Living With a Person With PTSD

A healthy relationship with a person that suffers PTSD is one of the most difficult things you'll ever have to do.
A healthy relationship with a person that suffers PTSD is one of the most difficult things you'll ever have to do. | Source

Living with a person with PTSD

Living with and being supportive of a person with PTSD can be one of the most difficult things you will ever experience. My ex-girlfriend can attest to that. I suffer combat-related, delayed-onset PTSD based on my 1989 experiences as a photographer in a war zone. As my girlfriend and I part ways at the end of our lease in a few days, I decided to write this article to help others navigate the shoals of PTSD relationships with insight that can only be gained with experience, intense introspection and a lot of checking against sources on the Internet and my own therapist.

The worst heartbreak about breaking up is that both of us are still very much in love with each other and the decision that we both needed time alone to heal was only one possible outcome out of many. We both agreed in hindsight that this could have been avoided if only some past decisions and actions on both sides had been made differently. The decision to break up was a good and healthy one for both of us, but it was only one possible outcome of three years of making decisions.

This article is about what could have been done differently by both of us: PTSD properly managed earlier, my being able to give more support to a girlfriend that didn't sign up for my illness, her learning more about how to handle a person with PTSD and protecting her own self against what was essentially emotional abuse, etc.

This article is for the person that lives with a person that suffers (or, thinks they suffer) PTSD.

Understanding PTSD and your situation

Information and understanding are your only way through the maze of a relationship with a person with PTSD. The problem is that the Internet is full of misleading facts and articles and PTSD, itself, isn't like schizophrenia or a broken bone with a clear diagnosis. The fact is, there are a lot of people running around thinking they have PTSD when they don't.

Here are some facts about PTSD:

  1. Only a tiny percentage of people that suffer severe trauma will also suffer from PTSD. Trauma can cause a lot of issues that need to be dealt with and may have long-term effects, but PTSD is a separate animal and the two terms are not interchangeable.
  2. Although I encourage research on the Internet to understand PTSD more, it is absolutely impossible to diagnose PTSD without seeing an experienced professional therapist and/or psychiatrist over several sessions and not just one. A person can literally exhibit every single 'symptom' of PTSD listed in DSM and STILL not have PTSD.
  3. PTSD is not curable: PTSD involves the physical creation of neural connections in the brain and once those connections are made, they can't be unmade any more than we can uncook an egg. That said, the symptoms of PTSD can be managed to the point where they simply don't come up even from triggers and in the event that PTSD does rear its ugly head, the sufferer has a vast toolbox of skills to get through it.
  4. Therapy is absolutely needed for the sufferer and also for you. That said, brace yourself for the fact that therapy, especially for the first several months, is going to bring a lot of things up to the surface, which is going to make the symptoms seem a lot worse and even seem to create new ones. That was something my girlfriend and I were not prepared for.
  5. Match the behavior to the symptoms, but also understand when a banana is just a banana. This is a two-part issue that becomes a bit of a balancing act. One one hand, for example, it's easy to read that 'paranoia' is one of the symptoms of PTSD, but it's another thing to experience your mate insisting that they think you're having an affair and questioning everything you're doing and forcing you to 'report to them' about every detail of your day as if you were in an interrogation. It's easy to get caught up in it and angry and defensive without being able to step back and say, "ok, that's paranoia and I know how to deal with that."

    On the other hand, "anger" is also a symptom of PTSD, but sometimes a person that suffers PTSD has a legitimate reason for feeling angry with you: Dismissing their anger as a PTSD issue is rightfully going to piss them off and it's unfair to use their PTSD to avoid painful communication. As Freud famously remarked about his cigar and oral fixations: Sometimes a banana is just a banana.
  6. The PTSD sufferer has to learn a set of skills for dealing with the PTSD. You also have to learn a set of skills to deal with the PTSD sufferer and also to protect yourself and keep yourself in an healthy place. It takes work and commitment and discipline. It takes emotional maturity.

Self-Evaluation and Therapists

Whether or not the PTSD Sufferer is seeing a therapist, you need to see one that you feel comfortable with. You need to get yourself in a mental and emotional place where you're able to deal with your loved one without getting sucked into the trap of always dealing with their symptoms. For that, you need a trusted, trained, experienced outside perspective.

When we're confronted with a situation with a person, a lifetime of learning and growing have trained us to react to the situation at hand without thinking: We think of the person and the action as one and the same. You'll be learning new skills that teach you how to see the action for what it is and the person as the person you love. Therapy will give you the set of skills on how to react in certain situations and will help you get through a tangle of anger and bitterness that you're definitely going to feel from time to time.

The most important thing is becoming emotionally mature in a way that you may not have had to be, before. Consider it a growth opportunity: As much as the PTSD sufferer is going to have to learn skills to cope with PTSD, you also need to be self-evaluating your own emotions, thoughts, reactions and behaviors to make sure you aren't silently slipping into abuse, unhappiness and your own lack of growth.

Whatever you may feel against seeing a therapist, get over it. If it's a financial issue that keeps you from seeing one, there are a lot of options available to you that are a Google Search away. If there's a stigma issue involved (police and military are traditionally adverse to seeing a therapist because they believe it will end up on their record, for example) do what you have to do to find a private therapist out of town and establish your privacy concerns.

You will NOT get through this relationship without your own therapist. If the PTSD sufferer is against you seeing a therapist and you feel safe, assert yourself: "My choice is to be healthy with you, healthy without you, or unhealthy." Don't argue the point, don't fall for any arguments they come up with, don't try to avoid them getting angry. Just repeat that and ask them which you should choose. If they choose one of the other choices, just repeat their choice back to them: "So, you want me to be unhealthy." Nothing else. Do not be emotional about it no matter what you feel.

Work with your therapist to get your loved one to see a therapist.

This requires patience, understanding, and sometimes a lot of time. It requires strategy and compassion and a lot of time. It requires strength, maturity, going through a lot of incidences and frustration and anger and a lot of time.

