If someone you care about is experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), you’re likely looking to do all that you can to support them through symptoms and challenging moments. Providing this support, however, isn’t always easy. If you’ve found that trying to be there for your loved one has resulted in the worsening of your relationship with them, know that this isn’t your fault. PTSD symptoms can create problems within all types of relationships — including romances, friendships, and families.
Support from loved ones and maintaining relationships is vitally important for people with PTSD. To help you understand and learn how to offer the best support, we’re sharing how PTSD affects relationships and what you can do if a loved one with PTSD pushes you away.
Why someone with PTSD may push you away
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 5% to 10% of trauma survivors who develop PTSD may experience relationship problems long-term. This is because symptoms of PTSD can negatively affect the way a trauma survivor relates to others.
Coping with PTSD symptoms can be extremely challenging, and can directly impact the health of a relationship. If you find that your loved one is pushing you away when you try to communicate with them or show support, it may be because those experiencing PTSD often:
- Find it difficult to regulate emotions
- Distance/isolate themselves from others
- Experience intimacy challenges
- Perceive reality differently
- Struggle with substance use disorders
What you can do to help a loved one with PTSD
If your friend, family member, or loved one has PTSD, there are things you can do to strengthen your relationship and help them open up to support. Along with gaining a stronger understanding of their symptoms and behaviors, it’s important to also:
1. Keep communication open
This may feel like a big challenge if your loved one has distanced themselves from you and minimized communication. While you can’t control what your loved one does, you can keep communication open by letting them know that when they are ready to talk, you'll be there to listen. Be patient, and remember it may take a few conversations — or many — to get a better understanding of what your loved one may need from you to feel supported. Take opportunities to connect with them while you can, but otherwise, let your loved one share their needs at their own pace.
2. Don’t judge
Part of keeping communication open is to practice empathy and understanding and to avoid judgment. This can be difficult if your loved one is blaming you for something negative they’re feeling, and it’s normal to feel defensive. However, try your best to practice understanding and forgiveness, and know that behaviors resulting from PTSD symptoms aren’t personal. Avoiding judgment or trying to “fix” them can help your loved one feel safe in their conversations with you and keep them from pulling away.
3. Help out in other ways
Sometimes, actions can speak louder than words. PTSD can make it difficult for your loved one to find the capacity to complete day-to-day tasks. Helping out where you can — whether it’s loading the dishwasher or taking the car to get an oil change — can help relieve stress and take any perceived pressure off of your loved one to “just get back to normal.”
4. Lean on resources and support groups
Talking and sharing your experience with others who are also caring for a loved one with PTSD can help you feel supported and gain more knowledge on how to help. Whether it’s online or in-person, there are many support groups and resources for caregivers, family members, partners, and friends of veterans and others who have PTSD. These include:
- VA Caregiver Support Line: Call 1-855-260-3274 (Monday - Friday, 8 AM - 10 PM and Saturday, 8 AM - 5 PM EST) for information, support, and to connect with resources.
- American Red Cross Military Veteran Caregiver Network: Get access to peer support and mentoring from veteran caregivers of all eras, relations, and locations.
- Elizabeth Dole Foundation Hidden Heroes: Get comprehensive case management support, assistance applying for benefits, help from fellow caregiving peers, and more.
- PTSD Family Coach app: Learn about PTSD, how to take care of yourself, and how to manage your relationship with your loved one.
- Understanding PTSD: A Guide for Family and Friends: Get guidance on how to help a loved one heal and strengthen your relationship while also taking care of yourself.
5. Consider therapy (even if it’s just for you)
Seeking support from a mental health professional who specializes in PTSD — whether it be on your own or together with your loved one (i.e. through couples therapy or family therapy) — can help you build the skills needed to best support someone with PTSD. If your loved one is open to seeking professional help, evidence-based therapy has been shown to improve a variety of mental health conditions, including PTSD, and can help your loved one cope with their symptoms and improve their well-being. Even if your loved one isn’t ready to seek help, getting help on your own can make a big difference in building a healthier relationship with them.
Remember to take care of yourself
It can be easy to forget about your own needs when you’re focused on helping someone else. However, your well-being is vitally important to the health of your relationship with your loved one, so remember to take care of yourself and to do what you need to do to make sure your needs are met. This may mean taking some time for self-care, seeking support, and making time to do the things you enjoy most. If you feel therapy could help you best take care of yourself and your loved one, or if your loved one is ready to seek help, SonderMind can help connect you with a licensed mental health professional who specializes in PTSD and is right for your needs.