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Support with Partner Who Seems to Be Struggling with PTSD

S

StrawberryCat

New member
Joined
Feb 13, 2021
Messages
3
Location
England
Long story incoming with lots of background detail on existing relationship for context:

I have a very loving relationship with a man who I’ve been with for five years now. He has supported me and stayed with me despite a large amount of that time being long-distance, with me relocating three times for work or education related reasons, and at times rarely being able to see one another, and although there has been strain because of these issues, our bond has always been incredibly strong and loving. There have been times in our relationship where perhaps I did the wrong thing - for example I decided after we should break up at one point when I was studying overseas, as I was finding the distance too difficult and missing him too much. This only made the situation worse, and I realised this wasn’t what I wanted, and we were able to reconcile things. Another two years later, at a particular point while we were living together, my partner was incredibly busy working two jobs, and I was busy with my own job in a bar, and as he was very tired and we were rarely having sex or connecting emotionally, I began to feel neglected, and started to develop feelings for a person I worked with. I communicated this to him, and we had a week or two apart while I figured out what was going on, and ultimately I came to understand that I was just needing more support from my partner, and was afraid that I was losing him emotionally, and that I didn’t want anyone else, so we were able to rectify things, although understandably it took a while to rebuild trust in this situation.

This year I had been planning to move overseas for a one year job contract, but due to the pandemic my departure date of last September was continually pushed back, and me and my partner passed a year living together really happily. I was amazed at how while other couples seemed to be struggling with strains of the pandemic on our relationship, we had only grown closer. The only real issue we experienced in our relationship at this time was that I struggled with his extremely overblown reactions to what he perceived as criticism. If I would ask him a seemingly benign question sometimes like what he had planned for the day, he would suddenly switch into this angry irrational state where he shouts at me to **** off, before coming out of it and realising that I wasn’t intending to attack him and being very apologetic for his behaviour. This has led to many arguments with me not understanding why he would speak to me that way, but one thing that kept coming up was that in the moment when he felt attacked he would say he was incapable of rations thought and just reacted. The more I read up on this, the more it became apparent to me that he was suffering with PTSD. He has told me about various traumatic events that happened to him when he was younger that left him returning to his mother’s home and barely living for quite some time, only really leaving the house to go to the pub. He also suffers from various unexplainable ailments such as fibromyalgia, random sharp pains and headaches, and issues with IBS, which it amazed me to read are common in trauma sufferers, and allowed me to make a lot more sense of what he was going through, and feel more sympathetic to it. He struggles also with being in places that are unfamiliar to him, and will be on extremely high alert at all times in these situations, struggle to take in conversations and react to small changes in the environment. I had previously thought this was just some form of anxiety, but the more I read on PTSD the more all these patterns of behaviour fit together. I also have been reading lots of books on PTSD to try and help me understand how to help him better, as he is incredibly reluctant to speak to a therapist.

At one point in the past couple of months, he broke down and told me he couldn’t cope with me leaving overseas for the job, and that I’m his whole world. I tried to tell him that it doesnt have to be forever, and if we aren’t coping well with it either I can come back or he can come out there, and we will see how things go. It seems silly now, but I had planned at around the six month mark of being there to ask him if he wanted to marry me, but I never communicated this to him, so I can understand where his doubts would come from about me going, especially after the break up we had the last time I was over there.

During the pandemic, my partner also lost his grandmother who he was not able to see leading up to her death at all, and although he rarely showed emotion around this, I understood it must have caused him a lot of pain. Earlier this year, he also found out that his grandfather’s cancer was terminal, and he had been discharged from hospital so can no longer see him. He is a very sensitive person who feels things incredibly deeply, and although he may not often verbalise his feelings, I understood that he was really struggling with this.

This was around the time I noticed a sudden and dramatic change in my partner. Some days he would be still be his usual self, but there were becoming more and more days where he would sit on social media all day doing nothing. He started to develop obsessions with the past, constantly scrolling through decade old pictures and changing his social media profile pictures to these, obsessing over finding pictures of his old cat that passed away a long time ago, and suddenly taking an interest in hobbies he hadn’t pursued in a decade or so, such as skateboarding. I became increasingly concerned because I could see him spiralling and didn’t understand whether this was grief or PTSD, and he was also spending significant amounts of time making emotional and personal posts on his Twitter account,which is very out of character for him - he tends to just post about films or post jokes. He seemed to be connecting with more women via social media, which was making me feel incredibly insecure, and we spoke about this a couple of times and how it was making me feel. He very rarely seemed capable of genuine smiles, and all his silliness that I love so dearly seemed to have disappeared overnight. I tried talking to him about this on several occasions, and he told me he was just feeling numb to everything at the moment.

