Relationship I think I triggered my wife’s PTSD

throwaway13

Learning
I’m pretty sure I triggered my wife’s ptsd a month ago. When we first starting getting serious 7 years ago she told me she suffered a trauma when she was a young adult and was diagnosed with ptsd. She said she was better but went to years of therapy.

Fast forward to June of this year. We are having a rough patch in our marriage. I’m pretty sure it’s due to several layers of stress in our lives that’s not being handled properly. We go to marriage counseling and I’m being portrayed as a monster. Even the therapist said something to my wife about that. I figure that the time to bring up her ptsd would be in front of a trained professional like a therapist. Big mistake, wife shuts down and now there’s a wall around her.

What’s my next steps to help us heal? Give her space? She is refusing to go back to marriage counseling.
 

throwaway13

Learning
There is, yes. The simple basics is called the mirroring technique, or reflective technique, or paraphrasing, etc. Several names.

You say something, you listen, then you repeat back to them what they said in your way of understanding what they said. Add nothing else, just what they said.

It usually starts with something like, are you saying blah? Or, I'm hearing blah, is that right?

Its a question but a reflection in your words of what they've said. Its a way to get someone symptomatic, or shutdown, to start talking, as what they get back is a question that is wrapped as only what they said, which typically elicits further responses from the. It will come to no response, that is when you need to have a carefully thought out question ready to go. Nothing blaming, attacking or such, just a general question to help you understand something, then rinse and repeat.

People rarely know they're becoming trapped into this technique when used correctly. Religion are huge users of this, therapists too. Its a technique to get a person talking about what is going on with them, without really throwing anything too much at them that their brain isn't trying to process already into understanding for themselves. Basically, their brain takes this better than being bombarded with questions or statements.

Examples: Reflecting and Paraphrasing • Counselling Tutor

You can buy books on just this technique. Its mighty useful if you want to get people talking...
The marriage counselor that we saw twice had us speaking like this. One of the many reasons she refused to go back to counseling was that she didn’t think I needed to pay someone for us to talk like that to each other.

I’m trying to give her space and not talk relationship with her for a couple of weeks. When the time is right maybe I’ll ask her something like, “I think that you believe that I am controlling and that there may be other reasons that you are fearful of me. Can I ask why?”

Maybe then try to let her know I’ve been educating myself on ptsd and relationships and possibly try to link these sudden feelings to something that triggered her?
 

Freida

MyPTSD Pro
Maybe then try to let her know I’ve been educating myself on ptsd and relationships and possibly try to link these sudden feelings to something that triggered her?
I think this might help -- but maybe more general
It took me a long time to learn that I even had triggers, much less what they were. So if hubby said he was trying to connect trigger to feelings I'm not sure I would have handled it well. I think I would have taken it as blaming me and him having to "fix" me.

One idea might be --- can we learn about ptsd together? It might take the pressure off of her that you are studying her, or trying to get smarter than her, or finding ways to control her. Instead it could be "hey I know you are struggling - do you think us learning together might keep me for accidentally triggering you?"

And no - you aren't responsible for her triggers or how she is dealing with it.
But she may not know that yet -- especially if she doesn't know what's making her act this way
She might do better with you as an ally - if that makes sense?

If she's like me and this just hit her out of nowhere then she may be oblivious to how shes acting and not capable of understanding

Not an excuse.
Just a thought.
 

throwaway13

Learning
I think this might help -- but maybe more general
It took me a long time to learn that I even had triggers, much less what they were. So if hubby said he was trying to connect trigger to feelings I'm not sure I would have handled it well. I think I would have taken it as blaming me and him having to "fix" me.

One idea might be --- can we learn about ptsd together? It might take the pressure off of her that you are studying her, or trying to get smarter than her, or finding ways to control her. Instead it could be "hey I know you are struggling - do you think us learning together might keep me for accidentally triggering you?"

And no - you aren't responsible for her triggers or how she is dealing with it.
But she may not know that yet -- especially if she doesn't know what's making her act this way
She might do better with you as an ally - if that makes sense?