It may, depending on the situation, mean having the strength to present an ultimatum and having the strength and preparation to stick to it. In any case, I mentioned that if you didn't get help, your relationship was already dead in the water. If the PTSD sufferer doesn't get help with a therapist AND psychiatrist/Nurse Practitioner as a team, then your relationship is still dead in the water. Thankfully, you have a therapist to help you gain what you need for yourself to survive this milestone.

Once you and your loved one is in therapy, the real work begins. If anything I write in this article after this contradicts your therapist, bring it up to them, but always side with them and trust them and discard anything I write that your therapist doesn't agree with: I'm not a therapist, I'm speaking generally based on my experiences and facts I learned, I'm still learning.

Safety and Emotional Health

In the best of circumstances, you both are emotionally mature, you realize that one person is sick, but getting better, you're not in physical danger from the PTSD sufferer and you both are committed to getting through a long and difficult time and getting out the other side with professional help.

In most circumstances, however, both of you are in different emotional places on a long process of healing -- and hurt -- and with very different issues that you have to deal with. Depending on your situation and the symptoms of the PTSD sufferer, you have to protect yourself, first, on two levels: Physical and Emotional.

I can say that one of my own symptoms is irrational anger and even rage. That said, (thank god) I've never struck or threatened to strike my loved one even in the worse cases of flooding or irrational anger. I have, however, been startled awake by an ignorant homeless shelter staff member that shook people awake every morning, even those of us in 'clinic beds.' She ignored protocol and I had her on the ground in a wrestling lock with my hand around her throat before I was even awake. It was only the intervention of another staff member that kept me from being kicked out of the shelter and/or arrested.

If you are physically hit, punched, grabbed in anger, pushed, have something thrown at you or in your direction, verbally threatened, etc., you are in physical danger. You need to get you and any children out of that situation at the first opportunity. This doesn't necessarily mean you're permanently leaving this person, but you absolutely need physical space to deal with them without getting yourself seriously hurt or killed... by accident.

If you think you're safe because you're a big guy and the PTSD sufferer is a woman, think again.

In this very worst case scenario, you need someone else to help you mediate any further conversation so that you can tell the person you are still with them, but there are conditions and a lot of work before you'll feel safe coming back. Trust me: It's a pretty good bargaining chip to convince them they need help and to commit to whatever they have to do.

Emotional health is a little bit more difficult to evaluate and the damage to yours may be a long and invisible process that you won't recognize by yourself. A bunch of friends and a girls/boys night out with unconditional support is not the help you need: Your friends and family have themselves in the equation of any 'therapy' support they can offer you and almost none of them have experience and training to deal with both you and the PTSD situation. Everyone will have advice, though...

The danger with emotional health is that the relationship between two people becomes more and more about the 'PTSD sufferer' and 'PTSD' and how tomorrow will be better for you, but (like my girlfriend discovered) tomorrow never comes.

PTSD is a mental illness and it's suffered by a person feels that needs you to be there, no matter what they do because of their illness. They believe that every bad thing they do is just PTSD and not really them so they don't feel culpable for their actions: They didn't do 'that.' PTSD did.

They're also probably smart, both consciously and sub-consciously. They're going to do and say whatever they have to -- up to a point -- to get you to comply with whatever they think they need you to do when they need that.... whatever 'that' might happen to be. They are either going to be very convincing, or try to wear you down into complying, or both.

Emotional health involves seeing things for what they are and seeing the tactics and the needs and motivations and acting to support them, but first to protect yourself. Again, you need help with this. I cannot stress this, enough.

Extend your support base and encourage the PTSD Sufferer to extend theirs

PTSD and the PTSD Relationship can be very alienating. My girlfriend and I were already natural introverts, so that made things even worse for us: We already didn't bother with making 'friends' of even the loosest sort even before we met, we didn't join groups, we felt uncomfortable letting too many people too deeply into our lives.

Both of us learned the mistake of this and we're scrambling now to correct it.

I've been able to alienate nearly every person that ever called me their friend in the past three years of my PTSD. I've literally been banned by my own family because they got sick of me being myself one day, and a monster, the next. My girlfriend is finally having to make the tough and heartbreaking decision to leave for her own health despite being still in love with me.

Her experience is that a lot of long-time friends don't talk with her and she's too embarrassed to talk with them. She's just now, in the past few months, discovering that her own family is much stronger and more loving than mine and have always been there for her: They're going to help her move out, go back to college, etc. They've always loved her, they just needed her to turn to them, first. Same with her old friends.

You need to bring people in and learn to be a joiner and get out to do things with people on your own. You need to do this even if the PTSD sufferer objects. Whether you're an introvert, or extrovert, the fact of people around you diffuses any fear you may have of separating with your PTSD loved one.

The reason this is important is because sometimes you have to confront the person with PTSD no matter what their threats might be and your fear of the Ace they may have: They will leave you. You have to be ready to call the bluff to get that option off the table for them.

Another reason that you need to extend your support base of people is so that there's no single voice telling you what to do and giving you advice: You'll find yourself in emotional places where any single, reasonable-sounding voice will seem to be giving you good advice no matter how unprofessional, ignorant and ultimately ill-conceived.

Go to groups. Find MeetUp groups in your city by simply searching "CityName" and the word MeetUp and searching for interests that match groups that are there. Reach out to friends that you think have abandoned you by doing a simple "Hey!" on Facebook chat: You may find that they missed you and thought you were abandoning them. Look up school mates. Start hanging out once in a while with co-workers. Some people are spiritual, so churches, synagogues and mosque communities are an option outside of regular services.

Simply put, the more people you have in your corner, the stronger you are about making decisions even if it means making ultimatums. This is true whether you're an introvert with a couple of friends, or an extrovert with a lot of friends.

Whatever you decide to do, fight hard against isolating yourself.


I self-medicated with alcohol -- the cheapest, nastiest beer I could find -- to forget painful, intrusive memories, to cut the edge of my rage and paranoia and grief. My trigger was any heavy helicopter that would fly by (the small ones didn't bother me) so when I figured out that helicopters tended to fly by every week-day at between noon and 2 pm, I started drinking around 10 am so that it wouldn't disable me and I could keep working after being triggered.

