Things To Keep In Mind when Dating Someone with PTSD
By Sarah Fader
Updated December 10, 2018
Reviewer Laura Angers
Romantic relationships are inherently complicated. When you're dating someone with PTSD, more emotional baggage is involved in the relationship. In fact, one of the most damaging aspects of this disorder is the effect it has on social interactions and in particular, romantic relationships. The closer the relationship is, the greater the emotional challenges are likely to be.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and dating are a complicated mixture that has the potential to be complicated both for the person living with PTSD and their partner. Those suffering from PTSD often appear distant from their partners and are subject to sudden mood swings. Sometimes they struggle to communicate how they're feeling. At times, they might not even understand what they're coping with. Talking about their mental state and the events that caused the PTSD in the first place can make them feel vulnerable when they are least able to cope with such feelings. Understanding one's triggers is something that takes time and can be worked on in therapy. A person with PTSD can learn to 1. Recognize their triggers an 2. Communicate them to their partner so that they can understand what's going on with them emotionally. This way the partner can be supportive and loving.
A Checklist for Anyone Dating Someone with PTSD
Don't Neglect the Social Aspect
Traumatic events will often push the person who has PTSD to shut down and isolate from their support system including friends and family. Feelings of guilt, anger, and fear can be major barriers to interacting with familiar people. Avoiding social interaction can become an ingrained habit. Being around others has the potential to become difficult for the person who has a traumatic history. It's important for someone with PTSD to remember that it's not their "fault." This is a mental health condition and it needs treatment. The partner dating the person who has PTSD could be supportive by being empathetic and understanding.
Your Feelings Are Real
As the partner of someone with PTSD, your feelings matter too. If the person with PTSD doesn't have insight into their triggers, their emotions can feel overwhelming. They might be prone to angry outbursts and lash out at their partner. If this happens, remember that it's important for the person who doesn't have PTSD to set boundaries. Your feelings are valid and you do not have to tolerate being treated in a manner that is unkind or even abusive. Even if the person who has PTSD doesn't mean to be abusive, it can happen and this issue should be addressed by a mental health professional.
Getting Out There
As their partner, encourage the person you care about to continue the same activities that he or she used to enjoy doing, especially those involving other people, such as dancing or playing sports. Let your partner know that you are there to support them, and don't try to force them to take on more than they can handle.
Use Appropriate Communication
Being able to talk about their fears and thoughts can be a sign of progress in recovering from PTSD. Nevertheless, remember that trying to control someone and forcing the person to open up is not an effective way to get them to reveal their feelings.
Wait for your partner to open up when they feel ready to do so. They will reach this emotional stage on their own, and you can let them know that you are willing to listen when they want to share their feelings. Don't underestimate the value of listening. In any relationship, being there to provide an ear is invaluable. After hearing what your partner has to say, you can then provide guidance to them.
Aim to Create a Safe Environment
It's one thing to know that you are safe in your home, in your neighborhood and with the people that surround you, but actually feeling safe on an intuitive level is something else entirely. If you are dating someone with PTSD, try to communicate with them that you will not abandon the person because of their triggers and accompanying behavior. Show them that they can trust you with their emotions.
For someone living with PTSD following a routine can help the world seem more familiar and less threatening. When this person has a comfortable mental space where they can retreat to at the end of a long day, the challenges they face outside of it will be much easier to deal with.
Take Care of Yourself
No person has endless patience, energy or strength, and there is nothing noble about being a martyr for another person's sake. Occasionally, a person who is trying to help someone with PTSD will need to take a step back and deal with his or her own feelings. Remind yourself that there is nothing wrong with the way PTSD can cause people to behave.
It may, at times, be difficult to remember that PTSD is not part of someone's personality, but rather a mental health issue that can sometimes change a person's behavior. It is treatable through talk therapy and sometimes medication. The person will recover at their own pace and with the help of a trained professional they can learn to live a better quality of life.