Loving a Veteran with PTSD: How to Support Your Spouse in Healing

Your spouse isn’t ready to admit they’re living with PTSD, but you know the signs: the numbness, the hypervigilance, the visceral fear. Living with a veteran with PTSD can be an emotional rollercoaster. You’re desperate to get off, but more than anything, you want to help.

Right now, PTSD feels like it’s ruling your life. But it doesn’t have to. These are the steps you can take to help a spouse with PTSD and reclaim your marriage.

Understand It’s Not Personal

Being the spouse of a veteran with PTSD isn’t easy. Between the irritability, the anger, and the emotional distance, it can feel like your spouse came home a different person. Your own life gets upended as you avoid social activities to accommodate an isolating spouse, start sleeping in separate rooms, and take on twice the parenting duties while your loved one falls to the addiction they use to numb their symptoms.

PTSD will be hard on your relationship, but it doesn’t have to end it. It’s important to remind yourself that your spouse isn’t doing these things to hurt you, but rather struggling with their own personal demons. At the same time, hold your spouse accountable to pursuing treatment, and don’t enable them. Only through professional treatment can your spouse and marriage overcome PTSD.

Learn About the VA Health System

Veterans can qualify for Veterans Administration disability benefits with a PTSD diagnosis. Veterans can also receive PTSD treatment from psychologists and clinical social workers at VA medical centers. Unfortunately, some veterans face difficulty accessing PTSD treatment through the VA. Therapy for PTSD can take many sessions over several months to complete, a struggle for veterans who live far from VA facilities. Even for veterans with a nearby VA medical center, a lack of information, long wait times, and an onerous appointment system can be enough of a barrier to stop veterans from seeking treatment.

Support your spouse by leading the charge on navigating the VA health system. Learn what mental health services the VA provides, identify the nearest VA medical centers with PTSD care, coordinate telehealth care, and assist with appointments and transportation so the only hurdle your veteran has to cross is showing up.

Assemble a Care Team

Whether you get care within the VA health system or outside it, there are certain people you need on your team. These are the professionals to recruit for your spouse’s PTSD care team:

  • Psychologist or clinical social worker: Most mental health professionals who treat PTSD aren’t medical doctors, but rather psychologists and clinical social workers. Both psychologists and social workers have a high level of education: Psychologists obtain a doctoral degree (Ph.D, Psy.D, or Ed.D) and one to two years of clinical experience before becoming licensed, while clinical social workers obtain a Master of Social Work degree from an accredited university and 900+ hours of fieldwork before becoming a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). Both professionals are trained in diagnosing and treating psychosocial disorders, including PTSD.
  • Psychiatrist: Some veterans benefit from medication in addition to counseling and other therapies. Since social workers and psychologists can’t prescribe medication, your veteran will need to visit a psychiatrist for PTSD medication. Psychiatrists are medical doctors who have undergone a psychiatric residency in order to specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of mental health disorders.
  • Addiction counselor: If your veteran also struggles with substance abuse, add an addiction counselor to your care team. There are no set qualifications to become an addiction counselor, but the National Certification Commission for Addiction Professionals maintains three levels of certification that addiction counselors can obtain.

The final hurdle in your PTSD journey? Getting your veteran to admit they need help. There are many reasons veterans resist mental health treatment, but the truth is that PTSD treatment is safe, effective, and the best way to get your lives back. Encourage your spouse to seek help, and don’t forget to use your own support network along the way.
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