It didn't work, but I kept fooling myself into thinking it was better than nothing. It eventually got to the point where I was 2 - 4 80z Natural Ice per day and wasn't even feeling a buzz... and found it very hard to summon up the courage to stop.

The reason I gave you this personal testimonial is because I know for a fact that my self-medication attempts made every single symptom worse and not better. Worse, it made my symptoms worse for my girlfriend.

If I was paranoid, I became obsessively paranoid and ignored any facts that didn't fit my paranoia. If I was angry, I'd become enraged or endlessly argumentative without really knowing what I was angry about and without being able to make a point in my arguments. If I was trying to get in a single day's work despite the helicopter trigger, I became worse than useless and unable to concentrate.

Drinking also kept me from being able to make use of skills such as Grounding and Breathing exercises without a great deal of effort.

It would have been a huge help if my girlfriend refused to accept my rationality that alcohol helped my PTSD and refused to support it. If she had forced me to go to AA meetings the same way she forced me to see a therapist for the first time, things might have been very different. That said, the responsibility was ultimately mine to get help and I failed her by fooling myself with Self Medication.

My advice to you is not to bully them or badger them or argue with them or threaten them into quitting whatever self-medication method they use. Especially don't blame self-medicating when they are in the middle of an episode. You will never be able to have a rational conversation with a PTSD sufferer when they are in an episode in the first place and if they are self-medicating, the whole situation becomes even more irrational and, for you, self-defeating.

Disengage from the situation with the promise that you're willing to talk about it the next day at a particular time in the morning. You may have to repeat this several times because the PTSD sufferer will not want to stop at first: They have a point to make and they want you to agree with it.... they just don't know what it is.

Try to get them to agree to stop talking until that particular time, tomorrow. Morning is important because most PTSD sufferers are 'reset' and at their freshest in the morning if there haven't been any nightmares.

The next morning, simply tell them that you want them to try to tell you why they were angry and what they wanted you to do about it. Let them talk and, except for nodding your head and the occasional "ok" do not say anything until they are done talking and there is at least 30 seconds of silence. If it's 29 seconds and they start talking, again, keep silent. If they leave, let them and when they want to talk again, ask the original question, again.

If they manage to come up with a reason for their anger and are able to last 30 seconds without talking and without leaving, ask them the following question: "Was your anger and the way you acted proportionate to the problem you had with me?"

Next, simply make the following statement: "Your self medication isn't working for me. Find another way that doesn't involve self-medication. Prescription medication from a psychiatrist is ok. Anything else isn't."

Then stop. No matter what they say, your answer is, "Your self-medication isn't working for me."

Don't threaten them. Don't argue. Don't defend your statement. Don't get emotional, no matter what they say (and they'll go through a range of arguments involving pleading, rationalizing, anger, threats, appeals to guilt and how you don't understand and don't care about them).

Stay strong and be firm on this one truth: "The self medication isn't working for YOU."

Don't fall in the trap of saying that self medication isn't working for 'them" or even that "it doesn't work." It's a trap and you'll never get out of it.

Stay strong and firm ... and patient.

Time, Commitment and Patience: Know and agree to your limits.

If you think that getting through this is going to take a day, a week, a month, a single year... you're fooling yourself. The question -- this is deadly serious -- is how much time and commitment and patience you're willing to devote to this person and the fact that they are always going to have PTSD. They will some day be able to manage their symptoms if they work hard and YOU work hard at it and on yourself.

If you tell the PTSD sufferer that you'll always be there with them, no matter what, and then leave a couple years down the road because it just becomes too hard and you believe life for yourself would be better without their problems, you seriously hurt two people. It's unrealistic to promise that you'll be there, no matter what.

If the person with PTSD refuses to get help, continues to self-medicate, drives away all your friends and family, isolates you, keeps you from growing, makes you feel badly about yourself, etc. ... you're going to either hate them, or leave them, or both.

You have to be honest with your loved one about what you can deal with and for how long you're willing to put up with things if they aren't working to improve. Before you can be honest with your loved one, though, you have to be honest with yourself. If you're not really willing to go down the long road of their recovery with them, then don't bother going a short distance of making your own guilt feel better by helping them 'a little bit' until they're on their feet... only to leave them, then with clean hands.

This isn't a decision you can make in a day or a week and I highly recommend talking to your therapist about it. In the end, though, you need to one day sit down with the PTSD Sufferer and spell it out what you're willing to do, for how long and what THEY need to do for themselves if they want you to stick around.

The reason I make this point is because you are the main support structure that the PTSD sufferer depends on for their mental health. If they think you're going to be there and you suddenly withdraw your support, you've essentially pulled the rug out from under them in every possible way. You will essentially have taken every effort and improvement they've made and thrown it in their face.

It's dangerous for them. If you aren't willing to commit, then be honest, swallow whatever guilt you feel, and do them the favor of not letting them depend on quicksand.

With a straight, honest talk, however, and an agreement that you'll be there IF they do certain things in a reasonable amount of time (or are at least making a visible effort to accomplish those things), you'll agree to stay... if they don't keep to it and work hard and you leave, then it's on them. Not you.

I hope this helps

I hope this helps. I welcome any advice on how to improve this article.

Comments 39 comments

Disturbed 3 years ago

Sorry, but I couldn't even finish this article. I felt incredibly uncomfortable as I read information which essentially stated survivors of some sort with PTSD are manipulative, uncaring, selfish, con-artists which abuse their significant others.

Maybe you were that way but that way but not all of us are, I hope to goodness my boyfriend doesn't stumble upon this and look at me like some terrible, damaging creature.

Matt Hatter profile image

Matt Hatter 3 years ago from Boston, MA Author

Hello, Disturbed. I'm sorry you couldn't finish this article and felt uncomfortable with the things I wrote. The fact is that I'm not writing anything new with that tendency, but restating things that are very much observed among people with mental illness of many kinds who depend utterly on their support structure. If you are one of those enlightened PTSD sufferers who would always act rationally and selflessly if that support structure was threatened, then I applaud you and definitely hold you up as an exception.

One thing I'm curious about is why you wouldn't want your boyfriend to see this article and trust that when you refute it, he'd believe you.

