How To Be Supportive When You're Dating Someone With PTSD

According to the National Center for PTSD, roughly 6% of the U.S. population has post-traumatic syndrome. Of that percentage, 8% of women and 4% of men will develop PTSD at some point in their lifetime. With an estimated 12 million adults suffering from PTSD in the United States alone, there's a decent chance you might not only know someone with it but even end up dating someone who has it.

PTSD is a disorder that can develop when someone experiences an event that's shocking and scary. Signs of the disorder include flashbacks, nightmares, sweating, heart palpitations, emotional outbursts, and/or terrifying thoughts that occur on a regular basis. Those who have PTSD can start showing symptoms as early as a few months after the traumatic event, or it can take years for any signs to make themselves known (via the National Institute of Mental Health).

Although not everyone who experiences a trauma will end up with PTSD, for those who do, it's important to take care of themselves and have a strong network of people who are there for them. Of course, therapy and medications can help, but a support system of patience, understanding, and unconditional love is also necessary. This is especially paramount when coming from a romantic partner, because of the effect PTSD can have on an intimate relationship. 

Try to understand what your partner is going through

While you may never be able to fully comprehend the trauma and the PTSD it caused (unless you experienced the event together), it's important to know that they're dealing with something bigger than themselves. They may have a good day here and there, but depending on how severe the trauma, they may have more bad days than good ones. It takes not only a strong person, but a strong emotional bond between two people to manage a relationship in which one partner has PTSD. According to a scientific journal article published in the European Journal of Psychotraumatology, if the relationship is already in shaky condition, it can reinforce the PTSD and make it even harder for both of you to cope.

In addition to trying to understand what your partner is experiencing, educating yourself on their PTSD can help give you some more insight into the disorder (via Medical News Today). You can do this by giving them a safe space to talk about their fears and concerns, by listening patiently to what they say, and by encouraging them to get professional help when necessary. Don't try to offer advice you're not qualified to give or dismiss their disorder as if it's something they can just get over. Instead, immerse yourself in the understanding of what sort of things can trigger certain episodes, so you can work with them to make sure these things are avoided or, at the very least, minimized.

Know that it's okay to walk away

PTSD can manifest itself in many different ways. In some cases, it can become dark and lead to abusive behavior. Studies have found a link between domestic violence and those with PTSD (via Verywell Mind). Depending on the type of trauma that has been experienced, those with PTSD can act out in aggressive ways that may make you feel like your partner is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It can not only be terrifying, but extremely dangerous. 

If this ends up being the situation, you need to put your safety first and walk away. You also need to realize that walking away under these circumstances isn't giving up on your partner and taking away your support but helping them to recognize they still have unresolved issues that you're simply unable to remedy. It's one thing to be there for someone when they're suffering and give them 100% of your support and love, but it's another thing when abusive behavior comes into play.

It's not easy being with someone who has PTSD. Some days it can feel like a full-time job you don't want to go to, while other days you get to glimpse all the wonderful things that make your partner who they really are. But if your partner does become abusive, then you owe it to both you and them to leave the relationship. People can only risk so much of themselves when helping others and sometimes the best support comes in the form of letting go.