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Relationship Boundaries With PTSD

Discussion in 'Supporter Discussion' started by Arashi, Aug 28, 2007.

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  1. Arashi

    Arashi Member

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    Good morning everyone, I have just discovered this wonderful place and have done some amazing reading over the past two days. It has reallyopened my eyes to some trouble that I have been having recently. I'm hoping I can get some feedback on a direction to take with my relationship with my GF.

    The quick rundown is that she has mild PTSD (if it ever can be mild). She is functional, works fulltime, seems to be quite normal most of the time. She had two traumatic experiences when she was 17 and since has nearly lost her mother to cancer 8 years ago (still could be anytime) and just got out of a physical, and emotionally abusive marriage to an alcoholic. That was the end of last year.

    I also got out of a bad marriage aroudn the same time, and we work together and bonded a friendship that turned into a great relationship. Things were going very well, we meet a lot of each others needs and have a strong foundation for a future. We talked heavily about a future, even realizing that we had only been dating for 7 months. Eyes wide open. Except I didn't know about the PTSD. She's not on medication, she doesn't go to therapy. It's something that she thought she was mostly over and it seems to be ther case, until recently.

    Lately (past month or 2) she had been feeling very overwhelmed and unsure of what she wants. One day we are settign a date to move in together, and the next she wants to be alone for the weekend. After that she grew more distant and last week told me that she wanted to put our relationship on hold.

    Not knowing about the PTSD, I pushed her for answers, all she could give was an "I don't know." in regards to what we were doing, if there was a future, what she wants.

    She said she wants to be alone, and that she needs to resolve the issues from her bad marriage and figure out who she is and why she made those choices. She said she needs to heal and needs to do it on her own.

    She has constant nightmares of her trauma and her abusive Ex. She rarely sleeps well. She doesn't eat well or with any consistancy. She is always getting sick. She has athsma but smokes almost 2 packs a day. She goes back and forth between what she wants, says one thing then shortly afterwards goes back on it.

    I am torn myself. I want to help her, but she says she doesn't want help. I don't want to lose her, and just "letting her go" is so difficult especially since I work with her everyday. She is isolating herself, and I fear that she might never be ready because her mind will always create issues for her to get over.

    So after reading a lot on here, what is the best way to support someone like this with PTSD? I understand giving her her own space and time to sort things out, but I can't ignore the value of helping to support her self esteem through compliments and making sure that she knows I am here for her.

    I really want to continue to send her emails of kind words and call her just to tell her that I am thinking about her and to let her vent off steam about work and other stresses of the day. That isn't giving her space though.

    What is the best approach here?

    Sorry for the extra long post. It's hard to sum up everything sometimes.

    Thanks!
    -Arashi
     
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  3. Kathy

    Kathy I'm a VIP

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    Welcome to the forum Arashi, lovely to have you. I am delighted you have been reading here for the last couple of days. That is an excellent start. I wish to comment more on your situation, however my grandchildren have just arrived and I must sign off for now. Do feel welcome, and I will chat with you more later. Take care.
     
  4. Arashi

    Arashi Member

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    Thank you Kathy...you have yourself a great time with your grandchildren! :)
     
  5. Kathy

    Kathy I'm a VIP

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    Thank you, I had a lovely time with the children. :)

    Firstly Arashi, merely for clarification - how did you discover she had PTSD? You said you didn't know about it? Did she eventually tell you? Has she been seen by a psychiatrist or other specialist and been formally diagnosed?

    I am not certain there is one best approach to the situation. Each person with PTSD is still an individual and symptoms and needs vary. You say she has mild PTSD; that would likely make her somewhat different say, than my Evie who has severe PTSD...

    You are correct to give her space. If she is asking for space, if she wants to put the relationship on hold for now, that is her boundary, and you should respect that. You mention that she was in an abusive relationship until recently. Perhaps she is concerned the abuse will be repeated with yourself. It is entirely possible she could think that, even if you have always been kind and respectful. Those with PTSD often have severe issues with trust. Perhaps at this point, although you are close, she does not trust you enough to speak about her current issues. Or perhaps she is worried she will hurt you, or that you will reject her, because of her issues.

    Has she requested absolutely no contact? No phone calls, emails, and so on? Once again Arashi, you do need to respect her boundaries, if that is the case. It is indeed difficult to see someone we care about suffering, however if she has been clear about no contact, perhaps she really does require a complete break for a time, to sort matters out for herself. If you insist on contact now, even through email, you may push her even further away.