I would NEVER claim that you are a terrible damaging creature, but your comment actually proves the rule.

Wow 3 years ago

I don't think ALL partners of PTSD survivors (I refuse to suffer or be a victim and surviving is the only word I can think of) need to see a therapist like you suggest and the statement that you should work with your therapist to get your partner to see a therapist for their PTSD is ridiculous. They will choose for themselves to see a therapist. I spent a year forced into therapy by my mum and it didn't do a thing because I wasn't ready for therapy. I wasn't ready to heal and when I was ready to heal and willing to heal I went to a therapist. Trying to get someone to a therapist before they are ready is pointless. Also I never use my PTSD as an excuse for anything bad I do. I use it to explain why I have disassociation seizures since they are very much interlinked and those seizures can sometimes result in harm of others accidentally (usually my dog being travel sick from lying on me while I'm having a seizure despite being told to get off ) but I would take the blame for my actions. I agree with the idea that isolating yourself so you have no close friends outside of the relationship will not help, but I think that is true for any relationship. I'm not saying your experiences aren't valuable to share, but you see to be saying that everyone needs to do the things you did or wished you did when not everyone is the same, and saying that all those problems were caused by the PTSD whereas a lot of those problems are more widespread than PTSD relationships, and I wouldn't say that disturbed's comment proves anything- there is enough discrimination against people with mental illnesses without you making out that we are all the same.

Matt Hatter profile image

Matt Hatter 3 years ago from Boston, MA Author

I appreciate feedback on the article and have to admit that some good points are made, but it would be better if people would read the article again before submitting to make sure I haven't already addressed your refutations before you ever made them. Very nearly every statement made in the comments so far have ignored caveats already stated earlier in the article.

"I don't think ALL partners of PTSD survivors (I refuse to suffer or be a victim and surviving is the only word I can think of) need to see a therapist like you suggest and the statement that you should work with your therapist to get your partner to see a therapist for their PTSD is ridiculous."

Actually, if a person is already looking online for help dealing with a partner with PTSD, then your statement is ridiculous. A person who is actually 'suffering' from the effects of PTSD and not just dealing with a traumatic event is definitely needing professional help from a therapist if the symptoms are affecting daily life and their relationship adversely. For the significant other (who is looking for advice on how to deal), not getting professional help when they are already online looking for advice is contra-intuitive and your statement is merely argumentative.

"Also I never use my PTSD as an excuse for anything bad I do."

That's nice, dear. But to say that YOUR symptoms did not cause you to "do anything bad" (whatever that means) makes no sense: Are you saying that symptoms of PTSD didn't affect your behavior at all? That you blamed the behavioral change on something else? That you're just a tough cookie and didn't let PTSD "get to you" the way us emotional wimps do? There is are several possible symptoms of PTSD that may have passed you by that definitely DO affect behavior adversely. To believe otherwise is ignorant.

Etc., but "there is enough discrimination against people with mental illnesses without you making out that we are all the same." had to be responded to: No sh*t. Maybe that's why I spent so many words in the beginning specifying that this was based on my experience and even saying what that experience was.

Thanks for playing, though. O.o

jj 3 years ago

Hey Matt,

This is a difficult topic and I am glad to see it discussed but if I might comment in two places


PTSD is not curable: PTSD involves the physical creation of neural connections in the brain and once those connections are made, they can't be unmade any more than we can uncook an egg

May or may not be true. The discovery that there are actual neural changes in the brain is fairly recent and I don't think we really have enough long term data at this point to show whether it's unchangeable.

Several studies have shown that soldiers that return to loving supportive families, or abused kids raised in them, suffer dramatically lower rates of PTSD then those who return to, or live in, families with little social support. There is no evidence that their traumas were any less severe so it appears that your social evironment after the trauma is at least as significant as the trauma itself. Maybe because those connections aren't reinforced, maybe because they get desensitized. I don't think that question can be answered at this time.

and this

PTSD is a mental illness and it's suffered by a person feels that needs you to be there, no matter what they do because of their illness. They believe that every bad thing they do is just PTSD and not really them so they don't feel culpable for their actions: They didn't do 'that.' PTSD did.

Well, there are two issues here. If the first statement is true then it's not a mental illness it's a physical one. Actually, of course, no illness of this type is ever strictly one or the other.

Second, IF you are trying to avoid responsibility for your actions then any excuse works. You can blame it on your PMS, your upbringing, your meds, even the neighbors golden retriever if you want. Or you can even blame it on your partners PTSD. This isn't a PTSD issue, it's a personal relationship issue. Many people look for ways to not be culpable for their actions. The statement is true for some but I don't think it's universal and I think it's more correlation than causation.


I would NEVER claim that you are a terrible damaging creature, but your comment actually proves the rule.

was both cruel and unnecessary and demonstrates exactly the kind of manipulative behavior you mention above. (I would never say that, but it's true. = I WOULD say it but first I will disavow ever saying it)

missy5 3 years ago

I think this was an excellent article. I've seen a number of therapists for my PTSD, having worked out my triggers and techniques for calming my amegdala and redirecting the blood flow towards the frontal lobes as well as desperately trying to not make others pay for my shortcomings I'm still caught in between a rock and a hard place due to the accompanying intimacy issues. I need the loving support a close relationship can provide, but can't be in one due to the fact I feel like I have to hide a rather large piece of myself.

While I still wish the dreams, triggers ect would stop so I can be normal, I would like others that have to deal with this know that if you want to get betterish, (I'm not well still, but my head was so messed up I contemplated using heroin.) with therapy and the doctors help you can get some of your life back gradually. It's a long, uphill war, but once you get little bit up that hill you can look back, see your improvement and be proud of yourself.

I wish all of you the best of luck. :)

J Eden 3 years ago

I can't believe how true this rang. I think I will send the URL to my ex. It is stacked full of helpful things. Thank you for taking the time to lay it all out there. I spent some time in Baghdad and it forever changed me.

