, MSW, SWC

Colorado
(719) 345-2424
Arias Gonzales, MS, LPC, NCC, EMDR-Trained

Arias Gonzales, MS, LPC, NCC, EMDR-Trained

Colorado
(719) 345-2424
Naomi Kettner, LPC, NCC

Naomi Kettner, LPC, NCC

Colorado Springs, Colorado
(719) 452-4374
Julianna Miller, LPCC

Julianna Miller, LPCC

Aurora, Colorado
(720) 449-4121
Carrie Nelson, MS, LPCC

Carrie Nelson, MS, LPCC

Colorado
(719) 345-2424

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Coping Strategies for Spouses

The Importance of Self-Care and Maintaining Personal Wellbeing

Taking care of your own physical, mental, and emotional health isn't an act of selfishness; it's a necessity.

This is because you can't effectively care for someone else if you're not in good shape yourself.

Self-care includes maintaining a healthy lifestyle, such as eating well, getting regular exercise, ensuring you have enough sleep, and taking time out to relax and do things you enjoy.

Also, it might include might mean seeking support from a therapist or counselor, or finding a support group where you can share experiences and coping strategies with others in similar situations.


Strategies for Managing Stress and Preventing Burnout

One vital strategy is not to pressure your loved one into talking about their experiences, but rather allow them to take the lead when they're ready to share.

Regularly engaging in "normal" activities together can also help create a sense of stability and comfort.

Mindfulness is another key strategy for managing stress. This practice involves staying present and focused on the current moment, which can help reduce anxiety and improve overall mental health.

Mindfulness can be incorporated into daily routines through meditation, deep-breathing exercises, or simply focusing on the sensations of everyday tasks.

Engaging with a supportive community can also help manage stress. Whether it's a formal support group, family, friends, or peers, having a network of people who understand and can share coping strategies can be immensely helpful.

Lastly, it's crucial to remember that you matter just as much as your veteran spouse. Handling traumatic stress can be extremely stressful, so learning and using stress reduction techniques is essential for preventing burnout.



Techniques for Maintaining Open Communication With Your Spouse

  • Ask Open-Ended Questions: Encourage your spouse to express their feelings by asking questions that require more than a 'yes' or 'no' answer. This facilitates a deeper understanding of each other's thoughts and feelings.

  • Pick Up on Nonverbal Cues: Be observant of physical gestures, facial reactions, and vocal intonations. These nonverbal signals can offer a crucial understanding of your partner's emotional condition.

  • Don't Try to Read Their Mind: Instead of assuming you know what your spouse is thinking or feeling, ask them directly.

  • Set Aside Time to Talk: Regularly dedicate time to have meaningful conversations. This can help keep the lines of communication open and strengthen your bond.

  • Listen to Understand: When your spouse is speaking, try to understand their perspective rather than planning your response.

  • Validate Their Feelings: Acknowledge your spouse's thoughts and feelings, even if you don't necessarily agree with them.

  • Use Nonviolent Communication: Marshall B. Rosenberg's nonviolent communication technique emphasizes empathy, honesty, and listening without judgment.

  • Be Open to Compromise: A willingness to find a middle ground can lead to effective communication and a healthier relationship.

  • Communicate Honestly and Openly: Honesty is the foundation of good communication. Share your feelings, needs, and concerns openly with your spouse.

  • Create a Pattern of Openness: Establish guidelines for communication as a couple. Encourage openness and avoid criticism. Speak gently and with respect.


Tips on Providing Support Without Enabling Unhealthy Behaviors

Offer emotional support and understanding without inadvertently enabling unhealthy behaviors.

To do this, first, establish clear boundaries. Let your loved one know what is and isn't acceptable behavior.

This doesn't mean you're withdrawing support; instead, it's about promoting a healthier dynamic.

For example, while it's okay to listen and provide comfort during tough times, you shouldn't tolerate abusive language or actions.

Another vital tip is to encourage independence and self-care. While it's natural to want to help, doing everything for your loved one can foster dependence and deter them from taking responsibility for their well-being.

Encourage them to engage in self-care practices such as regular exercise, maintaining a healthy diet, and seeking professional help if necessary.

The goal is not to 'fix' your loved one but to support them in their journey towards healing and recovery.



Navigating Life Together

During tough times, showing patience can help your spouse feel supported and understood.

Understanding, on the other hand, involves empathizing with your spouse's experiences and validating their feelings.

This doesn't mean you have to agree with everything they say or do, but rather that you acknowledge their perspective as valid.

This combination of patience and understanding can help create a safe space for your spouse to express their feelings and work through their challenges.

Rebuilding trust and intimacy, and fostering a supportive home environment are also key elements in navigating life together.

Trust can be rebuilt through consistent and open communication, honesty, and showing reliability over time.

Intimacy, both emotional and physical, can be nurtured by spending quality time together, expressing affection, and sharing personal experiences and feelings.

Create a supportive home environment where your spouse feels comfortable expressing themselves without fear of judgment or criticism.

This could involve establishing routines, maintaining a calm and peaceful atmosphere, and ensuring that everyone in the household respects each other's boundaries and needs.


Seeking Professional Help

It's essential to seek help if your spouse's symptoms persist for more than a few months and significantly affect their quality of life or functioning at work or home.

Signs that your spouse may need professional assistance include intense and prolonged emotional distress, difficulty sleeping, frequent nightmares, avoidance behaviors, or any aggressive or self-destructive behavior.

It's also crucial to seek help if your mental health begins to suffer due to the stress of supporting someone with PTSD.

There are several types of therapy and treatment available for PTSD.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most effective forms of treatment.

CBT involves working with a therapist to change thought patterns that lead to harmful behaviors or emotions.

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is another therapy specifically designed for PTSD.

It involves focusing on sounds or hand movements while talking about the traumatic event to alter the way the brain processes memories.

Always remember, that the best treatment plan is individualized and often includes a combination of therapy, medication, and self-care practices.


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Conclusion

Navigating life with a spouse suffering from PTSD is indeed challenging but certainly not insurmountable.

Patience, understanding, and creating a supportive home environment are key to helping your spouse on their recovery journey.

Know when professional help is needed and be aware of the various therapy options available for PTSD.

Many resources are available, including support groups, books, and online platforms, offering further reading and support.

Stay strong, keep faith, and remember that every step forward, no matter how small, is progress. 


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July 13th, 2024

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