If she's like me and this just hit her out of nowhere then she may be oblivious to how shes acting and not capable of understanding

Not an excuse.
Just a thought.
I really don’t think she knows what’s going on just yet. And it feels like I’m walking on egg shells just to not upset her more. Anything I say or do she brings up “trust”. For example today we were talking about daycare and she let me know her mom offered. I stated my concern, that taking care of two babies and a toddler is a lot of work for anyone in their 70s. And she brings up that I’m trying to control everything again. Makes no sense to me at all.

I like your approach, trying to learn together. I’m going to need to have some time alone with her, and that might be difficult. It seems like she’s projecting her trust issues and fear onto me, the closest and easiest target. But I’m probably going to quote you word for word about how I can see she is struggling…
 
I'm sorry I haven't read all the posts, but the initial ones sound to me like she doesn't see you as an ally, as @Freida said. I would guess she does feel outed and blamed for the relationship problems as your marriage counselor says (because she's had ptsd throughout your relationship, good times and bad, and as you've said she had years of therapy. And likely you may both feel the other has some fault). I would guess she possibly felt blindsided by your disclosure of her health issues, especially if she didn't trust the marriage counselor already, or trust they were impartial.

Tbh, if you want to start to try o salvage it, I imagine she needs an apology that it was a boundary you violated by disclosing without asking her first. By that I mean, you have a full right to discuss issues in your marriage, but an attitude of respect and sensitivity (but not walking on eggshells) might have preceded the disclosure privately with something like, ~"I believe the ptsd (not 'your' ptsd) is an important consideration in our relationship; would you be comfortable with disclosing it to the marriage counselor? I would also like to learn more about it and how you experience it through your eyes. I think it might help us understand each other better and help us find solutions."

So, in other words I mean what she interprets as preceding what you were thinking before you disclosed (an absence of that) may feel like a betrayal/ reduce trust. Though of course trust is built on many small moments.

I think if you both can begin to see where you each need to apologize it might facilitate communication, rather than cycling through blame and defensiveness. Not because the fault is all yours (or all hers) but because without it it may just snowball.

Disregard if not helpful. Best of luck to you.
 
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throwaway13

Learning
I'm sorry I haven't read all the posts, but the initial ones sound to me like she doesn't see you as an ally, as @Freida said. I would guess she does feel outed and blamed for the relationship problems as your marriage counselor says (because she's had ptsd throughout your relationship, good times and bad, and as you've said she had years of therapy. And likely you may both feel the other has some fault). I would guess she possibly felt blindsided by your disclosure of her health issues, especially if she didn't trust the marriage counselor already, or trust they were impartial.

Tbh, if you want to start to try o salvage it, I imagine she needs an apology that it was a boundary you violated by disclosing without asking her first. By that I mean, you have a full right to discuss issues in your marriage, but an attitude of respect and sensitivity (but not walking on eggshells) might have preceded the disclosure privately with something like, ~"I believe the ptsd (not 'your' ptsd) is an important consideration in our relationship; would you be comfortable with disclosing it to the marriage counselor? I would also like to learn more about it and how you experience it through your eyes. I think it might help us understand each other better and help us find solutions."

So, in other words I mean what she interprets as preceding what you were thinking before you disclosed (an absence of that) may feel like a betrayal/ reduce trust. Though of course trust is built on many small moments.

I think if you both can begin to see where you each need to apologize it might facilitate communication, rather than cycling through blame and defensiveness. Not because the fault is all yours (or all hers) but because without it it may just snowball.

Disregard if not helpful. Best of luck to you.
Very helpful information. I do want to talk about the ptsd and apologize for not discussing with her before bringing it up in counseling. My only concern is that right now I’m a monster in her eyes, and I don’t want to make it worse. But I’ve got nothing to lose at this point.
 

Sweetpea76

Moderator
I imagine she needs an apology that it was a boundary you violated by disclosing without asking her first.

My question is this… was it a boundary that was known? Was the PTSD to never be discussed and was that communicated? Because if you don’t set the boundary you can’t blame people for violating it.

Discussing a marital problem and/or a mental health issue in a counseling session isn’t something that one without PTSD would recognize as being a big enough deal to warrant a divorce.

