Relationships with PTSD are hard, and not the least because PTSD isn’t a constant, it’s a changing condition. For me it got worse before it got better, but that’s the overall picture. I can go weeks without severe symptoms, or I can’t go two days without severe symptoms. And I never really know which it will be.
Not only is that constant change hard for me to manage and navigate, it’s hard for the people I’m close to because sometimes I’m available and sometimes I’m not, sometimes I can handle stress and sometimes I can’t, sometimes I can be warm and affectionate and sometimes you can’t get near me and I don’t return hugs. It surprises me not at all that relationships with post-trauma partners reportedly fail at a higher rate than the general population. I get it. I live with it, and the constant struggle to maintain healthy relationships.
It can become easy to start blaming everyone else for relationship failures when you experience PTSD, especially if you have been working to communicate your experience and be open with your partner. I felt that I had been clear about what I was experiencing and how it was affecting me, I thought I had addressed feedback on some behaviors I had that were hard to understand and accommodate and I HAVE A DEBILITATING MENTAL ILLNESS, I AM DOING THE BEST I CAN HERE. HELP ME OUT.
What I wasn’t able to see for some time was the part that was my fault. And I say that in a way that takes on responsibility rather than blames, because if this is a process of learning and healing and growing, blame is unhelpful but taking responsibility for something I can change is a healthy way forward. And while what I was doing was informed by my experience with PTSD, once I learned what it was I could see where it was coming from and start to do things differently.
I was getting my guard up so high and was on high alert so often that I was not engaging with my partner – to the point that I stopped even hugging as a greeting, stopped making eye contact and started freezing.
There were a lot of external reasons for my being on high alert, but I was also choosing to stay there on autopilot rather than be aware of my surroundings and my situations and respond to reality rather than perception. I was letting my symptoms run the show, which happens more easily when I’m tired and feeling worn out. Is that common and sometimes hard to help and just give me a break and let me do what I feel I need to do right now? Yes. But there are always trade-offs, and I was trading my need for walls for my need for connection, and losing connection in the process.
I can’t make connection someone else’s responsibility, and I want connection, so I have to take that on. It’s not easy, and requires energy, awareness and courage, but it’s on me, and not having connection was my fault. Now that I recognize that, it’s something I can work on and take steps toward, all while still working on communicating what I need and not overwhelming myself by going too far too fast. But like taking responsibility for my recovery, I’m pretty sure this is a step worth taking.