How can #Veterans’ #families help with #PTSD

  • Marriage or relationship problems
  • Parenting problems
  • Poor family functioning

Effects on Marriage

Compared to Veterans without PTSD, Veterans with PTSD have more marital troubles. They share less of their thoughts and feelings with their partners. They and their spouses also report more worry around intimacy issues. Sexual problems tend to be higher in combat Veterans with PTSD. Lower sexual interest may lead to lower satisfaction within the relationship.

  • Got divorced twice as much
  • Were three times more likely to divorce two or more times
  • Tended to have shorter relationships

Family Violence

Families of Veterans with PTSD experience more physical and verbal aggression. Such families also have more instances of family violence. Violence is committed not just by the males in the family. One research study looked at male Vietnam Veterans and their female partners. The study compared partners of Veterans with PTSD to partners of those without PTSD. Female partners of Veterans with PTSD:

  • Committed more family violence than the other female partners
  • Committed more family violence than their male Veteran partners with PTSD

Mental Health of Partners

PTSD can affect the mental health and life satisfaction of a Veteran’s partner. The same research studies on Vietnam Veterans compared partners of Veterans with and without PTSD. The partners of the Vietnam Veterans with PTSD reported:

  • Lower levels of happiness
  • Less satisfaction in their lives
  • More demoralization (discouragement)
  • About half have felt “on the verge of a nervous breakdown”

Caregiver Burden

Partners have a number of challenges when living with a Veteran who has PTSD. Wives of PTSD-diagnosed Veterans tend to take on a bigger share of household tasks such as paying bills or housework. They also do more taking care of children and the extended family. Partners feel that they must take care of the Veteran and attend closely to the Veteran’s problems. Partners are keenly aware of what can trigger symptoms of PTSD. They try hard to lessen the effects of those triggers.

Why are These Problems so Common?

The exact connection between PTSD symptoms and relationship problems is not clearly known. Some symptoms, like anger and negative changes in beliefs and feelings, may lead directly to problems in a marriage. For example, a Veteran who cannot feel love or happiness may have trouble acting in a loving way towards a spouse. Expression of emotions is part of being close to someone else. Not being able to feel your emotions can lead to problems making and keeping close relationships. Numbing can get in the way of intimacy.

Help for Partners of Veterans with PTSD

The first step for partners of Veterans with PTSD is to gather information. This helps give you a better understanding of PTSD and its impact on families. Resources on the National Center for PTSD website may be useful.

  • Education for the whole family about the effects of trauma on survivors and their families
  • Support groups for both partners and Veterans
  • Individual therapy for both partners and Veterans
  • Couples or family counseling

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Living with Finesse By Dr. Teyhou Smyth

Living with Finesse By Dr. Teyhou Smyth

Dr. Teyhou Smyth is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (#115137) and an Adjunct Professor of Psychology at the Graduate School of Education & Psychology.