Co-survivor 3 years ago

Thanks for a pointedly candid article which tells it like it is. While for

some sufferers, the dynamics of severe dysfunction described here have

not manifested in a relationship, countless others have been sucked into

the spiral of decay, destruction and ultimate dissatisfaction between partners. The points delivered are the critical ones: Recognize the

severity of the problem, seek help individually and collectively, accept that the relationship is destined to change as two people grow out of

dysfunction, and do the hard work to heal by taking personal responsibility through therapeutic intervention and a motivation to

gain control and management of symptoms. Thanks for sharing!

Just_Me 3 years ago

this article helped me ... my boyfriend suffers from sever PDST after serving 5 tours...he continues to push me away by breaking up with me, is menatlly, verbally and physically abusive...everything is blamed on PTSD and he does not claim responsibility...he is in therapy but the new thearpy through the VA is bringing up very ugly behavior...still uncertian if I should continue to be there or not...your article brought light to a lot that I didn't know (as much as I have already researched)...thank you for your honesty and I wish you the best!

Like your ex 3 years ago

I too am living with someone with PTSD and have reached the point where I need more outside help in dealing with it. Even relatively "minor" PTSD as these things go has put an immense strain on our relationship, and since I fully intend to be in this for the long-haul, I know I need to do more.

Like you, I live in the Boston area. If you perhaps have a recommendation for a local therapist experienced with helping those who love those with PTSD, I would be most grateful. My email is nap247 at gmail.

Thank you for sharing your story. It meant a great deal to me.

WitchyKym 3 years ago from Durham, North Carolina

I saw my significant other in your description of yourself and myself so clearly in your description of your girlfriend. This was very helpful to me and I would love if you (and possibly she) could contact me directly to help me out. I want to be there and be supportive. I love him so much. I don't want to go into too many specifics about the questions I would like to ask in such a public format though.

Thank you again.

linda 2 years ago

My fiancé is everythibg this article is about. He always tells me how useless I am and blames everything on me. He will go into a rage and physically hurt me, but blames me afterwards for being in the way. He refuses to see that he is wrong. I have been dealing with this for a year now and just recently he's begun hurting me during his sleep. He's sound asleep but starts hitting me, squeezing me, etc. I am terrified. His moods change so fast that I never know what to expect. I'm not sure how much more I can take as my self worth is diminishing. I'm beginning to feel like I'm nothing.

Ann 2 years ago

I could not even read halfway through.

It is so harsh.

crstlspark 2 years ago

I have been living with ptsd since 2008...everyone wants me to just "get over it" What does that mean!!!? :/

just want to be happy

Matt Hatter profile image

Matt Hatter 2 years ago from Boston, MA Author

@Ann, Read the rest of the way through. It's hard. Do it.

@Cratlspark I don't know from your words if you meant "just get over HAVING PTSD," or get over living with someone who does. I'm being careful not to make assumptions. In either case, "Just get over it" can apply to both and both people get it from, not merely ignorant people, but people who are unkind.

PTSD is NOT about merely going through a bad experience. Life is hard and there's a LOT of bad experiences that we get over. PTSD is different. PTSD is literally a remapping of the physical brain, not merely a psychological phenomena, or a trial of "mere trauma" that someone has to get over. PTSD is intrusive and it doesn't "fade" over time.

To be happy, you have to ask yourself to remember when you WERE happy. Close your eyes and remember when you were happy. Can you do it without the memory or dream dissolving into the usual? If not, then I would suggest a guide and a long space of time.

Enlightened 2 years ago

I read this article and felt as though you were reading from my own personal relationship with my boyfriend. He is a combat veteran who suffers from PTSD. I'm sorry that some of these comments are disagreeing with you and almost scolding you for saying what you did. I, however, applaud you. I've always felt ashamed and scared to ever tell the truth about my relationship because it is everything you described. I feel so much relief and hope after reading this. I've been holding on to an almost three year long relationship and after one serious breakup and reconciliation, I was beginning to feel like I was at my end again. I was afraid to see a therapist even though I was offered the chance at no cost to me through the VA because my boyfriend has severe PTSD. He had gone through a couple years of therapy and then after his previous girlfriend cheated and took off with all his assets, he lost it all once again. A few years later, he met me and we built a life together. It's been a constant uphill battle to maintain a healthy relationship and to be honest, there were more bad days than good. I feel like I let my life go in order to walk on egg shells for him. After finally landing a steady job, it seems we're back at square one with hateful words and nights sleeping apart on tear-stained pillow cases. I believe reading this article he actually suggested to me will help us to take that step forward of getting US back on the healing path. So thank you, this article meant the world to me.

Loving arms 2 years ago

Thank you for this article. I am also in a relationship with a combat veteran who suffers from PTSD and TMI. We started our relationship last year in June and since then he relocated from San Diego to Northern Cal to live with me... In the beginning, the fighting was because of our alcohol use, so we quit. Then, slowly the dilusions, jelousy, verbal abuse and lack of space slowly built a wall between us. I had to leave lastmonth and am staying with family... He has until next week to find another place to live. I am seriously struggling here because I love and care about him and still want him but I'm completely freaked out of how to start again. This article is clear to me that I need to have a better understanding of his condition and how to mentally and emotionally prepare myself ... unfortunately, I myself am a very emotional person so this will be a lot of work on my part to control my own behaviors. Thank you

Miss Rose 2 years ago

Thank you for this article. It's incredibly helpful right now.

Mel 2 years ago

I felt like you were speaking directly to me this entire article. My boyfriend was officially diagnosed with PTSD a year and a half ago but, definitely had been suffering long before that, even before we started dating (5 years ago). I can't believe how far he has come since the beginning in terms of identifying triggers and most importantly, being able to rationally verbalize how he feels. It's amazing how your experience parallels our journey. Thank you for writing this and including the often forgotten significant other!

melissa 2 years ago

Thank you for this article. I have bookmarked it for future reference. I have been dating someone for a month with PTSD. This is all new to me and I have felt myself having to emotionally mature. As someone who is used to people leaving and becoming distant, I know when he is distant, it is not me, it is what he is dealing with. As my relationship progresses, I am sure I will be referencing back to this for some guidance.

smileyphaces 2 years ago

I loved the article. I am in a new friendship with a soldier who suffers from this illness, it is great to know that help and support is available. For me, picking my battles with him essentially helps me to understand my tolerance level and if I'm strong enough to continue with the friendship. Although, I haven't experienced any physical abuse, i find myself being overwhelmed when I can't get my valid point across. I would love to keep in contact with anyone willing to help me understand, and how to deal with someone suffering from

chris60 2 years ago

This was an interesting article. Untreated PTSD traumatises people as the rages and violent outbursts are terrifying. Therapy, medication and a healthy lifestyle, as well as timeouts and breathing exercises can help to manage some of the symptoms. Nobody should have to endure being raged at or attacked. It is vital to separate the illness from the symptoms and encourage a suffered to get help and learn to manage their lives and reactions to minimise harm to themselves or other people. Sorry to sound harsh, but my father had PTSD and all of us were damaged by his violent outbursts, physical abuse and demands for control and isolation to feel safe. We are now mini PTSD "vets" ourselves, liable to be triggered and over-react.

