The power of using words to process our pain and can be therapeutic for those experiencing post-traumatic stress. Holocaust survivors who did not talk about their experience found themselves suffering more than those that were able to verbalize what they went through. This point resonated with me strongly as I have witnessed the therapeutic benefit of sharing pain. Here is how to help a spouse with PTSD in marriage.
More inspiration on helping someone with PTSD feel “safe”:
- The man that started it all. Harville Hendrix and the gift of Imago Therapy.
- More than just a communication technique, Imago therapy is deeply healing
- How to transform your anger with your spouse and turn it into compassion
Holding in Our Feelings
When a new couple comes in who is in crisis, they often experience great relief after one session because they were able to express their true feelings and their pain, often for the very first time. Many of us may be suffering in our relationships but we may be holding in our feelings, walking around with resentment, and focusing our energy everywhere but our spouse.
I am reminded of the wife who was scared that her husband would never be successful. Instead of articulating her feelings, she took action and immersed herself in work for three years to the point of obsession for success, disconnecting herself from her husband and family.
Of course, in order for us to be able to express the fear and pain we may be feeling, we need to feel safe enough to discuss these feelings. As we have mentioned before, the structure of the Imago Dialogue helps create the safety needed to verbalize our innermost pain in a non-threatening way that allows the listener to have compassion for our story.
Once we can articulate how we feel, we blow away all of the assumptions either one of us may have had about each other.
We also mitigate the resentment that came out sideways in the forms of jabs or putdowns. After everything is on the table we can move forward.
I believe that we are all suffering from some form of post-traumatic stress. (Whether or not we can technically be diagnosed with PTSD is irrelevant for our purposes.) This trauma could be from childhood, from previous relationships, from witnessing or even reading in detail the graphic accounts of 9/11 or other tragedies. Until we can articulate the pain we are experiencing, we will be operating in survival mode. Living a life of reactivity, of flight/fight, will only bring about more discord in our relationships and within ourselves. If you are in a relationship where you are afraid to share your feelings with your spouse, know that it is so much more pleasurable to be in a relationship where you can share without being worried about the other’s reaction.
While there are many ways to clinically deal with anxiety, here are three approaches of dealing with trauma.
About PTSD and Relationships
Post-traumatic brain disorder or PTSD is an anxiety disorder that is only caused by the environment. You are not genetically born or able to inherit PTSD. Instead, you are exposed to a traumatic event, such as a suicide bombing or execution, that you are forced to subconsciously relive. Sexual assault, which disproportionally affects female service members and veterans more in the military but happens to men, too, causes PTSD.
The US Department of Veterans Affairs reports the following statistics for PTSD among veterans based on their time in service:
- Between 11 and 20 percent of veterans from Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom have been diagnosed and treated by the VA for PTSD at some point post-service
- About 12 percent of Gulf War (Desert Storm) veterans have or will have PTSD
- About 30 percent of veterans from the Vietnam War have had PTSD
It is critical to point out a key fact—not all veterans who are suffering from PTSD are seeking treatment from the VA or reporting their symptoms. Therefore, unfortunately, the statistics skew higher. Also, active duty service members and reservists, as well as their spouses and children, may also be suffering from PTSD. This is as a result of their family member’s own experiences in service, which only compounds the problem and adds strain to relationships.
The first approach is to distract oneself by not thinking about it.
While in the long run this is probably not the most productive approach, it can help deal with the constant overwhelm.
Sometimes we need to stop focusing on the traumatic experience and live life, otherwise we will be paralyzed. The brutal murder a few summers ago of the young boy in Borough Park, Leiby Kletsky, horrified so many of us. I remember spending days, if not weeks, reading the latest updates about the story. It got to a point where I realized I was re-exposing myself to the trauma.
While I am not suggesting we ignore this horrible tragedy, I do think it is unnecessary and unproductive to bombard ourselves with up-to-the-minute updates of horrifying negative stimuli.
This is one of the blessings of being able to forget, at least on a conscious level. If we would remember every negative experience we had, we would have a difficult time moving forward.
The second approach is to discuss one’s worries or the traumatic experience. Those who choose not to talk about such matters often do themselves and their loved ones a disservice. History has not always been so kind to the Jewish people. Even those of us whose parents or grandparents did not experience the Holocaust, need go back a few more generations to find immigrants escaping pogroms, forced service in the Russian army, etc. Many of them did not share a word about their experiences.
While many thrived, others left a legacy of unspoken pain, depression, and anger.
We cannot fault them, nor possibly fathom what they went through.
What we can learn is that without the ability to process our feelings, we often live a life of inner turmoil.
These unprocessed feelings, which sometimes manifest themselves in unhealthy behaviors, create an unwanted legacy.
Couples whose parents were Holocaust survivors may carry with them the baggage of their parents’ trauma that was never dealt with.
I have witnessed the effect that it has had on these marriages, and it gets passed on throughout the generations until one couple decides to break the chain and become conscious.
There is something very healing about sharing our story. In fact, the Passover Seder shows the importance of sharing our experiences, even the bitter ones. When we tell our story in a way in which we truly feel heard and validated, it can have a tremendously healing effect.
Sometimes all we need is to be heard.
The power of prayer enables us to realize that we are ultimately not in control. If we put our faith in G‑d, it can be a pleasant relief. Prayer gives us an opportunity to verbalize our pain. King David writes in Psalms (55:23), “Cast your burden on G‑d and He will provide for you.”
Dr Viktor Frankl’s experience of and survival in concentration camps led him to observe in his book Man’s Search for Meaning that spirituality actually improved the chance of survival.
Spirituality allows one’s thought to transcend the ills of this world. It enables us to sanctify the mundane and find meaning in everything we do.
Finally, it allows us to move forward through life even when things do not make sense. Prayer is an expression of our dependence on G‑d, and consequently our faith in Him. Even if we have no other outlet for our hurt, He is always available to listen.
When we tell our story in a way in which we truly feel heard and validated, it can have a tremendously healing effect. These three approaches are not mutually exclusive, and can be integrated to help us cope with the anxiety and worry we may be experiencing from past traumas. While it is extremely important to discuss our feelings, there may be times when we want to distract ourselves so that we can function. Prayer can complement these tactics, as it can provide comfort that G‑d is ultimately in control and will help us get through these hard times. As we are encountered with the various stressors of our lives, may we learn how to empower ourselves, so that we can effectively deal with them and not let them harm ourselves and our relationships.
If you or your spouse suffers from trauma and would like to heal from traumatic experiences, contact us to talk about how we can best help you and your spouse heal from traumatic experiences together.
Benefits of Marriage and Family Therapy for PTSD
By seeking marriage and family therapy for military service members and veterans, you can work to combat the symptoms of TBI and PTSD. Along with identifying and defining the issues associated with personal injuries caused in the military, you and your loved ones can learn to manage these issues. This includes figuring out triggers associated with PTSD or getting medical care for at TBI. It all starts with marriage counseling so that someone can help you identify these issues with the least amount of resistance from you and your family members.
We find that our 2 Day Marriage Restoration Retreat is the best way to heal together as it’s primary focus is creating safety for your relationship so that both of you can share and feel heard deeply. Talk with us today about the retreat especially if ptsd keeps rearing it’s ugly head and impacting your ability to connect with each other.
If you can’t get past ptsd in your marriage, it’s time to work with a professional. Our 2 Day Marriage Restoration Retreat is the fastest way to put your spouse at ease so that you can begin working on your marriage to save it, Fast! Contact us today about the marriage intensive option that we offer.
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