Some of the greatest guys on the planet are in relationships with women who have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. These relationships can be especially challenging, but extremely rewarding for both parties. PTSD should not be a life sentence to being isolated and alone. Many men ask the question, “How can I best support my girlfriend who has PTSD?” Sometimes the answer lies in the specifics of the events that led to the disorder. You have to learn how to personalize your reactions and your support to her particular experience.
Many women have PTSD as a result of child abuse or sexual abuse or assault. Of course, women can acquire PTSD from natural disasters, accidents, or from combat. The odds are significantly in favor of sexual assault, though. Post traumatic stress affects women differently than men in that it cuts off our emotions, which is typically how a female navigates the world. I’m not saying that men are not emotional, but women use emotions as a guide whereas men use logic.
When a woman is emotionally numb, it throws her out of balance. Also, women have very wide emotional swings. That is just the biology of a woman, PTSD or no PTSD. Everyone knows that women can be weepy one moment and raging angry the next. Add Post Traumatic Stress Disorder into the equation and your wife or girlfriend may experience a wide range of emotions very quickly. She may also feel completely numb inside and show no emotions.
Now that you know this, a general strategy to supporting a woman who has PTSD is flexibility. She may be crying on your shoulder one minute and pushing you away because she wants to be alone in the next minute. This is very confusing and it’s hard for people who do not have PTSD to understand. Your flexibility, without judging her, shaming her, or making her feel blamed will make you a true hero in her eyes.
Roll with the punches. Eventually she will emotionally even out and things will return to normal- or whatever is normal for the relationship. When she is going through a range of emotions that make no sense to you, relax and take a deep breath. Unless she specifically tells you that she wants to be alone, your presence is likely a huge comfort to her. I know how simple that sounds, but at times, it really is that simple. Just having someone there can be enormously reassuring. It is not important to try to get her to talk about what she is feeling. If she wants to talk about what is happening with her, that is a very positive sign. You really don’t need to do anything other than listen empathetically. Let her know that you are there and tell her that she is going to be ok.
You don’t need to make any grand gestures or walk on eggshells. Be present, be available to listen, tell her that you care, and that she will be ok. These are the most effective ways to support a woman who has PTSD. It sounds oversimplified because it is that simple. Dealing with a boyfriend or a girlfriend who has PTSD can be challenging and confusing at times. Sometimes you have to use a lot of critical thinking, common sense, and flexibility. At times, it is hard to know what will be the most helpful and what will set the person off. Ultimately, education is the key to dealing with PTSD. Once you know what to expect, it is not too difficult to personalize a solid plan that is specific to the person that you love.