Violence is violence, abuse is abuse, and excusing it as a symptom of PTSD, Aspergers, or ADHD does not refute the fact that certain behaviour hurts and drains other people. Breathing, healthy life styles and learning to take a time out to relax and reclaim calm are essential parts of recovery. Partners need to respect the need for space and not badger the person who is retreating to calm down and reground. Sufferers need to be honest about their weaknesses and needs, and not expect that unacceptable conducts should be tolerated or repeatedly forgiven.

chris60 2 years ago

This was an interesting article. Untreated PTSD traumatises people as the rages and violent outbursts are terrifying. Therapy, medication and a healthy lifestyle, as well as timeouts and breathing exercises can help to manage some of the symptoms. Nobody should have to endure being raged at or attacked. It is vital to separate the illness from the symptoms and encourage a sufferer to get help and learn to manage their lives and reactions to minimise harm to themselves or other people. Sorry to sound harsh, but my father had PTSD and all of us were damaged by his violent outbursts, physical abuse and demands for control and isolation to feel safe. We are now mini PTSD "vets" ourselves, liable to be triggered and over-react.

Violence is violence, abuse is abuse, and excusing it as a symptom of PTSD, Aspergers, or ADHD does not refute the fact that certain behaviour hurts and drains other people. Breathing, healthy life styles and learning to take a time out to relax and reclaim calm are essential parts of recovery. Partners need to respect the need for space and not badger the person who is retreating to calm down and reground. Sufferers need to be honest about their weaknesses and needs, and not expect that unacceptable conduct should be tolerated or repeatedly forgiven.

Matt Hatter profile image

Matt Hatter 2 years ago from Boston, MA Author

@chris60: I don't believe you were overly harsh, but if you believed this article 'excused' abuse in the name of PTSD, then you need to read it, again. I make a special point that people need to protect themselves, first.

TST Mom 2 years ago

I am a therapeutic foster parent which means I am living with a young adult who lived through 11 years of abuse, neglect, abandonment and trauma. I don't have a diagnoses, but he has similarities to PTSD, as well as something called complex attachment dis-regulation.

Your article was a good summary of the challenges of making decisions and coping with the goal of healing, drawing boundaries, responding to repeated abusive behaviors. Here I am not talking about violence and threats of violence though I have been the target of threats and he has been violent to property on numerous occasions. I am talking about verbal and emotional abuse -- lying, forgetting, negating, dismissing, diminishing, name calling, dismisses, etc. Someone who "forgets" that he promised to do something, or diminishes the other when held accountable for his behavior (me: you agreed to come to the meeting; you did not show up. my son: it's my problem not yours)

This is emotionally destabilizing, even if the majority of the response is a trauma response, a predictable response rooted in the trauma or neglect experience. people who have these responses have had their development disrupted or thrown off-kilter.

be careful of the word "manipulative". that behavior can be maladaptive coping behavior. lying, for example, can be an appropriate response when you are living in abusive situation. the lying becomes a response that no longer works when someone moves to a non-abusive situation, but it is not really manipulative in that it is thought out -- it is ingrained. it no longer is helpful for your long term mental health as it now prevents deeply loving relationships from flourishing.

I agree that the jury is out on cure -- we can and do rewire the brain with "thousands of corrective experiences". There are some folks doing amazing things to help heal the troubled spirit.

It is super challenging to sort through all this. I struggle with what I call the can't/won't line. If he can't do something, he needs therapy, support and intervention. If he won't do something, he needs to cope with the consequences as they fall. I totally agree the PTSD or Trauma Response can become a crutch, a tool to use to avoid healing and justify cruel behavior.

In foster care, nationally, there is a slow movement toward Trauma Systems Treatment, to train everyone involved about the long term impacts of experiencing incredible fear.

There are two other terms to be aware of: secondary trauma (the partner experiences the trauma through the person they love; i know my son was repeatedly abused and it is traumatic for me to know that) and vicarious trauma, where I living with him is traumatizing for me. people can say, "don't take it personal" but those are words that are hard to live out. living with someone who kicks in the front door, throws a lamp across the room, becomes physically intimidating, repeatedly lies, self-sabotages, wakes up a cruel vicious person and returns home in the evening cheerful and responsive -- this is traumatic. i have to practice self calming. and, you are pressured to get out of the relationship by people who love you.

very good article and thoughtful responses.

Matt Hatter profile image

Matt Hatter 2 years ago from Boston, MA Author

Thank you, TST Mom. I would very much be cautious of mixing up a person that suffers PTSD and a person that has experienced trauma even if the trauma was repeated and terrible. Without a solid diagnosis of PTSD from a certified and experienced therapist or psychiatrist (and I recommend a team of both) then finding similarities in symptoms is not helpful. I will state clearly again that I am not in the psychological field in any way other than as a person who was diagnosed as having PTSD.

That said, I wrote the article for people who are living with PTSD sufferers as an equal partner in a relationship. Your relationship with the foster child seems incredibly difficult and I commend you for sticking with a child in such obvious need, but note that it's fundamentally different for you in that it's a caregiver relationship: You have options and obligations that an equal partner does not have. Your responses to a child's behavior in your care, therefore, is almost contra to many of the statements made in this argument.

