Divorcing a Spouse with PTSD
It’s difficult to navigate a marriage when the person you love has posttraumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. But while you understand they’re suffering, you’re suffering in your own way. As much as you care about them, their emotional turmoil can become your emotional turmoil.
If your spouse's symptoms of PTSD have upended your life together, what can you do?
Does your spouse have PTSD?
PTSD is a mental health condition that can result when a person experiences or witnesses a traumatic event While PTSD is often thought of in terms of military service and life-threatening war trauma, many other traumatic scenarios can trigger it as well. They include the following:
- Sexual assault
- A serious car crash
- Physical and mental abuse
- Harassment and bullying
- Seeing someone hurt or killed
- Continual exposure to stressful events during your job, such as an emergency room doctor
- Experiencing any type of violence when you fear for your life
- Experiencing a natural disaster
PTSD can set in later, often well after the original event, but it can make the person suffering feel like they are experiencing the event over and over. It doesn’t just go away on its own, and it can affect all areas of a person’s life.
In the flurry of modern life, it can be hard to know when your loved one is suffering. Everyday interactions can cause misunderstandings and tension. But PTSD is something altogether different than normal tension; it stems from a severe traumatic experience (or multiple experiences).
Your spouse may not need an official diagnosis of PTSD for you to consider that they’re suffering from it. If they’ve experienced a traumatic event in their life and show symptoms like these, PTSD may be the culprit:
- Severe bouts of moodiness, distress, irritability, or anger
- Recurring memories or nightmares about the incident
- Rapid breathing, sweating, or nausea when thinking about the event
- Flashbacks, or feeling like they are reliving the incident
- Hypervigilance or continually feeling “on guard”
- Emotional numbness
- Physical symptoms like headaches, chest pain, and dizziness
- Inability to remember important details of the event
- Addictive behavior
- Gaslighting behavior
- Negative thoughts and feelings of hopelessness
- Suicidal thoughts
Unfortunately, when a person has PTSD, it can interfere with their entire life, including their marriage.
PTSD affects relationships
PTSD can affect every aspect of your relationship. Your spouse, who may have once been carefree and fun to be around, may react to everything differently. Loud noises may trigger flashbacks. Small incidents may be blown out of proportion. They may struggle with alcohol or drug addiction.
As a result, you may feel lost and alone as the chasm widens between you.
Posttraumatic stress disorder can cause the following problems in a relationship.
Conversations may now feel heavy and often end in misunderstandings and disagreements.
Your spouse may have become detached, and the intimacy you once shared may be gone.
Hyper-arousal and irritability
Your partner may easily startle or become irritable over even the most minor incidents.
Loss of trust
Your spouse may feel unsafe and threatened. They may not trust the outside world, including you.
Even if your spouse used to love social gatherings, they may now avoid them altogether. As a consequence, you may feel isolated from the very people who could be your best support system.
The strain on your mental health
You may feel that the closeness you once shared is gone. You may feel like a caregiver instead of a spouse, and you may feel burned out and resentful.
Do you want to divorce your spouse with PTSD?
You may still care about your spouse, but you may feel that the person you fell in love with is no longer the person you’re married to. You may not be sure you can spend the rest of your life this way. However, contemplating divorce may make you feel sad – and guilty.
You might consider some alternatives before you take the divorce plunge.
Understand and address the problem
PTSD is a mental health issue. There are a lot of resources online, such as NAMI, where you can find information about PTSD and understand how it’s affecting your spouse. You might also find a mental health professional experienced in trauma and PTSD treatment.
Note that substance abuse and PTSD often go hand-in-hand. If your spouse has a coexisting substance abuse problem, a therapist who is trained in both trauma and substance abuse could be a good resource.
Seek PTSD support groups for encouragement and support
Take each day one day at a time
Once you and your spouse make a commitment to work through this together, there will be good days and bad days. Keep communication open and blame to a minimum. You may also consider a trial separation to give yourself some distance while you’re getting help.
If your spouse doesn’t admit they are struggling or won’t get help, you’ll need to consider your next options and look out for yourself. Divorce could be one of those options.
Consider your own safety
If your spouse’s behavior has become aggressive and volatile, your safety is paramount. If you decide to suggest divorce, make sure you’re safe when that discussion occurs or when you serve them with divorce papers. If you tell them in person, seek a public or neutral place, and have another trusted person present.
If your spouse’s reaction to the divorce conversation makes you concerned about your safety, consider staying with friends or family temporarily.
Keep records of all your interactions with your spouse during the divorce process, especially if you fear for your or your children’s safety and well-being.
Remember that self-compassion is necessary to get through this time. Find a therapist of your own, join a support group, or surround yourself with trusted friends and family. While you’re navigating this challenging time, it’s important to prioritize yourself.
Process the guilt
Ending your marriage can evoke guilt and shame, even in the best situations. When your spouse suffers from a mental illness, giving yourself a free pass can be even more difficult. It’s important to remember that doing what is best for you after everything you’ve been through is neither insensitive nor selfish.
At Hello Divorce, we’re dedicated to supporting the needs of people in difficult relationship circumstances. While we offer online divorce plans, we also offer other professional resources for those navigating divorce or beyond. Let us help. Schedule a free call to learn more.