PTSD and Your Relationships

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Dan Sartor, PhD
One of the devastating effects of posttraumatic stress disorder is how it impacts our relationships. There's a kind of emotional numbing. And so a sense of disconnection from the world, a sense of disconnection from themselves, and disconnected from loved ones begins to be problematic for that person, but also their loved ones.

Oftentimes, a spouse, or children, or others who are present and care for the individual with emotional trauma will say, yeah, he or she is physically present, but not emotionally present. That begins to feel very distressing for loved ones as well as for the individual who's survived the trauma.

And the lack of ability to sort of break through that barrier can feel very isolating. Things like being irritable or having kind of a trigger -- angry or angry response, so quick to anger and anger management sort of issues that really go back to the trauma.

But a slight or small thing triggers it in a current relationship, right? Well, things that we do in unregulated anger can be very destructive and very hurtful to a relationship. And some folks will turn to sex to feel emotionally and physically alive when they're feeling numb.

So if they're doing behaviors sexually that feel like a betrayal or outside of, say, a marriage or a committed partnership, while that might in some way be connected to the post-traumatic stress disorder, that obviously has severe impact on that social support and on that relationship. So it can be quite devastating for a relationship, which is why it's so easy to isolate, but also so destructive to isolate. Those things can only be healed in a relational context.