With regard to "manipulative," I'm coming from the point of view that manipulative behavior is a natural response for individuals who lack power. Children naturally express manipulative behavior in very predictable phases as anyone who experienced the "terrible twos" and "horrible threes" can attest. In an equal partnership, however, the person living with a PTSD sufferer must understand passive-aggressive manipulation for what it is: A behavior not appropriate in an equal relationship.

Lastly, violent and abusive behavior cannot and should not be tolerated from a position that is unsafe. You are right that living with a person with PTSD can BECOME the trauma for a partner and, self-calming techniques aside, getting out -- or, at least getting physical space -- is necessary. Unfortunately, it's not as much an option for a caregiver as it is for an equal partner.

Thank you for your comment. I wrote this reply after only one read, so I may come back to it after thinking about it for a while.

Ms Mcdonough 2 years ago

WOW. This helped me so much just relating to this problems helps me kinda get what my boyfriend is going through. and helps me know how to help him through it. We haven't been together for that long but just knowing what could possibly happen gives me hope for the road ahead. Hes an amazing person but has so much doubt that he could make me happy and he thinks that hes going to drag me down. Im not sure what to say to him or If I just need to hold him and let him know that everything is going to be ok. I love him to death. Again thanks so much for this. Sheds a light on what's going on because this story is pretty close to identical to ours. hope to hear back from you.. thanks again

Susan 2 years ago

This was helpful Matt, thank for taking the time to write out your experience with this. There will always be critics but you helped at least one person by doing this. I didn't read all the comments so perhaps it was addressed, but by curiosity - did you and your girlfriend ever reconcile?

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Matt Hatter 2 years ago from Boston, MA Author

Susan: Thank you. No, we never did reconcile but I can say that both of us grew a great deal in the 1 1/2+ years after and my current relationship with a new person started with a much stronger and healthier foundation.

Lynn 2 years ago

This has been a very helpful discussion for me. I've been in therapy for a couple of years due to other factors but was diagnosed with PTSD. My boyfriend of many years was a Vietnam Vet and we had a very on again off again relationship. I've never gotten over him and still love him very much. He was married while away at Grad School and that marriage failed. His second marriage seems to be better for him but I haven't spoken to him in many years. From what I've read he must have been suffering with PTSD and I somehow got intagled with it. All the signs that I've read were there. Now the question is do I not say anything and hope he gets help or do I contact him and talk to him and urge him to see someone. He may have been diagnosed in Grad School as he had to go through intense therapy as part of the program but I don't know if it ever came out. All I was told was that I was bad for him-per his comments to me.

Thank you to all for sharing.

Matt Hatter profile image

Matt Hatter 2 years ago from Boston, MA Author

Hey, Lynn. My father was a 2x Viet Nam vet and not only did his entire generation have to fight to be CONSIDERED military veterans, but the opinion of the military about PTSD can be completely summed up during WWII when General George Patton slapped a soldier.

My issues are this: Your entire post has been about a marine, sailor or soldier that came back during my parent's time. I assume that you're about 20 years older than my 45 years. You also write with a jumbled timeline that matches my own experience of mixing up "then" and "now."

The significant factor of your comment is that you reveal that you have been diagnosed as PTSD, but in every other way the comment is about some long ago man and NOT about you and YOUR PTSD. I'm almost positive that if you've talked to your therapist, that they noted this also.

Another note is that you mention him being away at grad school and that 'away' was marked by him being married to someone else. He was not merely "away at grad school" but also married to somebody else.

I would suggest that you show your therapist exactly what you just wrote to me. I may not offer suggestions to you on what you should do except for that. My experience of PTSD is that we mix things up with time: YOU are dealing with a man in the present tense and FEELING that man in the present tense that should be long, long, long ago in your past. That feeling of it being NOW and those feelings being completely NOW about him... It's a same problem that I'm dealing with. My Elzbeta that died is HERE and sharp for me even though she died in 1989.

To answer your question directly, NO! You should NOT contact your boyfriend. You SHOULD bring a copy of this post directly to your therapist. You SHOULD deal with this in the way I am dealing with this: Admitting that my very real feelings and perceptions can be separated as "The Past" and "The Present." It's f***ing hard and you have to do it just as I have to do it.

The only way out is through... go directly toward what is most difficult to speak honestly about.

Lauren 2 years ago

This discussion has been extremely helpful. My wife is currently dealing with PTSD and it is a daily struggle just to keep our heads above water. Both of us are seeing therapists at this time, but my wife is set in her belief that she can not heal with me here. I have tried to do everything I can to give her space, as well as anything she needs to recover. However, she I still insistent on the fact that my absence is the key to her recovery. In your opinion, would a brief break of two to three months have helped to save your marriage?

Lili 2 years ago


I really like this and it is really helpful.

My story is a bit different because dispite my boyfriend has told me he was diagnosed long ago with ptsd i always deal with him as normal.

I have been dealing recently with tantrum, anger, jealousy, possessiv behaviours, unfaithful, diminishing me, verbal abuse...not sure whichone of these are ptsd symptoms or just his past problems or personality. I am not trying to distinguish and I am on defense mode and will never let anyone put me down.

Whenever he talks smach to me i do it twice and our live is just miserable because we fight most of the time.

We still in love but I have made the decision to leave for my hapiness. Because of my own life and past i have learnt to put myself first. I am not against a therapist but reading a lot has helped and my time is counted.

Thank you, just wanted to share and english is my second language sorry for the mistakes.

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Matt Hatter 2 years ago from Boston, MA Author

@Lili: A dog that scratches can have ticks, or flies, OR IT CAN HAVE BOTH. ;) All the behaviors are about control and fear off loss. It can be PTSD, or he can just be a little man with fears and muscles. It doesn't matter: Rule #1, be safe. Whatever PTSD there is is either a problem you solve together as equal partners, or their problem and not yours.

