How to Help A Relationship Survive Trauma Recovery

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Can friendships, family bonds and romantic relationships survive trauma and PTSD recovery? When you embark on the process of recovery – engaging in therapy, making deliberate choices and taking actions to change who you are and how you live – you change, your priorities change and your approach to living changes. It’s only natural that your romantic or friendly or family relationships will change too.

If on a Winter's Night...

In order to keep any relationship solid communication is key. But not only the kind of daily communication you already have. If you’re in a relationship and actively dedicating yourself to more intense focus on healing in then how you and your partner face this together will be the difference between strengthening your bond or losing it as you shift and evolve through the maze of healing.

Imagine this scenario: You’re embarking on your PTSD-free quest and say to your partner/friend/family member, “Honey, are you prepared to be married to/in this relationship with a different person what it’s all said and done?” And your partner replies, “I’m not sure.” Or worse, doesn’t say anything at all. That can certainly kill your healing buzz – and get you worried that maybe recovery isn’t such a good idea after all. Perhaps you have a family to consider, or your significant other’s support is important to you and you don’t want to lose it.

What do you do when your relationship seems like it may not hold up in recovery? The answer: Communicate at a whole new level. It’s time to speak with more claritythan ever before.

[For the rest of this article I’ll use the example of a marriage but the ideas apply to any type of relationship.]

Many marriages and relationships are ruined by PTSD recovery

But here are three of the top reasons why:

1 – they were inappropriate relationships to begin with, i.e. you would never have chosen that person if you were symptom-free

2 – without consistent and proactive connection and communication doubt and uncertainty creeps into the relationship and erodes it over time; it’s not recovery but the lack of understanding and, more often, misunderstanding that creates the downfall

3 – what your partner really loves about you is that you are miserable, dependent and unable to manage on your own.

So you have to ask your partner, “Do you love me solely for the PTSD person I am?” What changes in recovery and healing are the things that are detrimental to our lives and our ability to function as partners. If your significant other enjoys being with a person who is less than a full partner then he or she may, indeed, feel dubious about your healing. If your partner enjoys the fact that you’re miserable and full of symptoms he or she will be very unhappy to have a healthy, vivacious, self-sufficient, whole partner. (Unfortunately, yes, there really are people who are like this.)

One would hope that your partner wants you to be your best, most happy self. The most effective way to approach this issue is clarity. Often, it’s the lack of this that causes relationship rigor mortis. When you say, “Honey, are you prepared to be married to a different person?” your partner may imagine suddenly not having all of the things he or she truly loves about you. But you don’t necessarily mean you’ll be a different person in terms of the values and principles by which you live. What we usually mean with those words is that we’ll be different in our choices, actions, behaviors and ability to function: We mean we’ll be our true selves without being distorted by PTSD.

Creating an Enduring Partnership 

Creating connection and clarity from the beginning of your healing process is incredibly easy and sets the stage for moving through your healing transformation as a team instead of two solo people.

To get started try this:

  • Crease a sheet of paper lengthwise and label the left Side A and the right Side B.
  • On the left write down all of the things you hate about your PTSD self; all the behaviors, symptoms, attitudes, experiences that you want to change.
    On the right column for each item in the left write what you envision your healed self being, choosing, doing, experiencing, etc.
  • Then sit down with your partner and read Side A out loud. Ask if that is the person your partner most deeply wants you to be for the rest of your life. Explore and discuss.
  • Then read Side B. Ask if your partner would be happy and able to love you if that is the person you were for the rest of your life. Explore and discuss.

Many relationships (including my own) strengthen in the face of PTSD recovery. Healed we are better partners, parents and can help create a family environment and lifestyle that is enormously positive and loving. The key to maintaining the relationship and connection is clarity, clarity, clarity. Talking things through so that you’re both on the same page every step of the way means you both change and evolve together as you heal so that when you are symptom free you have gotten there together. Overcoming obstacles together fortifies a relationship and absolutely can be a very important part of the recovery process. The fact is, by the time you complete your healing you and your partner may be more connected, committed and dedicated to each other than ever before.

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