Married to PTSD: What is Secondary PTSD?
Published May 20, 2021
A soldier coming home is a happy time, a glorious reunion with loved ones. We’ve all seen the online videos romanticizing a soldier surprising their family with the homecoming.
But any veteran’s spouse or family knows that when the cameras quit rolling and the soldier returns to the civilian world, they are often a changed person, sometimes one living with undiagnosed or unrecognized PTSD. But it isn’t just the veteran who may be suffering from PTSD.
Spousal PTSD is becoming a recognized phenomenon in veteran families.
Understanding Veteran-Specific PTSD
A deployed soldier lives a life of intense emotions.
They are on high alert for enemy forces every second – doing their best to stay alive and keep their fellow soldiers alive, all while completing a mission. This becomes the soldier’s new way of living, with their brain on high alert for danger. However, when the soldier returns home, it is hard to turn this mindset off.
Returning to family and civilian life is entirely different from what they have lived for months, and even in the best of circumstances, there will be a time of adjustment. Sometimes the soldier will try to act as if everything is fine, even with their closest loved ones. They have faced much scarier things than carpooling kids to school or taking out the trash, but everyday life after deployment may become overwhelming for a veteran secretly struggling with PTSD.
While the veteran has faced hostile forces, IEDs, and injured or killed comrades, their spouse has been at home dealing with their own stresses and trauma. This can result in secondary PTSD or spousal PTSD.
What is Secondary PTSD?
During deployment, a soldier’s spouse becomes, for all intents and purposes, a single parent, managing a household by themselves, being the sole caregiver for children, and handling the finances – all while worrying 24/7 that their spouse may be injured or killed while deployed.
The challenges of these homefront warriors do not go away once their soldier spouse returns home from duty. Although the veteran is home with the family, they may still be detached, leaving all the family decisions to the spouse.
The spouse not only takes care of the “normal” household burdens but now has to learn how to adapt to the veteran being a part of the family. Veteran spouses have been taught to watch for PTSD triggers in an attempt to prevent the veteran from disrupting the flow of family living. Sooner or later, the spouse loses a sense of self and becomes like the person they are trying so hard to protect – experiencing spousal PTSD.
How does PTSD affect children and families?
The impact of battlefield traumas has a trickle-down effect on veterans, their spouses, their children, and even their extended family, friends, and co-workers.
According to The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, children growing up in homes without consistent safety, comfort, and protection may develop unhealthy coping mechanisms.
For example, children may develop hypersensitivity to the moods of others, constantly walking on eggshells to adapt to the unpredictable moods of adults, or shutting down emotionally.
Indeed, children often take on the traumatic stress of their parents by osmosis, developing unhealthy coping mechanisms that interfere with future relationships without even being aware of it.
The risk to children is amplified if both parents suffer from PTSD, particularly if undiagnosed, unacknowledged, and untreated.
What Do I Do If My Spouse Has PTSD?
It is important to recognize the signs and symptoms of PTSD in a veteran or their spouse before things get out of control. While PTSD is not curable, it is treatable. Life, as it was once known, may only be a distant memory, but a bright future is still possible.
The first step, however, is recognition of a problem and seeking assistance.
As a military spouse, you may be the first person to notice the symptoms of PTSD in your loved one. Don’t ignore them, and don’t delay helping them get evaluation and treatment. If not addressed, disruptions in family relationships caused by PTSD can destroy marriages and families. Understand that you may need to be the first person to reach out for help, not just for your spouse but for you.
The VA can provide diagnosis and treatment both to veterans and their family members suffering from PTSD. Additionally, the veteran can apply for VA disability benefits to mitigate the financial impact of PTSD, which can be a helpful additional step in the treatment and recovery process.
Seek Professional Help
If you or a loved one are a veteran needing assistance with their VA disability claims, whether PTSD-related or for some other physical or mental condition, Veterans Law Group can help.