I am pleased to bring you a guest post from Heather over at Challenge Coins, Ltd., a company specializing in unique and custom made military challenge coins. She’s tackling a tough topic–support for military spouses dealing with the effects of PTSD.
As someone whose extended family was devastated by the fallout and effects of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD), I know this isn’t an issue for which there is a quick fix, and I also realize you can’t make someone seek help. That’s why it’s so important to take care of yourself and your family. If you’re in a crisis situation, please call the Veterans Crisis Line by dialing 988 and then pressing 1 or utilize their online chat at the Veterans Crisis Line Website. Get more resources at the National Center for PTSD. Thanks, Heather, for the great tips!
Whether you fell in love with your service member before the military or you met them after a couple of tours, many of you will have to face the grim reality of PTSD. Indeed, the VA finds that 15.7% of OEF/OIF deployed Veterans screened positive for PTSD compared to 10.9% of non-deployed Veterans. (OEF/OIF refers to Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF)–U.S. missions in the war in Afghanistan and the Iraq War.)
While the symptoms of this illness wreak the most havoc on your spouse, they also impact your mental health and your relationship. That’s why we’ve put together a list of five tips to help military spouses deal with PTSD in their marriages.
1) Keep Yourself Sane
As with most things of this nature, goodness starts from within. You can’t expect to help your spouse or keep your relationship strong if you’re ripping at the seams. That’s why it’s so important to follow these three bits of advice:
Indulge in alone time
Whether you prefer to take time to yourself when your spouse is away and kids are at school or if you need to calmly walk out when things get stressful, make sure that you have a way to unwind and self-reflect without anything to disturb the peace.
Build up your own support system
This can be other military spouses, friends, or your family. As long as they’re trusted sources that you can rely on when times are tough, you know that you have a good support system in place. You can’t always go it alone, so if you need a shoulder to cry on or someone to laugh with over silly stories, don’t be afraid to reach out to the people around you.
There are many high-quality therapists out there that specialize in military PTSD and its effects on the veteran’s loved ones. Counselors and therapists can also offer clinical advice beyond what a normal therapy group can do.
2) Encourage Therapy and Support Groups
Of course, you aren’t the only one who needs an outlet for all the issues that stem from post-service PTSD. If you notice your spouse struggling with their symptoms, you should gently encourage your spouse to seek therapy or support groups so that they, too, have a safe space to vent all their worries, frustrations, and fears.
Just make sure to frame it in such a way that it doesn’t question their mental faculties or shame them for the feelings they’re experiencing. Instead, emphasize that their internal struggle is completely valid and that mental health is just as important to maintain as physical. That way, you’re highlighting the importance of therapy without the added pressure.
3) Make a Safety Plan
Research tips on how to properly deal with your loved one’s volatility. This can come in the form of code words that help to break their mental state, certain protocols that you both must follow whenever things get heated, or even a trusted friend’s phone number so that they can come over and help diffuse the situation. These tactics may not always be 100% effective, but if it calms the tension to any degree, then it’ll give you more room to work with.
4) Trust, Love, and Listening
Making sure to keep your bond close is of utmost importance if you want your marriage to last. There are a few strategies in particular to keep in mind that will foster a healthy relationship even in the face of PTSD flare-ups.
Keep communication open
When you offer to be a listening ear, make sure you’re truly listening, even if your spouse is repeating themselves or trailing off. Nod, agree, and ask questions so that they feel heard.
Be a rock
PTSD is difficult for any couple to deal with. If you’re inconsistent with your support, you’ll only leave your partner feeling more insecure and unsure of themselves and your relationship.
Rebuild your connection
When symptoms of PTSD first arise, your spouse may act distrustful of you or even scared. Even if you’ve known each other for years, you’ll have to start anew in some regards. The important thing is to be patient as you build up this safety net of trust from the foundations. You’ll see in time that your spouse will become more comfortable as you keep making these efforts.
5) Patience and Understanding
One of the best ways to support your veteran spouse is to do thorough research on their condition, especially when it comes to triggers and symptoms. Research can only prepare you so much, however; you’ll also have to keep your resolve and be patient when they suffer from flashbacks and anxiety attacks.
Learn their triggers
But don’t stop there. Help them cope, avoid, and eventually, conquer them. Be sure that you and your spouse are clear on what they’re comfortable doing and avoid any place or event that might trigger flashbacks, like a fireworks show.
Have emergency contacts saved
If your spouse is harming themselves or suffers from suicidal thoughts, keep the appropriate emergency services or family members on speed dial in case of the need for quick intervention. This is a grim thing to think about, but with 20 veterans dying by their own hand every day, it’s a concern that should be taken seriously.
You and your spouse are not alone in your fight against PTSD. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help and guidance, and keep the conversation open with your spouse so you always know what they need.
About the author: Heather Lomax is a contributing writer and media relations specialist for Challenge Coins Ltd. She writes for a variety of MilSpouse blogs on topics related to financial strategies for military homes and getting closer to your spouse.
Originally posted 2018. Stats and images updated 2023.