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My ptsd partner left me - now what?

A repetitive question by spouses and loved ones is that their sufferer walked out of the relationship with little to zero prediction of such event occurring. Some may have concluded that the end of the world would happen before their partner walking away from them would have.

At this point I can only say, I'm sorry for the pain you're enduring right now.

Two questions often follow this predicament:
  • Why did they leave me?
  • What can I do to save the relationship?
There are many possible scenarios surrounding a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) sufferer leaving a partner. This article discusses the key situations and leaves open to comment further discussion for individual cases and possible solutions.

Relationships are complicated​

Relationships within our lives are anything but simple. We have those who are closer to us than others. We have specific individuals within our relationship circles with whom we connect better than others. We have those that we intentionally keep at arm's length yet enjoy catching up with every so often.

It is lovely to believe, or dream, that we meet the love of our lives and spend a lifetime with them. Through good times and bad, the relationship stands the test of time. For a rare few, this is a reality. Unfortunately, this is idealistic in today's society. As such, nowadays it is normal to have multiple marriages and multiple sets of parents.

Many factors are at work to create our modern societal view of marriage, divorce, remarriage, and the adaptions to the nuclear family that accompany these relationships and breakages. Our lives are high-pressure, expectations of marital bliss and compatibility in all arenas are often astronomical, and individuals are often influenced by a culture of disposability, and our society is vastly more accepting of that culture than it was only a couple of generations ago.

What does disposable have to do with anything? Because we no longer fix possessions: when they break, we throw them away and buy a new one. Our relationships follow a similar pattern today, in that we treat them like possessions -- disposable. The moment a relationship requires hard work, one or both partners are more prone to check-out and abandon ship.

When things get too tough, too complicated, we throw away the relationship and get a new one, one where that problem doesn't exist. We hope that a new relationship will be easier. Well... the honeymoon period that typically follows on the heels of new attraction is usually the best part, yet it is equally the most unrealistic model of the relationship.

The honeymoon period​

How magical it is to meet someone new, feel attraction, lust for that person, to learn one another, explore each other. Welcome to the honeymoon period of the relationship.

Everything is new. You don't honestly know one another well enough to begin making changes in the relationship dynamics. You likely even think each other's flaws are cute.

The honeymoon period can be months, and some may stretch it for years based on structuring the relationship between together time and individual time. Once the relationship shifts towards more routine matters, such as savings, moving in together, paying bills, performing chores, planning to be married and even starting a family of your own, the realities of what a real relationship entails are setting in.

All the fun, sex, adventures, romantic outings and spontaneity are slowing as day-to-day routine sets to strive toward goals for the future. Oh yes, they mentioned they had PTSD somewhere amid all that fun and adventure, but it didn't seem to bother them too much nor did it impact me.

As the honeymoon period wanes, the narrative changes. From where did this aspect of their PTSD suddenly spring forward? I've never seen that before from this lovely person. Welcome to the PTSD-affected relationship.

The PTSD relationship​

You awake and give one another a kiss and cuddle, say good morning and begin your morning routine. You're spending the day together, going to the beach. You have a lovely day out. You lay upon the beach, hold hands, talk, relax. You walk along the beach, throw stones in the water, chase each other in the sand, buy ice cream and have lunch. The outing is over, and it's time to go home.

On the drive home, not much is said. You're thinking maybe some romance tonight after such a lovely outing. You arrive home, and the sufferer walks in the door, lays on the couch, turns on the TV and zones out. The day was lovely, and things have gone great, so you ask for a hand to tidy-up the house and prepare dinner.

Explosion! The sufferer goes ballistic and enters a verbal barrage towards you.

"What the hell just happened?" you ask yourself.

The PTSD relationship can range from beautiful, to periodically argumentative, to full scale war zone. Verbal abuse is the rule, but physical abuse can be the exception. One minute everything is great. The next minute, the sufferer breaks down, isolates and becomes unresponsive, even highly aggressive. They may disappear for days or weeks.

The PTSD sufferer​

The effect of PTSD upon a person can range from mildly annoying to completely debilitating. Symptoms vary per person, regardless of PTSD severity. Symptoms will be influenced by factors such as how a person was raised, their morals and beliefs, the type of trauma experienced, socio-economic status, environmental factors and more.

