When you’re living with PTSD, it can be challenging to maintain healthy boundaries in your relationships. You may feel like you’re constantly on edge or that you need to be in control of every situation. This can lead to problems in your personal life, as well as difficulty trusting others. Relationship problems that often occur between couples where one experiences symptoms of PTSD can be resolved, and we want to provide some possible solutions for creating healthy boundaries.
Let’s start with defining why boundaries might need to be set. A trigger is anything—a person, place, thing, or situation—that reminds your loved one of the trauma and sets off a PTSD symptom, such as a flashback. Sometimes, triggers are obvious. For example, a military Veteran might be triggered by seeing his combat buddies or by loud noises that sound like gunfire. Others may take some time to identify and understand, such as hearing a song that was playing when the traumatic event happened. That song or even others in the same musical genre could be triggers.
Similarly, triggers don’t have to be external. Internal feelings and sensations can also trigger PTSD symptoms. When a Veteran is triggered by something, they may have a reaction they are not totally in control of. They may need space, or they may need to talk about what is going on. Discussing this with your partner and setting a boundary for what should happen when they are triggered can help resolve tension surrounding triggering event.
One of the most common problems with PTSD is that survivors can often feel distant from others. This can be due to a number of factors, such as feeling numb or less interested in social activities. Because they’re feeling so jumpy or on edge, survivors may find it difficult to relax and be intimate with others. Additionally, many people with PTSD find themselves feeling irritable and suspicious of others. This can lead to difficulty trusting other people, and possibly problems in relationships. One of the most important things to remember is that these problems will not go away on their own. Readjustment problems like this, require the Veteran and family members to learn new skills to cope. Doing nothing and hoping things will just get better might feel like the most appealing idea, but the reality is that it will take time and work and a lot of love to deal with these problems. Working through the distance together and understanding how your loved one is feeling and why is an important first step.
There are a few things that Veterans can do to help create healthy boundaries in relationships. First, it’s important to be honest with yourself about how you’re feeling. If you’re not comfortable being intimate or close with someone, let them know. It’s also important to communicate openly with your partner about what you need from them. If there are certain things that make you feel uncomfortable or unsafe, talk about them. Finally, it’s essential to set boundaries for yourself. Know your limits and stick to them. If something feels too risky or dangerous, don’t do it. It’s important to take care of yourself first and foremost.
Creating healthy boundaries can be difficult, but it’s essential for maintaining healthy relationships when experiencing symptoms of PTSD. By being honest with yourself and your partner and setting limits on what you’re comfortable with, you can create a safe and supportive environment to work on your relationship.
- Understand that it will be your responsibility to make good judgments for yourself and your family. This may look different for everyone, but establishing set actions or boundaries can help from feeling overwhelmed and causing unnecessary fights. This includes talking about triggers, emotions, feeling distant, and what to do in each situation.
- Recognize when others (co-workers, friends, extended family) minimize or invalidate the seriousness of a problem or have a disrespectful attitude. PTSD is very real and should not be dismissed. You need people around you who understand and support you instead of questioning and invalidating your experiences. If there are people who do not support you, setting a boundary is important. You can’t expect that he/she will like it or agree with it, but you will need to make a declaration of things that you need to do to take care of yourself.
- It is okay for your spouse or loved one to set boundaries for themselves as well. For example, roaming the house at night past 11 pm is difficult for the family as it wakes everyone up. Let’s reach a compromise so you can have your time but not wake the house up. One room will be designated for you to go to and the TV must be kept quiet. If you want something to eat, a small refrigerator will be put in that room or you may go out to eat, but to disturb the family by being up all night throughout the night, will not work.
- Set time spans to check boundaries, like one month. If the boundaries are not followed, new boundaries may need to be set. You may ask for the help of your counselor or family group when setting boundaries and for recognizing healthy ones for yourself.
Relying on a consult with your counselor or family group may be helpful for everyone involved. Veterans don’t just wake up one day to find PTSD symptoms have magically disappeared. It requires a lot of work and energy but is essential for you and your family’s well-being. Finding a balance during trying times is difficult. Discussions may be uncomfortable but are ultimately necessary to have healthy relationships. Starting with simple boundaries and discussions is a great place to get comfortable with these types of conversations. Even if it is attempting only one or two things that encourage self-care and connection with others that you love, that is helpful. Be gentle with yourself, and remember to take it one day at a time. By establishing healthy boundaries, Veterans can create a safe and supportive environment to heal.