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What to Know When Dating Someone with PTSD

6 min.

If you’re dating or thinking about dating someone who has post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), you probably have some questions about what this means for your partner’s well-being and the future of your relationship. Here, we share more information about post-traumatic stress disorder, its symptoms, and how to be a supportive partner to someone with PTSD. […]

By: Alex Bachert, MPH

Clinically Reviewed By: Don Gasparini Ph.D., M.A., CASAC

May 28, 2023

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If you’re dating or thinking about dating someone who has post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), you probably have some questions about what this means for your partner’s well-being and the future of your relationship. Here, we share more information about post-traumatic stress disorder, its symptoms, and how to be a supportive partner to someone with PTSD.

What to know when dating someone with PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that can occur in people who’ve experienced or witnessed a traumatic event. PTSD is often associated with war and combat veterans, but it occurs for many reasons — including natural disasters, serious accidents, sexual assault, intimate partner violence, and bullying. PTSD is also more common than you might think, with approximately one in every 11 people in the U.S. receiving a diagnosis in their lifetime, according to the American Psychiatric Association. 

PTSD can be extremely challenging for the person living with it and their loved ones, so it’s essential to understand how this mental health condition affects your partner. PTSD symptoms vary by person but can be broken down into four categories.

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1. PTSD intrusion symptom

People with PTSD may experience involuntary, intrusive thoughts that make it feel like they’re reliving their trauma. 

  • Recurring memories, nightmares, or flashbacks related to the traumatic event
  • Emotional or physical distress when triggered by something that reminds them of the traumatic event 

2. PTSD avoidance symptoms

People with PTSD might avoid or try to avoid reminders of the traumatic event. This includes:

  • Internal reminders, such as thoughts, memories, conversations, and feelings 
  • External reminders, such as people, places, activities, objects, and situations

3. PTSD cognition and mood symptoms

PTSD can affect a person’s memory of a traumatic event and their ability to experience positive emotions afterward. Symptoms include:

  • Consistently blaming themself for the traumatic incident 
  • Consistently experiencing negative emotions
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Feeling detached from others
  • Trouble feeling positive emotions 

4. PTSD arousal and reactivity symptoms

When PTSD is untreated, arousal symptoms can be constant and interfere with parts of daily life. Symptoms include:

  • Irritability, anger, and aggression
  • Reckless or self-destructive behavior 
  • Being hypervigilant or “high alert”
  • Being easily startled
  • Difficulty concentrating
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What are things you can do to help your partner with PTSD?

One thing to remember when dating someone with PTSD is that trauma cannot and should not be ignored. When left untreated, PTSD can affect romantic relationships, friendships, work, and school. A study of male soldiers and their spouses found that an increase in a person’s traumatic symptoms made life more difficult for the individual and less satisfying for the couple. 

Luckily, there are ways to help your partner process their trauma both in and out of therapy. Below are five tips for supporting your partner with PTSD and building a healthier relationship for you both. 

1. Learn more about PTSD

It’s difficult to be a truly supportive partner or friend without a basic understanding of what the other person is going through. Take the time to learn more about PTSD symptoms, effects, and treatment options so that you’re better equipped to help your partner navigate the aftermath of their traumatic event.

Here are a few resources to get you started: 

2. Understand your partner’s triggers 

Another way to support your partner is to discuss their PTSD triggers openly. A trigger is anything that reminds a person of their trauma and sparks a PTSD symptom. Triggers can be a person, place, smell, or situation and aren’t always obvious to anyone other than the person they affect. For example, some people may be triggered by crowded social situations or require firm sexual boundaries to avoid triggering situations. Other examples of triggers are a specific perfume, food, or song.  

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Here are a few ways to discuss and help manage your partner’s triggers:

  • Create a safe space for your partner to share their story and triggers.
  • Be mindful of their triggers and what causes them. 
  • Ask your partner how they’ve responded to triggers in the past and if there are any methods to help manage that response.
  • ​​If you notice your partner responding to a trigger, find ways to help “ground”  them. For example, remind them that the trauma is not actually happening again at that moment.
  • Create a plan for when your partner experiences a nightmare, flashback, or panic attack. This can make the experience less scary and help you feel more confident in caring for your partner.

3. Show empathy 

You may not fully understand what your partner is going through, but you can still show genuine empathy and respect for their feelings. Avoid toxic positivity language such as “look at the bright side” or “everything will be fine” and instead sympathize with your partner. 

Examples of emotionally supportive statements include:

  • “I’m sorry you experienced that.”
  • “I’m sorry you’re in so much pain.”
  • “That sounds difficult or painful.”
  • “I can see how that is really hard for you.”
  • “I’m here for you.”

4. Make your relationship a safe space

The world can seem like a scary place after experiencing a traumatic event, so do your best to make your relationship a safe space for your partner. This means establishing trust, discussing boundaries, and prioritizing open communication.

Your partner might also crave predictability and stability, so consider creating routines and rituals that you can both rely on. For example, eating lunch together daily or starting your weekends with a morning walk. 

5. Try talk therapy

Showing your partner love and compassion can go a long way, but people with PTSD often require professional mental health support to learn how to cope with and manage their mental health. One of the most effective treatments for PTSD is psychotherapy or talk therapy. People with PTSD might specifically benefit from trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT). 

TF-CBT is used to identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors. By becoming more aware of how your thoughts and behaviors contribute to your mental health struggles, you’re better prepared to reframe your thoughts and change your behaviors. TF-CBT can also help people with PTSD to:

  • Deal with difficult or distressing emotions 
  • Improve relationships
  • Improve Self-confidence and self-esteem
  • Cope with stress
  • Cognitive restructuring 

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How to suggest trauma therapy

Suggesting therapy can be a tricky conversation to navigate because some people have preconceived notions about what it means to seek help. If you believe your partner would benefit from mental health treatment, but you’re unsure how to start the conversation, we can help. When raising the topic of therapy: 

  • Focus on the benefits of therapy, such as how it can reduce anxiety and create more room for joy and independence
  • Share specific problems or examples of why therapy might benefit your partner
  • Acknowledge your partner’s hesitations or reservations about treatment to ensure that they don’t feel attacked  
  • Remind your partner that they’re not alone and that there are support groups dedicated to helping survivors connect and health together

How Charlie Health can help

If your partner is struggling with PTSD and unresolved trauma, Charlie Health is to help. Our virtual intensive outpatient program (IOP) provides high-quality, comprehensive mental health treatment that includes group, family, and individual therapy. Our compassionate team of clinicians can help provide the tools and personalized care they need to address their past trauma and move forward to a brighter and more manageable future. Learn more today.

References

https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/ptsd/what-is-ptsd

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK207191/box/part1_ch3.box16/

https://www.charliehealth.com/post/what-is-ptsd

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3083990/https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2007-12912-002

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