the reality of living with a spouse husband wife with PTSD mental illness

What is it Truly Like to Be “Married to PTSD”?

When I married my husband ten years ago, I had known him for four years. I knew a lot about him. And he knew a lot about me. We had a clear plan of where we were heading and what we wanted our married life to look like. There was so much to look forward to.

But just shy of our fifth anniversary, obvious cracks had begun to appear. I realised our plans had lost their momentum, and even simple things seemed to take more effort and were becoming increasingly difficult. Along with children, anger had become a constant presence in our home. I tried to voice my concerns with the limited knowledge I had, though it wasn’t until a close friend spoke privately to my husband about these cracks that he would finally acknowledge them.

I had known my husband for nine years when he was given a diagnosis of complex PTSD. Sadly, it wasn’t a relief to finally have an answer to all those cracks, it felt as though we had both been handed a sentence.

From my medical background, I understood that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder meant my husband had an anxiety disorder following long-term exposure to traumatic events in his career as an Ambulance Paramedic. I was certain that it would involve a cocktail of medications: antidepressants, anxiolytics, sleeping tablets, and possibly antipsychotics. I anticipated that he would require ongoing intensive cognitive therapy with a psychiatrist and clinical psychologist.

But no one could tell me how long therapy would take. No one could predict when things might get better, or that they may get worse. No one could guess what would become of his career. No one could foresee what it might do to our family.

And no one could prepare me for what it is to be married to PTSD.

But, after five years of stumbling along this perilous and erratic journey with my husband, I now have a fairly good idea…

 

It is to worry about where he is, what he’s doing, if he’ll come home, if he’s been drinking, if he’ll remember, if he’s okay.

It is to hear the sharp words and venomous tongue, but not let yourself listen to them.

It is to watch extreme anger erupt out of nowhere, but have no time to take cover and no way to extinguish the fire.

It is to walk on eggshells, and to teach your children how to follow in step.

It is to frequently torment yourself by wondering what your life might have been like if he hadn’t developed PTSD.

It is to automatically answer “I’m fine”, when in all honesty you’ve forgotten what fine feels like.

It is to soothe your children, repeatedly, during times of family stress, and hope they believe you when you tell them that none of this is their fault.

It is to always put yourself last in the futile hope that your efforts will further his recovery.

It is to helplessly watch him relive the trauma that haunts him day and night, and then helplessly watch him try to drown those memories with any drink at hand.

It is to recognise how strong and resilient you have become through necessity alone.

It is to desperately live in the moment on the good days, and to hope for a better tomorrow on the bad ones.

It is to live with resentment, fear, anger, jealously, frustration and shame, but needing to make peace with all of these in order to keep going.

It is to berate yourself often when reminded of much worse situations other people live with.

It is to learn how to look for happiness in what you still have, rather than what you used to wish for.

It is to worryingly recognise in yourself the emerging signs of secondary PTSD.

It is to finally accept that you can’t fix him, that you can’t fix this, and that no one should ever expect you to.

It is to hope for a better future but not being at all sure what that might even look like.

It is to grieve for a man who you still see each day, and sleep next to each night.

It is to cry, at times, more than you think possible.

It is to stare at your wedding ring and wonder if you really would do it all over again.

And it is to cry, at moments like these, when you actually stop to think about what it is to be married to PTSD.

 

 

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32 Comments

  1. My husband was sexually abused as a child. His abuser spent time making sure that he felt terrible about himself and telling him that no one would love him. I didn’t know about this until we had been together for years 10 years. It surfaced from supressed memories when our son was the same age as he had been when the abuse began. The appearance of these memories caused a cocaine problem. It seemed as though that was the only way he could get peace and relief from the memories. Adderall worked the same in large doses. So, for years and years we struggled together with this. He has been in therapy for 22 years. His family has not been supportive and the abuser still goes free thanks to the statute of limitiations. His PTSD causes countless flashbacks. It has challenged every aspect of our lives. It’s exhausting and has caused a lot of damage to my health, too – both mental and physical. I believe that those who suffer from PTSD and continue to live are the strongest people I have met in my life. I have to remind myself that a physical disability would have caused life to be more difficult, and although not visibile – this has to be treated with the same patience, love and care. Care for the victim of PTSD and those who love him or her. Peace and love to you all.

    • Thank you, Annie, for opening up and sharing your story. I feel so sad for your husband and what he has been through, and also now how you live alongside his PTSD. I wonder if he’d have more success with his therapy if his family had been more supportive and if his abuser was charged and sentenced? As you say, not all disabilities are visible. Take care.

  2. I feel as if you are able to read my mind and put my thoughts onto paper…..reading this was like hearing myself talk….

    • Before I began writing my story, I thought I was the only one feeling this way, and living this way. There’s some sense of comfort gained from knowing that others share your journey and pain. Take care.

  3. As I sit her balling it’s like you read my mind! I’ve never been able to convey in words to anyone who asks about what it’s like to be married to someone with PTSD!!! I’m in awe. I’ve spent 7 years trying to explain to people who don’t understand. I still struggle often in helping our 3 year old understand things and while I hope that comes with time it’s a struggle in helping her understand. Thank you thank you!!!