A sufferer with combat trauma may exhibit more aggressive and hyper-vigilant symptoms than compared to a rape victim, who may exhibit quiet, reclusive and security-conscious behaviour. Behaviour will also vary depending on situation, such as the person may be able to function well at work in order to make a living for themselves, to pay the bills, yet when she is home, she crashes and burns, physically and emotionally. He may have no social life as another consequence, unable to process human connection further than a work environment.

A sufferer may no longer be capable of experiencing love, affection or romantic emotions. The more complex the emotion, the less likely they are to experience it or identify with the emotion. It is not uncommon for a person without PTSD to confuse lust with love, so where trauma hinders emotional processing, such distinction becomes ten fold more difficult.

A common feeling for PTSD sufferers is guilt.

Guilt towards a partner​

Whether PTSD presents within a relationship or is present entering the relationship, changes in the relationship due to PTSD can easily cause havoc. The supporter wonders why they aren't "over it" yet, and the sufferer is trying to understand why the supporter doesn't understand. Both parties are lost and confused.

It is not uncommon that a sufferer feels extreme guilt that they're holding their partner back. They may not necessarily express this to their partner, but they watch how their illness is affecting the person they love. Guilt is powerful.

A supporter can often become a different person than they were when entering the relationship. They may become more reclusive to match their PTSD partner. A supporter may lose friends and family who can clearly see from outside the relationship that it is toxic and destructive to who the supporter is as a person. The sufferer can likely see this too.

Guilt creates toxicity.

The toxic relationship​

PTSD, more often than not, creates toxicity within a relationship. You have the PTSD sufferer enduring symptoms, struggling to understand how to stop themselves saying and doing things that even they don't like about themselves any longer. You have a partner who may try and understand yet really cannot. The partner is wondering when their time will be. What about them? Their life has changed for the worse as a result. Negative emotion is harbored and used as weapons against one another.

Home feels like a floor of eggshells. You, the supporter, feel complex emotions, counter-acting emotions. You may love your partner, yet even that emotion may be surrounded with negativity for you. PTSD can destroy the notion of love. A sufferer may love you enough to see they're destroying you, as a person.

This is a long way from that honeymoon period, right?

Where is this going?​

You may now be wondering where this article is going, compared to the original two questions mostly asked when a PTSD relationship has broken down:
  • Why did they leave me?
  • What can I do to save the relationship?
The answers are anything but simple, and they always vary per situation. Remember I said a sufferer will often struggle with emotion. They will find it difficult to feel or to understand what emotion it is they feel. In this way, making a decision to walk away from a relationship can be much easier for a PTSD sufferer, because they don't know what to feel about you. What they often do know is that they can't stay with you because it's making their symptoms worse.

Many a spouse has boggled over the situation of a sufferer walking away into the arms of another. Guilt is one reason. The inability to rationalize complex emotion is another. If you have been longtime partners and PTSD appeared in the relationship, guilt towards watching you sink with them may be a driving factor for leaving. Finally, the sufferer may, out of the blue, no longer feel love towards you. Yep, just like that.

It is easier for a PTSD sufferer to be with another person who doesn't know them. They can be someone different. They can pretend. They can wear a mask. They can even just be themselves, accepting that their new partner met them this way and accepts them. No pressure, in essence, especially if they felt pressured to get well in the previous relationship. They may simply begin to chase the honeymoon period, then exit, knowing what's ahead from experience.

Remember, PTSD sufferers struggle to understand complex emotion. Love is about as complex as it gets. They want to heal, but they may not know how. They may be in complete denial that there is a problem with them.

A final effort to recover​

Knowing what you have read, can the relationship be saved once a sufferer has walked out the door?

Anything is possible, yet unfortunately once a relationship has reached this level, it is highly unlikely. A relationship stands a much better chance if issues are dealt with while the relationship is active. It is the exception, not the rule, that a relationship will come back from this point, especially with the presence of PTSD.