    Since you see her at work (a difficult situation for both of you, I must say!), perhaps simply be friendly and kind there, but don't press any issues. And if you haven't already done so, clearly let her know that you will be there for her if she wishes, however leave at that and wait for her to approach you. If she sees you are willing to respect her boundaries, she may come round again. Or not. Either way you must accept her wishes and be respectful.

    Are you familiar with the saying: "If you love something, set it free. If it comes back, it is yours. If it doesn't, it never was." If you truly love her Arashi, you must let go. It is exceedingly difficult yes, but even if you are together again later on, it is imperative. Even whilst in a relationship, especially a relationship where one person is ill, there must be some detachment, for the relationship to be truly healthy. My husband is a recovered alcoholic. We are together now for 35 years, however we were separated for a time whilst he was drinking. I did need to "detach with love" from him and his problems, in order to maintain my own happiness. Although we are extremely close now, I still remain detached in some respects. You must have your own space, your own boundaries and so on. You will never be happy within yourself until you do. If your girlfriend is never ready, that is unfortunately her issue, and you cannot control anyone except yourself.
     
  6. Jim

    Jim Well-Known Member

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    Welcome to the forum Arashi. Hope you find what your looking for. You've come to the right place to learn about PTSD. Good on you for reading ahead of time. Knowledge is power!

    Jim.
     
  7. Arashi

    Arashi Member

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    Thank you Kathy and Jim both. I'l lanswer your questions and counter with some of my own. :)

    She told me last week that about the PTSD. I'm not sure she was ever officially diagnosed, but as a social worker she is familiar with these sorts of illnesses. I know she is not seeing any professional right now.

    I respect her boundary which is why I have sort of come here for a little information and guidance on how best to approach this. If I had known about the PTSD before we decided on the break then I would have been able to address it better.

    The thing is that I'm not sure she realizes how much this is still affecting her. My concern is that going through her trauma(s) and now having the physically abusive ex-husband has brought a lot of the symptoms back. Again, I'm not sure she realizes it though.

    I don't want to offend her by bringing it up and not only breaking the space issue but accusing her of having an illness she may think she is over with. Then also we have discussed the need for fixing things (from both of us) and my need for concrete answers. She can view this as not a reaching out for support, but as me on a search for answers and fabricating something that may not be.

    I don't think she is worried about more abuse from me, I think she has withdrawn because I have been so kind, understanding and available to her. She doesn't trust it and thinks she doesn't deserve it. I don't think she knows how to be in a relationship that isn't abusive and dramatic. So she is scared to love again, to give her heart over fully, and so she has withdrawn.

    I really feel like nearly all the symptoms I have read about PTSD are exibited in her and that if the PTSD is a strongly contributing factor for her backing off then should I pursue in the vein of helping her and being supportive? or is that more pushing her away because I'm not respecting her boundaries?

    How do tell someone you think they are ill and they are looking through the wrong end of the telescope if you aren't supposed to be telling them anything?

    I want to tell her that these are the things she is doing, and that I recognize them and want to help her through them so she can be happy. She could see that as me trying to fix her and help when she clearly said she doesn't want help and feels she has to do this alone.
     
  8. Kathy

    Kathy I'm a VIP

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    It's difficult to say what she realizes and doesn't realize as I am not acquainted with her. However, from what you say, she sounds high functioning and self-aware enough, as she told you about her PTSD and was clear about needing a break. She is also a social worker, so would know something about these issues. Though being a professional does not always help matters. I am a social worker myself and it can sometimes be a hindrance!

    No one ever "gets over" PTSD. There is no cure as of yet. She may have it well managed, but it is a life long illness which will wax and wane somewhat. Even whilst managed, she will always have to do some maintenance to keep herself functioning. If you were not already aware of this, it is good for you to know, as having a long term relationship with her will mean having deal with her PTSD in the long term as well. At the moment, she is likely having a relapse of sorts, but she will never completely heal from PTSD.

    In my opinion, you should not pursue helping her if she has clearly stated to you she does not want help. Firstly she must want to help herself, and secondly yes, if she has clearly said she wants a break, you are crossing a boundary by pushing things. You may very well push her away even more. Personally, the only time I would push myself on my PTSD sufferer against her will would be if I felt she were in jeopardy - suicidal, homicidal, heavy drug use, very physically ill, etc. However your girlfriend sounds like she is managing well, so a forced intervention is not needed at this time.

