Spouses and partners of veterans often don’t know who they will greet when they come home from service. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can take over their loved one’s personalities and abilities. It may feel like the person they married disappeared and is replaced with this entirely new person. Marriages can struggle, relationships may be on the brink of failure, and although there are programs created to educate spouses about PTSD, they fall short of being able to prepare the family for the experience of transitioning away. To offer their loved one with PTSD the bests support possible, partners can try some key things that may help navigate the journey.
Spouses and partners face stress civilian couples do not understand. Military marriage can put wives in competition with their spouses for attention. Military culture is in direct conflict quite often with marriage because the job requires so much of them and takes their energy and focus away from the family for long periods of time. There are often times when finances, PTSD, and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) creates difficulties for military families to face. The military places a priority on building resilience and the tradition of toughness is instilled in military personnel. Very little is being done to educate family members to build resilience in the face of reintegration. Reintegration into life back home is difficult when mental health issues are present. Families often bear the burden of caring for a loved one. Education is helpful so they understand what is needed to better support a loved one struggling with PTSD. Some things to consider:
- A spouse or partner with PTSD can begin to struggle with mental health issues themselves as a caregiver
- Caregivers have a higher rate of addiction and mental health challenges due to increased stress
- Symptoms are often misinterpreted and thought of as ‘negative behaviors’ that can be changed by doing things differently or changing their own behavior so the loved one does things differently
- Spouses and partners who take care of their loved one receive increased support and participate in therapy more with their loved one
One of the best ways spouses and partners can help their loved one is to support their journey through rehab. This means finding a dual diagnosis treatment program that reads veterans’ issues. They have a specific culture, language, and way of being that is important to keep in mind as it regards the spouse. When the veterans are in treatment, the partner could attend family therapy sessions, peer support groups, and other spaces to learn how best to handle these experiences. Family is one of the most important aspects of treatment for veterans. There is a lot of healing that needs to take place and working together as a family is important for people in recovery to ensure the whole family gets help.
PTSD is a chronic condition that requires a long time to deal with and is not curable. Someone with PTSD may require constant care and oversight, which puts the burden on the shoulders of the spouse. Partners of veterans with PTSD may be faced with stressors that come with caring for someone who lives with chronic disease. Stressors include finances, symptoms of PTSD, crises, the loss of intimacy with the partner, and loss of friendship. Due to a loved one’s illness, partners may be the only ones who can take care of these things. This puts a burden on them. Caregivers often feel stress and burn out, then need supportive services themselves. Good support for the veteran means having strong support for the partner, themselves, to carry them through the challenges.
Caring Well for Veterans
Partners can love their veteran spouse but not know how best to care for their own needs. Caregivers often benefit from individual therapy and support groups for loved ones of veterans. Online support hotlines and groups are also making their way into the world. Support groups that are educational are best, rather than just talking about negative experiences. It is lonely being the partner of someone with PTSD so uplifting support is crucial. The best support a caregiver can offer a loved one with PTSD. Veterans often need:
- Understanding about their symptoms and causes of the issues they face
- Compassion for how they are struggling to cope but also seeking help
- Patience with their specific issues and a willingness to work together to seek solutions
- Trust that they will continue to heal and find hope
The key to helping them is to get support for the partner but also go to family counseling. This will help them understand the symptoms of PTSD better for their loved one, get support, and feel they are not alone. The caregiver burden is hard because it isolates people who help loved ones. The health of caregivers is important and worth focusing on. Caregivers of loved ones with PTSD can look to others for help in the recovery community so they can support them getting help for addiction, mental health challenges, and other issues while also receiving support for themselves. With the right care and treatment for everyone involved, a family can learn to thrive again, even in the face of the challenges that come their way.
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