Eventually, it got to a point where I felt I was being as supportive as I could, and he was still reaching out to other women on the internet a lot, and liking their selfies etc, and I told him I felt this was really disrespectful to me, especially as we had already spoken about how it makes me feel. He seemed understanding of why I would be upset by it and apologised, but the whole time it felt he was almost not even in the room with me. At the end of this conversation, I asked him, ‘There isn’t anyone I need to worry about is there?’, and he hesitated before saying that there might be, and that he had been speaking to a girl on the internet over the past couple of weeks that he thought he might have a crush on.

I was in shock and devastated at this, and I asked him did he still love me, he told me that yes, he loved me deeply, he had never been more attracted to me, and that he still thought we were insanely compatible and were soul mates, so he couldn’t understand it either. We talked emotionally for a while, and he kept reiterating that he loved me so much. I admitted to him that I had wanted us to get engaged in the near future, and he broke down and told me he had been thinking the exact same thing, and had had a lot of thoughts about how the wedding would be.
He told me he had spoken with his best friend about these thoughts he’d had about this other woman, who had told him that it’s quite normal to get crushes when you’ve been with someone a long time, and that what matters is how you choose to deal with it.
we agreed to give each other space for him to clarify his feelings, and at the beginning of the week he would message me telling me things like how he had never had any doubts about me and always been totally crazy about me, but then towards the end of the week he suddenly became very robotic in his messages and cold, when he replied at all. I was unsure at the time whether I should carry on messaging him and supporting him through what he was dealing with, but then two days ago had a realisation that as long as he isn’t sure if he wants to be my partner, it’s not really my place to give him constant reassurance despite my feelings towards him, and it was doing me a lot of harm.
Having this space to myself has made me realise a lot of things about my own past traumas and fear of intimacy that causes me to become very uncomfortable when things are smooth, and explains why I have felt the need to move away so often in the past. I realised that moving overseas for this job isn’t really what I want, and that I would much rather make plans together with my partner, and find more satisfying work I can do here, as I was already having doubts about whether the job was really right for me. I’m working with a therapist to help with my own fears of intimacy and goal setting for the future, and have been doing lots of mindfulness and self-care activities to try and clarify my mindset. I am also seeing a rape counsellor to speak about something that happened to me when I was in my year abroad at university. I communicated all of these realisations I had had to my partner, as I was feeling that it was likely his feelings that I was abandoning him may have been a huge cause of his emotional withdrawal, and he told me he was really happy to hear this and wished he had known sooner, and that he just needed time to process what he is going through.
I don’t understand how a person can be madly in love in one instance, and withdrawn and numb the next, and I can’t help but feel he has intentionally or subconsciously put up some kind of guard to protect himself because of his fear of me going away. The strange changes in his behaviour tell me that something more is going on than this being just about our relationship.

Can anyone who may have been through a similar pattern of behaviour, or knows more about PTSD give me some advice on this situation? I’m deeply in love with this person, and would do anything to help him through this, but I appreciate and respect his need for space.
 
J

JeanPierre

Well-known member
Joined
Jan 4, 2021
Messages
2,159
Location
Southern USA
In a nutshell, I think you should take care of you first.
Second, just b/c someone has mental issues does not mean they can be a jerk.
That is ridiculous to me to live like that. But C'est la vie.
Welcome here and best luck!
 
T

toucan

Well-known member
Joined
Feb 26, 2021
Messages
56
Location
Chicago, IL
He sounds like a sweet and sensitive person who doesn't have good coping mechanisms in place. Honestly the roboticness and numbness sounds like depression, not like he's trying to be a jerk. It sounds like he's in a really dark place right now. He might just need a balance of space and support, but he also needs to own it and see a doctor.

I wouldn't be too quick to assume he has PTSD--definitely use any resources you can find that are helping, but don't keep thinking to yourself "this must be because of his PTSD" or try to analyze whether or not he has it because he will sense that you're analyzing him for something. It could be depression or anxiety or something else--again, he needs to see a doctor.