    You stated that she told you just last week about her PTSD. When did she ask you for the break? A week or two is a very short period of time for someone with PTSD. She may require at least that long of a break to sort things out for herself. I would suggest you go along with the break for a couple of weeks, do some reading during that time and do some nice things for yourself as well. Give her a bit time and see how things are after a couple of weeks. That is just my opinion however; hopefully others will offer theirs as well.

    And, to sound like a broken record, I cannot stress enough to take care of yourself through this as well, be kind to yourself and so on. You are correct in that you cannot fix her. You can be supportive, but sometimes being supportive is letting go and giving the person the space they require to grow.
     
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  9. She Cat

    She Cat I'm a VIP Premium Member

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    Kathy has done a bang up job at offering advice...Being someone with PTSD and remembering back to how I was......Yes it's best to let her alone for awhile. Be kind, talk if she wants, be patient. But don't wait forever. Don't put your life on hold for someone who refuses to get help....If in awhile things are still the same, you may want to reconsider the relationship...Only you will know when the time is right...Or wrong....

    Kathy is right, take care of you too.....

    Wendy
     
  10. Arashi

    Arashi Member

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    Great advice Kathy and She-Cat both. :) Thank you so much.

    It seems to me that I just need to be patient (so hard to be alone and cutoff and be patient!) and let her stay in control of the situation. As tough as that is, and it will be very tough since I see her everyday, the last thing Iwant to do is push her away.

    I guess I really want her to use this time the most effectively. It is hard to sit here on this information and think that she might be focusing on the wrong things and in the wrong areas. She may not realize at all that this is what is going on...it would be a shame for her to struggle with all these things when the answer is right here. You know?

    It is frustrating, but I resign myself to just being patient, continueing to learn here and other places and hopefully she will come back to me and I will be in a better position to help her.

    I'm dealing with being alone and a custody battle and an uncomfortable living situation so I have a lot to take care of myself. It sucks because she was a great source of strength for me and losing her has made it even more difficult. In that regard it is hard to look after myself while simultaneously reeling from the loss. I realize that me having these issues also contributed to her feeling of being overwhelmed.

    It's as bad as watching my 4 year old try to figure something out for himself. I so desperately want to show him, but know that he needs to do it on his own. Frustrating. :)
     
  11. Jim

    Jim Well-Known Member

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    Yep you hit the nail on the head Arashi. Christ it's frustrating as hell. Especially for us males, who want to fix everything. However. Crucial for the sufferers to learn on their own. Hell, with our Evie, there were things we knew for months before her, but refrained from mentioning. She needed to figure it out for herself. That is part of their healing, to work out things on their own.

    Jim.
     
  12. Arashi

    Arashi Member

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    Update:

    Well, apparantly she was having a good day yesterday. She was very flirty and friendly with me at work. On our morning break it ended up just being us 2 and she said she was sorry for everything, got teary eyed.

    I told her there were many things I wanted to say to her, but don't wnat to put undue pressure on her and still need to respect her space to I wouldn't go into them. I did say that I had been researching PTSD, and I understand more about it now.

    We shared a hug, and before we walked back into the building she stopped me to give me a good kiss.

    Later after work I helped her pick out some revenge toys for a co-worker who played a practical joke on her and after that we also shared another kiss.

    I had told her when she was ready I wanted to talk more and left it at that.

    I'm trying to keep perspective that this doesn't change anything really. It just means that she had a good day, and I am feeling a bit more secure that we can work through this. Today at work I am going to pretend like yesterday didn't happen and keep things friendly but short and let her maintain whatever pace she is comfortable with.

    It's very hard...because it would be so easy just to fall back into acting like everything is fine again and the storm has passed. It's tough to reign myself in and not just jump back in. Yesterday felt really good, really normal. I want that back so much.

    It has only been a week though.
     
  13. Kathy

    Kathy I'm a VIP

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    That does sound promising Arashi, however I do agree with you in that she may simply be having a good day. It is difficult to say, I know my Evie's moods vary greatly. Yes it is very frustrating at times, never knowing exactly what to expect! However that does improve the longer there is interaction with the individual; one begins to notice patterns and cycles. Jim and I can tell when Evie is headed for trouble, or when she is lying to us, for example. It is a matter of observing certain habits, which happens naturally after you've known someone for a while. Which brings me to my next question Arashi, how long have you and your girlfriend been acquainted? It takes a while to know someone, and especially so an individual with PTSD. Keep learning and trying, that is the main thing. And well done to you for applying what you have already learned.
     
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