Does PTSD Affect Intimacy? - One Trauma
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Does PTSD Affect Intimacy?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a debilitating condition that can affect all aspects of a person’s life long after the original trauma has passed. Many people with PTSD have difficulty holding down a job, setting and pursuing goals, and establishing or maintaining relationships with friends and family members.

The area that possibly suffers the hardest knock is intimacy, particularly if the original trauma was connected with an intimate partner. If the partner has a limited understanding of PTSD, they may be overwhelmed when symptoms appear. If both people in the relationship have PTSD, either from individual or shared traumas, they may find it difficult to support one another.

What Is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Trauma is an unfortunate reality of life that happens to most people at one point or another. Because everyone has different levels of resilience, something that is traumatic for one person isn’t necessarily traumatic for everybody. For example, some teenagers can brush off attempts at bullying; for others, bullying can lead to lifelong devastation.

Trauma can take many forms. Sometimes it’s a single event, such as a natural disaster or traffic accident. Sometimes it is an ongoing situation in which the same trauma happens repeatedly, for example, high school bullying, domestic violence, and workplace abuse. Sometimes trauma is really a complex combination of traumas. In war-torn nations, for instance, an individual might witness the brutal death of a loved one, and then become seriously injured while trying to flee to safety.

Not only is a high level of stress normal in situations like this; in some cases, it is necessary for survival. Sometimes we need that fight-or-flight response that temporarily makes us faster, stronger, and more hypervigilant. Even if it is not a life-or-death situation, stress can be nature’s way of telling us that something is wrong, thereby prompting us to either change the situation or escape from it.

In most cases, the signs of stress gradually subside once the threat is gone. After several weeks, some emotional effects may remain, but the individual is able to resume a mostly normal life. They are able to work, spend time with loved ones, and go about their day-to-day activities.

For people with PTSD, it’s more complicated. Instead of fading away, the symptoms get worse, and the person’s ability to get through each day is severely impacted.

You may have PTSD if you have some of the following signs and symptoms over a period of more than one month:

  • You have intrusive memories of the traumatic event that are triggered by sights, sounds, and smells
  • Your memories make you believe that you are immersed in the traumatic experience
  • You have frequent dreams related to the trauma
  • You feel isolated, even when you are among people
  • You experience overwhelming fear, anger, or shame
  • You blame yourself for the trauma in spite of evidence that it was not your fault
  • You are hypervigilant even in low-risk settings like the grocery store or the park
  • You experience unprovoked outbursts of anger or aggression
  • You are easily startled and have trouble falling or staying asleep

post traumatic stress

PTSD And Intimate Partner Relationships

The symptoms of PTSD can be overwhelming for an intimate partner, in a variety of ways.

The partner not in the know

When two people enter into an intimate relationship, they don’t know everything about each other. Indeed, one of the challenges of dating is knowing how much information you should reveal to your partner, and when. On the one hand, you want to build trust and intimacy with the person. On the other hand, you don’t want to scare the person away.

In an effort to not appear “damaged”, you may be reluctant to tell your new partner about a traumatic event you lived through in the past. If you do talk about it, you may understate the effects this trauma had on you. Your partner may not have a clue that you have PTSD until they witness an extreme reaction of fear, or see you in a state of hypervigilance. By this point, the relationship may have progressed to a point of being “serious”.

Seeing the symptoms of PTSD can be bewildering for a partner who does not know they can be expected. This could affect the trajectory of the relationship.

the partner not

Survivors of sexual assault or intimate partner violence

Someone who has been sexually assaulted or abused by a previous intimate partner may have immense difficulty when it comes to forming or maintaining a relationship with a new intimate partner. The new partner, without having done anything wrong, could become a trigger for the traumatic memories. People with PTSD are often taken back into the moment of their trauma when they attempt to be intimate.

For most people in committed intimate relationships, there is a strong correlation between sexual intimacy and emotional intimacy. Even if the partner is fully aware of the PTSD sufferer’s history and diagnosis, it is understandable for them to feel emotional rejection when their attempts to initiate physical intimacy are turned down. Partners in this position instinctively try to protect themselves from being hurt, and they do so by distancing themselves from their partner.

sexual assault

Angry outbursts

People with PTSD experience a complicated range of emotions. They often find it difficult to experience positive emotions like happiness and trust. They are in a constant state of being on guard and alert to the possibility of danger. This creates a tendency to be mistrustful, anxious, and irritable. The slightest provocation can lead to an outburst of anger that can manifest as yelling, slamming doors, or in extreme cases, physical violence against another person. If the trauma resulted from an extended period of childhood abuse, the person with PTSD may follow learned patterns of aggression: the case of the abused becoming the abuser. We all tend to lash out at the people who are closest to us; for most of us, that is our intimate partner.

A PTSD partnership

From time to time, a situation arises where two people with PTSD form an intimate relationship with each other. This can be a complex situation: on the one hand, each person is bringing a significant trauma history into the relationship. Regardless of the best intentions, it can be difficult to support somebody else while you are carrying around the baggage of your own past. On the other hand, PTSD is one of those conditions that is difficult to fully comprehend unless you have experienced it. Partners with PTSD may be able to form a relationship based on empathy: they understand each other, and they know – at least to an extent – what the other person is going through.

ptsd partnership

Heal From PTSD And Heal Your Relationship

PTSD does not have to destroy your life or your relationship with the person you love. At One Trauma, we offer in-person and virtual services aimed at permanently healing the emotional damage from your trauma. Using the Heartbeat Trauma Release (HTR) method, we will help you let go of the negative emotions and destructive thoughts that are linked to your traumatic experiences. Once that pain has gone, you will be able to build a stronger and closer relationship with your intimate partner. You and your partner will experience the joy of rediscovering why you fell in love.

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