Personally I have been in the situation where I'm talking to people the same sex as my partner and my partner got mad, but they were people I felt safe opening up to and I felt trapped and lonely when I was told not to speak to them. I don't know the exact context and I think you also have a right to communicate your feelings though. Just offering another perspective. He says he has a crush on one of them but in my experience, that can happen and it will subside if he's committed to you. It sounds like he is. I would just trust him and continue to be open with him and ask that he continue to be open with you.

You have a beautifully communicative relationship. That is so rare and I wish you both a happy ending (or a happy journey, as this is real life).
 
S

StrawberryCat

New member
Joined
Feb 13, 2021
Messages
3
Location
England
He sounds like a sweet and sensitive person who doesn't have good coping mechanisms in place. Honestly the roboticness and numbness sounds like depression, not like he's trying to be a jerk. It sounds like he's in a really dark place right now. He might just need a balance of space and support, but he also needs to own it and see a doctor.

I wouldn't be too quick to assume he has PTSD--definitely use any resources you can find that are helping, but don't keep thinking to yourself "this must be because of his PTSD" or try to analyze whether or not he has it because he will sense that you're analyzing him for something. It could be depression or anxiety or something else--again, he needs to see a doctor.

Personally I have been in the situation where I'm talking to people the same sex as my partner and my partner got mad, but they were people I felt safe opening up to and I felt trapped and lonely when I was told not to speak to them. I don't know the exact context and I think you also have a right to communicate your feelings though. Just offering another perspective. He says he has a crush on one of them but in my experience, that can happen and it will subside if he's committed to you. It sounds like he is. I would just trust him and continue to be open with him and ask that he continue to be open with you.

You have a beautifully communicative relationship. That is so rare and I wish you both a happy ending (or a happy journey, as this is real life).
Thank you so much for this reply. It's really lovely to have someone respond in a considerate and supportive way.

We are still taking space from one another, but he contacts me most days for light chat right now, things like discussing a TV show we had both enjoyed, or discussing with me his results on internet personality quizzes. If he's having a particularly bad mental health day he will sometimes reach out to me for help also. I'm trying to continue to be supportive, but also not put any emotional pressure on him to give me romantic validation, as I think at the moment that's like to just make him withdraw further, when in reality having someone who cares about him to talk to is probably what he needs rather than isolating himself.

I haven't placed any ultimatums on things related to this other person he has feelings for, and have just told him that I want him to be able to be happy, and unfollowed his social media accounts so I don't concern myself with who he is or isn't talking to. Ultimately, he will make whatever choice is right for him, and I know I shouldn't worry about things out of my control. I still believe we had/have a very loving and supportive relationship and can see him as someone I would want to spend my life with, and am hoping that this is something he will realize he does still want once he's in a better headspace. At the same time, I appreciate no matter how strong the bond between two people, sometimes things don't work out, and that's something I have to be able to accept. Taking space to work on my own pursuits will ideally help me with that.

He has been telling me recently about mental health disorders he thinks he has based on information he's been sent by others, but as you advised, self-diagnosing or labelling someone else with a disorder is never a good idea, so I've tried to kindly suggest that although it's great to find advice that's helpful for managing your negative feelings and behaviours, it isn't a good idea to assign yourself a mental health disorder based on reading lists of traits. I also told him that if he feels like he does have a mental health disorder that's something he would have to speak with a doctor about to understand better. Unfortunately he has always been incredibly reluctant to seek mental health support - at one point earlier in our relationship he recognised it was something he needed, and I was able to help get him connected with a counselling charity, however, months later I found the completed form he was supposed to send to them underneath a table in the apartment, so I suppose his anxieties around it got the better of him with it.

He does seem to be trying really hard to take care of himself better, however, and has told me he's been exercising regularly, eating well and practicing mindfulness, and giving time to expressive hobbies like music and art to try to help him release feelings he struggles to express, which is all really good to hear. I am hopeful that if he carries on giving attention to taking care of himself he will start to feel in a better place soon. The lockdown in the UK has definitely taken a toll on everyone's wellbeing, and the grief he's suffered this year can only have exacerbated that, but with warmer weather coming along and an end date on the horizon for the lockdown so he will be able to socialise and go back to work, I really hope he will be able to gradually gain a more positive outlook.
 
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