5 Things To Remember When Your Spouse Has PTSD
I was recently given the opportunity to tell my story and talk about my journey on a weekly online show geared towards correctional officers. (If you didn't watch it yet and you're interested, you can find it here.) A special thank you to William Young for inviting me on. If you or your spouse are in corrections, you should definitely check out his weekly show!
During the conversation, he asked what advice I would give other correction spouses.
I think I froze for a moment. It's so hard to give advice because there can be a million different situations that a spouse could find themselves in that I never found myself in. I'm no expert in anyone else's life...I barely feel like I'm an expert at my own life.
But if I had to put some basic advice out there that I think could work in most situations, it would be this:
1. Show Grace Towards Yourself.
You will undoubtedly find yourself navigating waters you never expected to find yourself in. Allow yourself to lean in to the uncomfortable. And allow yourself to know that the uncomfortableness is ok. You aren't going to have all the answers. But the moments that we feel the uncomfortable are also the moments where we learn and grow...and hopefully heal.
2. Find Your Circle.
I think this is key for ANY person but especially if you need a safe space to express concerns, fears, frustrations, and sometimes, anger. I think that these are things that you should express to your first responder spouse, as well, it's just that you might need to relay them in a different way than you would within your circle.
3. Don't Personalize Their Behaviour.
Nine times out of ten, their mood has nothing to do with you. That dark cloud that is suddenly hanging over their head isn't a result of something you did or didn't do. But if you are like me, you will feel like it is. You will replay every single thing you said in your head, combing carefully over every detail to try and reassure yourself that you said and did all the "right things". Even though it's hard, please remember, it's not about you.
4. Be Patient With Them.
Often times, when those moments of anger and dark clouds hit, your spouse doesn't understand it either. They don't like having their day taken over by intrusive thoughts, fear, and anxiety. If you ask them what's wrong and they reply with "I don't know", they're probably telling the truth. Give them some time and space to work through it. Chances are, they'll come tell you when they've figured it out.
5. Don't Say "I Understand".
Empathy and compassion should be key when dealing with anyone in life, but they are especially important when living with someone who is navigating PTSD. That being said, our words matter. And no matter how well intentioned they may be, saying the words "I understand", is bullshit. We don't understand. We can't understand. We might know what it's like to feel anxious, but we don't know what it's like to feel their anxiety. We might know what it's like to have a poor sleep, but we don't know what it's like to be ripped from our slumber with their nightmares. Sometimes the best thing we can say is simply, "I'm here for you" or "What do you need from me in this moment?".
If I was going to include 1 "bonus" piece of advice, it would be that every person's journey with PTSD will be different. Don't try to compare you or your spouse to anyone else. There will be hard days. There will be really shitty days. But remember, you are on the same side of this fight!
Take care and be kind to one another,