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?
Relationships are complicatedRelationships 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 periodHow 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 relationshipYou 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 suffererThe 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 partnerWhether 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 relationshipPTSD, 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?
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 recoverKnowing 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.
Parting wordsRemember 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.