    • You’re welcome, Shoshannah. It can be a difficult and lonely journey, but you’re definitely not alone. It’s hard to explain our life to others who do not walk in our shoes, but it helps to connect with others who do understand. Take care.

  4. Thank you for posting this and putting “IT” into words. As I suffer from PTSD and have put my Husband and children through Hell… I sit here balling my eyes out!! The guilt is overwhelming! You have Nailed it and its more than I care to admit.. but I have been seeing a Psychiatrist who specialises in PTSD and with certain medications, I’m happy to say that I have come a long way! If I were my husband, I don’t think I would have stuck around but he tells me that he Loves me more than anything and he always knew that I was worth it. He saw my worth when I did not. I wanted to take my life many, many, MANY times!! Anyway, I just wanted to say to the people out there… Please don’t give up on the one you love… they are suffering in a Hell like no other and it’s a very real inner battle that only seeps out a little at a time. What a person with PTSD shows you or lashes out towards you is only a Tiny fragment of what they hold inside and hate themselves for. I still hate myself and blame myself for everything that I have put my family through and for that, I will always carry the guilt of the abuse and torture and the Living HELL they have suffered because of me. Just know this… I couldn’t stop it, I couldn’t control it, I hated being me and living who I was and I could never get away from myself… I hated existing, I wished I were dead, I hated what I was doing to the people who loved me the most. why me?!! I just want to be Normal, happy . It’s Not about me anymore, it’s about sharing and talking and telling people with PTSD that it is most Definitely NOT their fault!! 30 years ago, no one talked about or barely acknowledged PTSD or many other illnesses that would shame people into getting help… I’m living proof that you can get help and survive this horrible hell inside that only you who have it can truly understand… and even then, you really can’t understand because it is such that it plays with your mind in horrific ways. The Anxiety and panic attacks are almost unbearable and I have OCD on top of that… I was a hot mess and I’m here to talk to anyone who needs someone who has lived through this and feels like it’s the End of the world because no one understands… I do!! I hope more people start sharing and talking about and opening up about this because without someone to talk to or care about you through this… more than likely… the disorder will win! I am in a very good place now, 20 years in intensive One on One with my Psychiatrist has taught me so much and I do talk to others who suffer and can’t understand why… why them?! They are alone in this… that’s how you think… when really they are not. The best way I can explain about the wanting to end your life, part of this is: you hate putting the ones you love through Hell and you know you are hurting them. You can’t stop it but you want to. You hate your every actions and venomous words that spew out of your mouth especially when you don’t mean them… you just want to stop hurting them and stop the hurt you have inside. So the first thing that comes to mind is If I kill my self then all of the pain and suffering will stop for everyone. That’s not true but that’s how you begin to think and it’s the best solution at the time and believe me… it’s no joke! It’s such an inner battle that I believe only someone who has survived and kicked it’s ass can relate 100% what another with PTSD can honestly and truly comprehend! Sorry for the rambling but I’m caught between my old and new emotions and so excited I stumbled upon this article. I hope this helps or makes sense to people… my main thoughts I guess are just please don’t quit on yourself and for those of you married to PTSD… please don’t quit on them. Trust me, they really need you and your love. God bless and please get as much help as you can find. 🙏🏻💖

    • Thank you, Nance, for sharing your experiences and insight. It can be so hard to walk in the other person’s shoes, but the more we talk and share then the better we will understand one another. I wish you much strength for your journey, even though you’ve shown so much already. Take care 💙

  5. My husband was a paramedic but was medically retired due to PTSD. He’s been out of work for quite a while but is about to begin a new job. He’s very withdrawn and I find the feelings of rejection very hard to deal with. Im also grieving the loss of my only parent who I was very close to so I feel very alone. Ive never posted on a site before, Im a very private person, but I just feel as if I need to connect with others who are in the same situation. How do others manage this situation? I feel so deeply sad for others who have posted here who’ve lost loved ones to PTSD, or those battling it themselves. It’s such a heartbreaking silent disease.

    • I’m glad you’ve found my blog, I hope you find comfort here in sharing these experiences with others. It will be a very stressful time for your husband, beginning a new job, and I’ve seen my husband go through the same process. He had to battle the anxiety of starting in a new workplace, doing a new job, whilst still grieving for his dream career that he felt was taken from him by PTSD. You also have your own additional stress and grief at this time, and I hope you are seeking help for yourself, including professional counselling. Take care.

  6. Unfortunately it claimed my marriage and now my daughter has depression and my son most certainly has secondary ptsd. The stressed it has caused is unbearable at times but then I think what she must be going through.. poor soul

  7. 26 years after my husband being a first mines rescue (underground coal miner) responder, 2 major events within a year, he was diagnosed with complex PTSD. After many incidents over a large span of time during those first few years, thinking he was just gradually becoming a mean old man like his father, it has been the last 3 years the intensity increased, for him and myself. Although my husband has been treated, he still needs more psychological help, unfortunately he doesn’t see it that way and thinks his meds and recognition of triggers is all he can do for the rest of his life 😢. We have a long road and I am very tired.
    Your story covers everything, hugs from a distance from another soul who knows exactly what it is you feel.
    Tracey.

    • Thank you, Tracey, for your comment. There are simply too many of us that understand this journey first-hand, and it never seems fair. Your road may be long, but I hope it becomes brighter in time.

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