A sufferer may feel the only way forward is to start anew with another. Reasons are comprehensive, at best. Saying that, a few things you can do may be:
  • Ask them if they will attend couples therapy, if not to save the relationship, to help understand residual emotions to help you come to terms with things. You never know; it may get them talking openly when there is no pressure of reconciliation and inadvertently rekindle the relationship. At best, you get some closure.
  • Write them a letter, carefully. Do not blame or use it to vent towards them, certainly not if your aim is to fix the relationship. Express what you feel, and leave everything else for another discussion.
  • Ask them to a casual lunch meeting as though it is just for closure. They may be more open to communicate then.
  • Ring them, as they may feel more comfortable to express themselves over the phone.
The above are merely a few suggestions. At no stage should you place yourself in a position where you become a doormat for your separated partner. Relationships are a compromise, not one-sided. The strongest relationships are often where both parties view their partner as equals. Status, employment, so forth, are not viewed as a measure of importance within the relationship.

Parting words​

Remember the start of this article? Relationships are complicated. Love is complicated, as are the complexities of a healthy relationship, let alone one with mental illness present. Health problems in general can test the strongest of relationships, breaking them apart for one reason or another. Health, physical or mental, can truly test a relationship's ability for communication, commitment and the presence of love for another.

What you have just read, I wrote - a PTSD sufferer, two divorces later due to PTSD, and the third marriage I started to implement significant change into my own life, thus I am still married and with the same partner for now 13 years. I took responsibility for me, and that is what your PTSD sufferer must do too. We own our choices and behaviours. Work with them to help them, but do not compromise your own life. We get one life with no time frame, use it wisely.
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In Oct 2016 I met an amazing guy. Things were going great for the first 6 wks until he went on an annual vacation with a couple of his good friends where an incident happened that set him way back. He was very open in discussing everything & I was reading as much as I could to understand PTSD. We got through Christmas & New Years but I could feel him struggling. He kept reassuring me that we were going to get through it. Then out of the blue everything came to a halt. I was blind sided. He wants time to find his way back again & hopes to find his way back to us. From reading your article……this seems highly unlikely. Also….would it be proper or not to make a private appt with his therapist to discuss our situation. She is quite aware of me & has sent reading material home with him for me to study. TIA for your time.
Hi June,

Oct last year isn’t really a whole lot of time to know someone, so whilst I applaud your level of commitment towards someone with PTSD, there is honestly just a whole lot you likely don’t know about him at this early stage.

Going to see his therapist after just a few months together…. well… a therapist can’t usually tell a married spouse what the other has said in therapy, let alone someone a few months into a relationship.

I think you need to talk with him… understand what makes him tick, but more importantly, understand whether he really wants to be with you.

I have severe PTSD, and plenty of my friends do too… and me and them can make mountains move in order to want to be with our partners in relation to our PTSD. So if he is running, escaping, already… chances are you aren’t, to him, worth moving mountains for.

Trust me, PTSD or not, anyone who wants to truly be with you would move mountains to accommodate you and meet in the middle for compromise…. which is what a relationship is all about. Neither party deserves or should put up with, being a door mat.

The middle ground… and if he wanted it, he would be there waiting for you.
I am in my version of hell. I am very in love with my boyfriend. We dated a year, then he and his 2 kids moved in with me five months ago. A month ago, he said he needed to sleep on the couch. Then he told me he needed to move out. He was having severe anxiety. Every day, is different. Im on such a rollercoaster. He was super affectionate and sweet so I thought we could work it out. Now he’s checked out again. I am crazy sad. I was planning a life with him. And boom it’s over.
I’m sorry to hear that Savasana.. We with PTSD can be very difficult. We don’t understand what goes on within ourselves, let alone express it to others at times. Not an excuse by any means, purely just experience sharing. He must own his actions for anything he does, as you must yours.

I find even my own relationship stressful. There are pros and cons to being with someone, there are pros and cons to being single. I guess it just comes down to which makes a person feel the best version of themselves. For me… I become way too selfish when single, and for the most part, am a better person in a relationship with my wife.