Kurt 22 months ago

Holy Crap Matt...THANK YOU! I was surfing the internet for articles on how to live with a person with PTSD and ran across yours. I know I am pretty late to the commentary party but, after reading this I felt I had to comment. Let me say again, HOLY CRAP MATT! I have been living with my spouse of over 17 years that has been diagnosed with PTSD (or at least that's what she tells me her diagnosis is, she rarely shares anything with me anymore because she has drawn the conclusion that I 'do not care about her' and that she 'can't afford to trust someone who could hurt her as much as I have again') and have some of my own mental health challenges (depression, being treated with meds for about 17 years now...coincidence?) that make it very hard for us to communicate on a regular basis. We will be going along fine for a week or so, then an explosion happens from something mundane that happened or something I said, and the walls go up for days. Some times she has thrown stuff at me, she has threatened to hit me (has actually thrown punches at me, purposely missing, barely), verbally abuses me, and all the while says it's my fault. Now, I am not the world's most perfect spouse, I have made mistakes, but I often felt like the reactions to those mistakes was way over the top and long-lasting (like, 17 years) so when she told me about the PTSD diagnosis and I read your article, wow, it hit on all points. Thank you so much for enlightening me on what could possibly be happening here. I read the entire article, top to bottom, and was especially moved by the last few paragraphs. I feel trapped on a daily basis and am being made out to be the villain in this relationship. I do not know how to communicate with her. We have tried couples counseling, individual counseling (which I am in currently with a wonderful therapist and I'm not sure if she is still seeing hers) and some holistic things, but the arguments, the throwing, stomping off yelling, slamming doors, yelling obscenities at me, all continue. I was at that point this past summer where I felt I had to get a divorce and move on, but the amount of guilt I felt (and feel on a regular basis) stopped me short of moving out. That plus she said she was going to just up and leave if I did that and go 'live on the street' because 'no one cares' about her. It feels like a lifelong trap that I cannot get out from under and your article has shed some very poignant light on it. I don't know what it will take for me to get the courage to confront this or leave, but until I make that choice I will remain trapped in this life of craziness living with a person with PTSD.

Thanks again for writing such a brilliant essay. I am copying the URL and will be sharing it with friends and my therapist. Hopefully that will help them to help me as well.

Kate 20 months ago

Matt, I have been with a man with PTSD for almost 4 years, and have been trying to work through our fights and issues while battling my own mental health. I find this article to be pretty "do-able" considering both of our positions, and the point where we alsways seem to get stuck is when I try and take care of him when he is having an episode. I've begun to realize that I'm not strong enough to be there fully for him when he is in a full blown episode (I have severe anxiety and codependency issues that are triggered by him and then he is exacerbated by my issues flaring up, and it becomes a sinking ship fast) but he's also not always able to communicate what he needs (sometimes he can't even speak and sometimes its just rage when I ask hiim what he needs). I haven't been able to come up with a great way to deal with this yet, asnd I can't seem to just walk away from him while hes in an episode. Things are about to end with us if this doesn't change immediately. I seem to be the only person in the world that can have this effect on him, he says because I'm the closest person to him. Do you have any realistic suggestions that I might try to calm things down when he is in an episode which lasts for at least 2 hours with him (its extremely draining)?

Kate 20 months ago

Sorry I should have also mentioned that his PTSD comes from severe daily physical, mental, and emotional abuse as a very young child from his mother. I don't know if this makes a difference if it stems from parent abuse or a war environment or not...hopefully you still may have a suggestion for me!

Kas 16 months ago

I liked the honesty of what you wrote. Not only was I a counselor for veterans, but I too am a sufferer of PTSD in a big way. I'm also married to a man who absolutely refuses to learn anything. He is the poster boy for what not to do. Then complains about the fact I didn't get over it in a day. Really?

I also would like to to comment on our ability to alter our brains. CBT has been used for many years and has proven that how we think,shows the neurons we fire in what order. Changing our thinking thereby creating a different firing & the chemicals that keeps us in fight or flight. Everything you mentioned is imperative for healing. In my case it is believed during my attack a tear occurred in the tissue. But it can be by-passed.

Keep writing. It's extremely helpful.

Thank you, Kas

MilSpouse 15 months ago

Thank you for writing this and the article about PTSD & divorice. I have been married to my Hubby 10yrs now, all of them while he was serving in the military. 4yrs ago he left for war and another man came home in his body. Of everything I have read, your article most accurately described what the last 4 yrs have been like for our family/ what we deal with on a daily basis.

It is interesting to think about the heavy responsibility you place on the partner living with someone with PTSD. Having been through therapy (couples and individual) for years about this, I don't know that I can entirely support the claim. Yes, we need to be the rational one in the relationship much of the time, and aid in our loved ones ability to reason through things, but I struggle with your idea of how we should be. Honestly, I don't know that anyone can live that 'thoughtfully' on a daily basis. (That we should be able to help "steer" our loved one rationally all the while maintaining balance of our own well being, and children's. Even years into it, I sometimes have difficulty not being sucked into the irrationality or understanding where my own reactions are always coming from and properly configuring them to best suit my Hubby. It is ideal, but not necessarily realistic as someone from the other end of the rope.)

I understand where you are coming from with your own relationship experience in wanting people to commit long term and not just setting people up for breakups/ divorce. It *IS* a long term, big committment for sure. In no way do I down play that. However, in my own experience living with someone with very severe PTSD, the other side is that even if I commit that to my Hubby, the very nature of his PTSD makes it difficult to know that he could give the same commitment to me. Basically, while I anticipate all the highs and dips of the relationship, I do not believe he will always be in a place to progress or continue getting help. "It's unrealistic to promise that you'll be there, no matter what." I think this goes both ways. Did I commit to him 10yrs ago when we got married and 4yrs ago when he deployed and mean it? Absolutely! But the nature of PTSD is instability, for the person AND their family. We have 5 kids under 8 who are starting to show signs of secondary PTSD. It is an unforseen horror to be faced with feeling the need to choose between my Husband and my children. (There are other PTSD symptoms we are dealing with amplifying the stress, but for time's sake only mentioning one.) Just because I am facing this now, does not mean I do not love my Husband, do not want to continue a relationship with him, stayed with him briefly so I could leave without guilt etc. What I am trying to say is that, the issue is not so black and white for someone on the other end of things when it comes to staying or leaving. Neither choice resolves the issues, and both only end in heartbreak.

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