Ruth Wailand
From tea to tech; hospitality and hilarity in Israel

Life with a PTSD partner

Our traumatized, post-Oct. 7 society will need new coping skills. These insights gained from my married life can help
(Paul Campbell/iStock)
(Paul Campbell/iStock)

It was meant to be a couples therapy day. Usually quite an emotional time for us both, but also usually one that imbues us with a renewed sense of connectivity.

Rather unusually, it had been a particularly blissful morning. The skies were quiet from planes and replaced with chirping birds and “we” had managed to remain untriggered throughout the whole morning routine. 

Having enjoyed some time working together in the garden with the sounds of nature as inspiration, it felt counterproductive to pull ourselves out of our creative bubble to go to therapy. But our appointment had been set and it was too late to change it. Still strong in our feeling of togetherness, we took ourselves off to our therapist’s beautiful home, where we met her just as she was leaving. There had been a mix-up and she needed to change our meeting. It was, as we say in Yiddish, “b’shert” – everything happens for a reason! We were in a good place and didn’t feel like we needed this appointment for this particular time.

There are many times, however, when we do need those appointments, or when we even call for an emergency one. Like the time the police came knocking at the door… but we’ll get to that.

When we got married, a close friend of my mother’s, a PTSD warrior himself, asked her if I knew what I was getting myself into. This naturally filled my mother with great optimism for the impending nuptials…

I did know I was marrying someone who had been diagnosed with PTSD from the Second Lebanon War – a war hero no less! – (though at that stage the army had not yet recognized his PTSD). But the simple fact of the matter is that no, I had no idea what I was really getting into. I may have thought I had an indication but I still had a lot to learn. Now, I know that triggers and symptoms of PTSD manifest themselves in all shapes and sizes, and then some.

Since Oct 7th, more families will be learning what it is like to live with someone who has post-trauma. Many will have to relearn who their partner has become and how to deal with that. Let’s face it, we have all been so profoundly affected by this unprecedented time, whether we saw the horrors for ourselves or witnessed it from the online sidelines. To some extent, it has forever changed us all. If there’s anything I’ve learned over this past decade, and particularly these past few months, it is that I am not alone, however lonely it may feel sometimes. 

Marriage, in any case, is a journey filled with highs and lows. It has triumphs as well as challenges. When your partner is living with any past trauma, the journey can be that much more challenging and complex. Still, it also provides an opportunity for profound growth, learning, and understanding.

On a day-to-day basis, 90% of the time everything is as it should be. At the end of the day, I married a loving, caring, gentle man who would do anything for the people around him. However, on Trigger (with a capital “T”) days, it can be a different story and anything can set it off.

One incident, the time the police came to check on us, I had been rushing our child to get dressed and ready for school in the morning. Upon hearing the slight panic in my voice, it’s possible that my husband started to feel a little panicked himself, which set off a snowball effect of frustrations whereby from that point on, any clutter, anything he heard or felt, anything in his way, was going to influence his mood. But no one except him was going to get him out of the loop.

He has managed to explain to me since that he needed to complete the “process” to get him off of the rollercoaster of emotions that had started charging through his body. That emotional rollercoaster often sends him into a cleaning frenzy, which I have also since learned is quite normal. 

Similar to an OCD episode, every surface needed to be cleared of clutter, and anything that could possibly be cleaned needed cleaning immediately. Standing in his way and physically trying to shake him out of it when he was cleaning only agitated and interrupted the process. When I tried to forcefully, physically stop him in his tracks, he screamed “LET ME FINISH!”. 

This scream was nothing like I had experienced before. Instead of pushing back physically, he had let it all out. So much so, that a passerby called in anonymously to the police, who came knocking on the door to see that everything was okay. They arrived just when we had managed to get through the “loop” and my husband had taken the dog for a walk to get some fresh air. This is one of the tools I have learned that helps get him “back.” 

Here are a few others:

Fresh Air and Deep Breathing

Deep breathing not only helps re-oxygenate the brain but also aids in relaxing tense muscles. This simple act can create a calming environment and shift their focus away from distressing thoughts, helping them to refocus and come back to the present.

Positive Affirmation

Reassure your loved one of your unwavering support. Remind them of your love, even when their doubts arise. Taking a moment together to express gratitude for the little things in life can be a powerful affirmation of the positive aspects that exist, fostering a sense of security and connection.

Build Confidence

Provide a boost of confidence by expressing trust in their ability to navigate through the difficult moments. Reinforce their strength and knowledge, emphasizing that they have the capability to overcome the challenges on their own. This affirmation can empower them to regain a sense of control.

Music Therapy

Engage in the therapeutic power of music. It just so happens, I married a “music man” but whether it’s listening to calming tunes or creating music, a rhythmic flow can have a soothing effect on the emotional state. We particularly like singing together and have found that it can be especially impactful to boost a sense of connection and unity.

Grounding Techniques

Help your partner reconnect to the present. Gently remind them of their surroundings and encourage tactile sensations, such as a reassuring touch on the back or arm when they are comfortable with it. Make sure you ask for their approval to touch! For some, holding a stress ball or feeling a favorite piece of jewelry or clothing can provide a tangible, grounding anchor during those moments of distress.

Encourage Professional Support 

Remind them of the importance of seeking professional help. Encourage therapy sessions or support groups to provide additional outlets or tools for managing any symptoms. Without marriage counseling for the past five years (probably more actually), I’m not sure where we would be now.

Moreover, amidst all the challenges, it is paramount to carve out time for yourself. Take moments for personal reflection, your own creative outlets, and self-learning. 

When you’re ready, you can find the space to reconnect with the person you fell in love with, remembering the qualities that sparked that connection. Even in moments of doubt or questioning, try to hold on to that essence. Finding something to laugh about or fond memories to recall sometimes helps.

In any case, it’s crucial to acknowledge that neither you nor your partner is to blame for the scars of the past. Give space to those burdens they carry while encouraging them to practice leaving the weight of those experiences in the past, making room for a brighter future.

Every day presents a choice — a choice to stand beside your spouse, to navigate the challenges, and to contribute to the healing process. Some days it will take more strength than others, and it’s in those moments that you look for your love to shine the brightest and you get to continue learning, adapting, and growing together. 

As this war sadly wages on, and as echoes of past wars linger for some, my sincere wish for all of us is to discover the courage and resilience required to make the best choices for ourselves each day. May the strength in the bonds of love and commitment guide us. Because, at the end of the day, isn’t having the power to choose our own path the truest measure of triumph over adversity?

About the Author
Weaving an intersection between Hospitality, Marketing and Hi-tech professionally, while living alongside a PTSD partner, personally. Exploring all that life can throw at us, especially now!