I think we all just take time and need the right time with person to see this.
Thank you for this article. It helped me understand some of the things I am currently going through. I feel my husband is at a constant battle within himself, and it’s honestly like watching a cartoon with the little angel and devil setting on his shoulders. He has stated he wants to leave, but cant leave because he loves me to much and has to wean himself off me. We can have a discussion for hours about what’s about to happen and like someone flips a switch he immediately will turn loving, kisses, tells me he loves me, hugs me to console me ect.
Wow this just resonated for me so much. I moved in with my partner 7 months ago, and things quickly became very difficult for me. I had been alone for years prior and knew I had “issues” but I managed the symptoms much better as a single person, never really let anyone get too close. I want to change. I was diagnosed with PTSD with dissociative traits last month. I’m starting on my meds today, getting back in therapy, etc…but I fear I’ve pushed my partner too far with my last outburst of rage this past Friday, and he left on a work trip for 5 days. I want to be different, and all I can do now I guess is hope he gives me another chance. I am just now understanding why I do certain things and getting the help I need. Hoping I can make it through the next 5 days without my mind raging war on itself Thank you for sharing this article and creating this website.
I have been married to my husband 25 years then he got ptsd . 6 months ago he left the family home . he visits me daily for an hour but then says he has to go. he says he has no love for me or our children or even his mother anymore yet he still wants to give me a kiss hello and goodby. he still wants a cuddle especially if he is tearfull. he says he feels guilty for leaving and hates himself. he constantly returns to the place he suffered his trauma. he is drinking heavily now too. I’m really struggling .I love him and miss him and don’t know how to fix our marriage. my friends say I should walk away ,that he just wants a single life but if this was true I’m sure he wouldn’t come round and phone me. this is the hardest thing iv ever had to face I’m heartbroken. I cant bare the thought of him never coming back and finding someone else.
Thank you so much for this article.
My partner of 7 months and soon to be husband next summer, abruptly ended our relationship after a fight. It blindsided me.
I saw mild PTSD symptoms sprinkled throughout our relationship, but when a highly stressful fight happened just recently, he forced me to move out of our house and cut me off completely. It’s been the most traumatic event of my life. He refuses to talk to me as I have reached out to him via email, text, phone…and nothing. His last response back to an email said to never contact him again, or he’d report me to the board of my healthcare profession.
He is not capable of working on the relationship because his PTSD is unmanaged. I was very naive to the depths of his dysfunction and I believe he is in a state of deep denial, as he struggles in intimate relationships, yet interestingly, has a very large close knit group of friends and family.
Your article has helped me to understand how the PTSD sufferer can end relationships so suddenly as well as losing feelings of love and connection. My head can understand, but the heart is another matter.
Thank you for explaining your personal experience with PTSD. This website will help so many friends and family of PTSD sufferers to understand this complex mental health issue.
A repetitive question by spouses and loved ones is that their sufferer walked out of the relationship with little to zero prediction of such event occurring. Some may have concluded that the end of the world would happen before their partner walking away from them would have.

I just wanted to thank you for this post.
I'm currently going through a break-up where my now ex girlfriend cheated on me after 2 years. It absolutely destroyed me. I haven't been able to eat or drink, I constantly feel sick and have frequent thoughts of ending my own life. What makes it worse is that she's telling people I'm lying - when all I've been doing is asking friends for advice on a situation which, as someone with Asperger's syndrome, I find very confusing how she's suddenly changed in the space of a few days. She says it's because the person she kissed made her realise things, but everyone's said how he'd say those things as he's trying to get with her. Throughout our relationship people said she's toxic, unstable and would drag me down, at the time I told them to get lost because I was blinded by love. I guess a part of me still is. A part of me still sees the girl I fell in love with those 2 years ago, a part of me still sees her as being this quiet, shy, but perfect girl and not this sudden insensitive cold person I no longer recognise. it scares me, I get less than 3 hours of sleep a night and it feels like I cannot continue with my studies, or even my life, because a girl I loved is with some person who turned her against me. Her friends all said she clearly cheated on me and is trying to manipulate me into feeling guilty for everything, yet I've been stupid enough to try my hardest to convince them to still talk to her because a part of me believed her when she called me her best friend and said without me she would have killed herself many times over these last few years. I think, I think I might be developing PTSD, I've been through breakups before and it's never been this painful. I just wanted to thank you for your post, it helped light that spark to guide my way, it's going to be a long journey and I hope I survive it - I just wanted you to know I've printed your post out and I'm reading it when ever I feel low or suicidal. Thank you so much. Mutley.
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