I’m all for apologizing for problems that are my fault or for things I actually did. I can feel sad or remorseful when he’s feeling poorly (as in “I’m sorry you’re hurt, feeling bad, etc). However, I’ve had to stop apologizing to my sufferer every time he’s triggered or stressed and taking it out on me. I’m not going to validate that.
 
Yes I agree @Sweetpea76 . I don't know much about marital counseling either. I am thinking more along the lines that people with ptsd (or medical conditions, or who are drinking, gambling, hoarding; who have eating disorders, or ADD, or who self-harm, or who have suicidal ideation, or who have attempted, or who have been molested, or abused, or... etc etc,, you name it), often carry a lot of shame or self-blame (even for example with molestation, or something not their fault), or are hiding it (wrongly or innocently). So though true, and likely very relevant, rather than being triggered it may be more like dropping a bomb. Like saying, "You react the way you do because your father abused you" in front of a stranger who does not know that detail. Not that it's not true, or not relevant, but perhaps won't accomplish trust (including with the counselor) but will shut the process down because the source and timing weren't ideal. Perhaps simply because any of those things are so personal. And because self-disclosure is more effective for a person adopting a solution than someone else stating what the problem is. Maybe there is a better way?

I don't think anyone should grovel or cater to avoiding triggers at every turn (impossible anyway, and evreyone has pain points). But I do think there's a lack of (just in general) people stopping and saying, "I didn't really think that through. I am sorry if it hurt you, that would never be my intention". (I mean for anyone, not specific to ptsd). It's hard to approach anything without trying to re-establish basic mutual good will. It is easy to cause hurt but it isn't a one-down position to clear the air. I think it actually allows the other person to see more clearly where they too may have caused hurt, sometimes, or that they misread or over-reacted unfairly. JMHO though.
 

throwaway13

Learning
My question is this… was it a boundary that was known? Was the PTSD to never be discussed and was that communicated? Because if you don’t set the boundary you can’t blame people for violating it.

Discussing a marital problem and/or a mental health issue in a counseling session isn’t something that one without PTSD would recognize as being a big enough deal to warrant a divorce.

I’m all for apologizing for problems that are my fault or for things I actually did. I can feel sad or remorseful when he’s feeling poorly (as in “I’m sorry you’re hurt, feeling bad, etc). However, I’ve had to stop apologizing to my sufferer every time he’s triggered or stressed and taking it out on me. I’m not going to validate that.
That boundary was never discussed. I felt that the past trauma and ptsd was affecting our relationship. I still see the marriage counselor by myself, and he strongly suggested to not bring up ptsd unless she does first. I do feel that it necessary to explain to her my reasoning on why it was brought up, but I don’t think an apology is warranted in this situation.
 

throwaway13

Learning
Just got finished with another session with the marriage counselor by myself. He did say that I need to speak to my wife about that the rate of which she is doing things is alarming. From pulling the trigger so quickly on divorce to quitting her job. It was also suggested that I do speak to her about getting the proper help that she needs in this time, and to ask her if she’s being honest with her individual therapist and getting help with the ptsd.
 

Sweetpea76

Moderator
Just got finished with another session with the marriage counselor by myself. He did say that I need to speak to my wife about that the rate of which she is doing things is alarming. From pulling the trigger so quickly on divorce to quitting her job. It was also suggested that I do speak to her about getting the proper help that she needs in this time, and to ask her if she’s being honest with her individual therapist and getting help with the ptsd.

That the due diligence… but be prepared to be “controlling/abusive” for pointing out the obvious. Stay calm, and don’t escalate or engage during that conversation if she gets confrontational. You won’t be able to defend yourself or make her see things any other way than what she’s already decided in her own mind. Just tell her what you need to tell her and listen if she is communicating.

If she is able to have a conversation, fantastic. She may not escalate into lashing out behaviors, but I’d be prepared for that possibility. If she does, you don’t have to be a target just because she is symptomatic.

That’s a good boundary to set for yourself as a supporter. “I will not tolerate being a target for lashing out behaviors (yelling/name-calling/crazy-making bullshit). If he/she starts, I will remove myself from the situation until they are ready to speak like an adult.”
 
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