I feel like I need to end a relationship with someone who has PTSD. I've never dealt with someone who has PTSD before and I don't want to make the situation worse. How do I handle this without causing further damage to this person?
Person's Gender: Female
Person's Age: 33
Good afternoon, this is Howard,I'm sorry to hear about the trouble you are having with your relationship. Being involved with a fellow who has PTSD can be very challenging, as you well know. I'm wondering what type of damage you think you may cause him by ending the relationship. Would you mind sharing a little information about that?
Background for him: Afghanistan war vet. He was special ops and a tactical shooter so you can imagine what he's seen and had to do. He took an early retirement a couple of years ago to become a full time father to his two children. He's currently going through a custody battle with his ex wife with a trial date coming up in June. Prior to the divorce they moved away from all of his family and friends, so he literally has nobody. He's stressed that he's not going to win custody because he's a male and she's mentioned in her affadavit the fact that he has PTSD. There is cause for concern about the children's well being when they are with their mother and his little boy begs not to go back to her, which only adds to the pressure. He has nightmares about the war so he'll go days and not sleep much. He's easily irritated with me and others. Toward me, he's emotionally shut down and when I've approached him about it the extremely frustrated, classic emotional outbursts have come out. He's a devout Catholic, he's leaned into his faith in an extreme manner to try and cope. He expressed intent to spend the majority of the last week at adoration of the blessed sacrament services. He's also been throwing up a lot, which only serves to further complicate an already compromised system because he also has ulcerative colitis. As a result he was hospitalized last weekend for severe dehydration and received 13 bags of potassium enriched IV fluids. Doctors wanted to keep him in the hospital but he checked himself out because of obligations with his children. He was upset in a recent conversation and commented "why can't God just take me on home". He's been avoiding conversation with me, so I haven't heard from him (email or phone call) in 3 days. His last communication was through email and he said he would call/email "when he got a chance". I haven't heard from him since. He hasn't told me the behavior is PTSD related, but from what I've read it's classic symptoms so that is my guess. I feel like a recent appointment in which he had to discuss the past may have triggered these things. The appointment was April 9th and he's not been the same since. Prior to that he was very loving, affectionate and attentive so it's been devastating to say the least. We've only been dating a little over 3 months, so I hadn't seen any of this prior to now. Things were going very well, so this came out of nowhere. I feel like I don't even know the person he is today and the Jeckyl and Hyde behavior is more than I can deal with. He's got a lot going on and seems to be trying to detach himself from me. I just need some closure and don't want to cause further injury. I'm angry over some of the behaviors and it's difficult to not want to say a few things about it because there is similarity in some respect to what you would experience from someone who is just being a jerk. The whole thing is just complicated and I don't want to cause further damage or have regrets over how I've handled myself with this situation.Any advice/insight you can provide is greatly appreciated.Thank you,Jennifer
Hello --Howard forwarded your question to me and asked me to take over as he was unable to follow up with you at this time. I hope that is OK, with you.
Please remember that my response is for information only, we are not establishing a therapeutic relationship.
What you describe does sound like PTSD. At it's worst points, it can seem to "take over," the whole person, and for some, yes, their behavior in relationship can be less than desirable. Sometimes a person at the worst points of their PTSD can be completely consumed by it. The good news, though, is that it doesn't need to stay that way. PSTD is treatable, but treatment is often a painful process (meaning sometimes things get worse before they get better). It takes committment on the part of the person with PTSD, and those in relationship with him/her are along for the ride, so to speak.
Therefore, it's understandable if after only 3 months of dating that you don't want to sign up for what could be a long journey with a lot pain and symptoms involved.
I know you are concerned about not "harming" him. But I want to make sure you are clear on the difference between "hurt," and "harm." Hurt is a normal feeling that we can have in response to anyone else's behavior, but harm is malicious.
Some non-relationship examples: A dentist may hurt you, but he does not harm you (i.e. drill your teeth to fill them). A parent might not hurt a child (from their perspective) by giving them lots of candy, but they could harm them (by not feeding them healthy food).
In your relationship, if you break up with him, it might hurt. You cannot avoid that. It doesn't mean you have to harm him. You can be very empathic with him, "I understand that you are going through a lot right now. I don't want to add to your problems at all, but I need you to know that I am not ready for a long term relationship right now."
or "I know you could really use support right now, and I do care for you, but I am not able to commit to supporting you like a serious girlfriend would. I can support you as a friend (don't say this unless you mean it).
I hope you get the idea --support his feelings, his struggle, but put the blame for breaking on you --that you don't want to commit, you're not ready for a long term relationship, you can't provide the support he deserves.
And --I don't mean to lie --I'm going off of what you said --that you can't deal with his PTSD. But instead of emphasizing his PTSD (as if it's his fault), you are focusing on yourself, and where you are at ----
I hope that makes sense, but please feel free to follow up.....
I do care for him very much and there has been interest expressed from both sides in something long term between us, but how do you continue to be a support for someone who 1) is avoiding you 2) behaves in a manner that is so cold/emotionally numb 3) who has officially been diagnosed with PTSD, but counseling isn't even on the radar with everything else he has going on. It makes me feel like a bad person for even expressing interest in bailing after the conversations we've had, but the indifference and emotional numbness, after experiencing the loving, kind person I met 3 months ago, is causing damage to me personally. How long do these "episodes" typically last?
Untreated PTSD does not resolve itself. Sometimes people appear to "pull it together," and function normally. World War II vets are a great example of this --many of them functioned seemingly well for decades (although they may have exhibited some symptoms like drinking too much, isolating sometimes). Part of this was due to the attitude that prevailed during that time, that helped vets bury what could have been immediate PTSD. Well, now, 60+ years later, some WWWII vets are in the full blown "postive"symptoms of PTSD due to not being able to handle current stressors --failing health, death of loved ones, death of spouses.
Currently --it appears that more vets are exhibiting the positive symptoms of PTSD more readily. It's possible that some of them might find a way to push the symptoms away and "function," but that's not necessarily a good thing --because the traumas that caused the PTSD are not resolved.
The emotional numbness is a PTSD symptom, and if left untreated, can go on indefinetly. Treatment is really essential.
You are right --you are extremely limited if he's avoiding you. There's no relationship if he's avoiding you!
So maybe the conversation needs to go something like this --"I love you, I want to continue in this relationship with you, but with you avoiding me, I don't see how we can. If I don't see you getting treatment, I don't know if I can go on like this."
What do you think of that?
By the way, an excellent treatment for PTSD is EMDR -- www.emdr.com
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