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How do I support my partner after a trauma?

The symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are diverse and affect a range of areas of functioning. As a result it can be really difficult to watch your partner go through a post traumatic response. You may find he or she becomes volatile and easily irritable. He may snap at you or be intolerant and moody. You might notice that your partner is anxious and/or tearful and perhaps doesn’t want to go anywhere, preferring to stay at home, alone – leaving you to venture to your social functions alone. You may feel completely helpless as you witness your partner changing right before your eyes and wonder whether things will ever be the same again.

Those struggling with PTSD will find that it affects functioning in a range of areas. She may be  distracted and lose concentration easily, making her less productive at work. He may call in sick and receive warnings from his employers, having a negative impact on his occupational functioning. Many people struggling with PTSD feel alienated and prefer to isolate themselves from other people. They don’t enjoy social gatherings the way they used to and prefer to stay home, alone. You may find that your social life is also affected by your partner’s PTSD. Relationships are always impacted by trauma. The effects of the trauma and the PTSD make partners irritable, anxious and distressed. And it may feel like there is nothing you can do to help them through their pain.

Supporting a partner through the after effects of trauma means being patient and tolerant. Realise and remember that, while it feels like everything has changed, this is temporary and better times will come. Be patient with both your partner and yourself as she navigates through her traumatic response. Encourage him to see a counsellor and find a support group. Rather than force your partner to talk about things when she doesn’t feel like it, make yourself available when she is ready to talk about her feelings.

At the same time, try not to force your partner into going out and getting back on track as this is likely to result in feelings of inadequacy and failure. Rather gently encourage little outings that are not too overwhelming. Perhaps just a little walk on the beach, or in the park. Going out for a coffee with a friend, rather than a big social gathering with many people present. Try to empathise with your partner feeling alienated, and also encourage re-connection with good friends and family.

Above all, take care of yourself too. Make sure you get enough rest, eat well and also get some time out to have fun and do things you enjoy. This may mean leaving your partner at home once a while as you go get involved in a sport or hobby so you can re-energise. Try not to feel responsible for your partner, or guilty for going out and having fun. Living your life in a healthy way will encourage your partner to begin doing the same. Always invite her along and make sure that you create a space for the two of you to do things together too so that you aren’t leaving your partner out completely.

Seek help from a support group or a counsellor if you are struggling to remain positive and help your partner cope.

Lisa Kunde | CFHP
Lisa Kunde

Lisa Kunde has ten years experience working as a psychologist with adults in both private and public hospital settings (oncology, palliative care, chronic pain, cardio-pulmonary, psychiatric and alcohol and other drugs units).

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