February 10, 2024

Military PTSD and Relationships

A soldier talking with a therapist



  • How military PTSD affects relationships
  • Challenges faced by partners of veterans with PTSD
  • Strategies for supporting your partner who has PTSD
military couple holding hands

Military post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD) affects many veteran and service members who have served in combat zones or who have gone through other life threatening and traumatic experiences. Military PSTD doesn’t just impact the individual, it also can have a big impact on military families. Partners of veterans and service members with PTSD may notice that the relationship feels emotionally distant, that there is a lack or trust, and the communication is at times a struggle. These additional relationship challenges of PTSD can lead to loneliness, resentments, and erode the strength of the relationship over time. 

How military PTSD affects relationships

Military PTSD can have have a significant impact on relationships, but the three most common concerns include emotional distance, communication challenges, and broken trust. 


Emotional distance is a very common relationship side effect of military PTSD. This is because for the person experiencing PTSD symptoms, emotions feel chaotic and overwhelming. To cope, individuals with PTSD often unintentionally go numb to all emotions on the inside. This numbness often means that it is difficult to experience positive emotions and when emotions are expressed, it is usually a version of anger. For relationships, those with military PTSD often find it hard to express emotions and enjoy fun activities with their family. They may also avoid activities that use to be fun because they feel like the odd-one-out when they can’t feel the positive feelings others are experiencing. Overtime, they may start to avoid activities and even intimacy. This can make it challenging to maintain relationship and form new relationships. 


When someone is numb to their emotions, it also make communicating about their wants and needs ore difficult. It can be hard for partners when they don’t understand the experience of military PTSD and they want to talk about how to make things better. This comes from positive caring intentions of wanting to be close to your service member or veteran. However, those with military PTSD may k=not know how to describe their experiences in order to communicate with you. It can also be challenging for service members and veterans to share when they have fear of being misunderstood. This can lead to more misunderstandings and arguments.  


Trust issues are a common experience with military PTSD because the traumatic even they went through made the world feel inherently unsafe. Not only does military PTSD involve difficulty trusting other, but service members and veterans also find it difficult to trust themselves. This can tie into emotional distance and communication challenges as some service members and veterans may find it hard to rely on others for support and therefore find it difficult to be open about thoughts and feelings. 

Challenges faced by partners of veterans with PTSD

Military PTSD doesn’t just impact the serve member, it also impacts their partners. It can be especially challenging with partners don’t understand PTSD and how it is impacting their loved one. This can lead to frustration and helplessness when they don’t understand what is happening and also don’t know what to do. Depending on the severity of the PTSD symptoms, partners may also find themselves in a caregiving role which could feel burdensome–especially if they have their own medical and mental health concerns they are dealing with.

Mental health concerns have a reciprocal nature in couples relationships as well, which can further make it challenging for partner of veterans with military PTSD.  When one partner is struggling emotionally, the second partner also begins to have mental health challenges such as stress, anxiety, depression, and even secondary traumatization. 

couple with military woman giving each other a hug after spending some time without seeing you

Strategies for supporting your partner who has PTSD

While the challenges that come with military PTSD and relationship can be significant, there are ways to help support your partner through PTSD recovery. 


Education about military PTSD will help you and your partner have a greater idea of what is going on and how it is impacting the relationship. Learning about PTSD symptoms and the types of therapy for military PTSD is a crucial first step. 


Creating an atmosphere of open and honest communication will go along way in helping the two of you navigate PTSD recovery as a team. Effective communication can help you improve your emotional connection through the process, be on the same page with goals for the future, and help you better be able to cope together with the impact of military PTSD on your relationship. 


Professional help is going to be a game changer! This may look like couples counseling to help you learn to communicate effectively and develop coping skills for navigating military PTSD in the relationship. It will also likely involve individual therapy for the service member or veteran with military PTSD. In individual therapy, veterans learn to manage their symptoms, improve their coping skills, and in many cases achieve symptom free living. 


Self-care is an important aspect for both the service member living with military PTSD as well as the partner. It’s very hard to be there for someone else when you aren’t there for yourself first. Prioritizing your self-care can help reduce stress, improve how you feel, and reduce relationship conflict. 


Support groups exits for service members and veterans with military PTSD as well as for spouses. Support groups are a great way to get additional support from others who know what it is like to be going through the same thing. 

While military PTSD can have a significant impact on veterans and their relationship, it’s possible to over come the challenges with the right support systems in place. It’ll be import for individuals and couples to educate themselves about  military PTSD, prioritize self care, and working to improve their relationship communication so they can have a strong relationship even through the PTSD recovery process. By working together and with the help of trained professional, couples can navigate recovery from military PTSD and build a stronger relationship together. 

Looking to start couples counseling for military PTSD?

Elizabeth Polinsky Counseling provides online Emotionally Focused Couples Counseling, as well as weekend-long Marriage Intensives, throughout the states of Virginia, South Carolina, Arkansas, and Nevada. As a military brat and now military spouse, she has devoted much of her career to helping couples over come PTSD symptoms together. Click the button below to schedule a complimentary consult. ​

Elizabeth Polinsky Counseling provides online Emotionally Focused Couples Counseling, as well as weekend-long Marriage Intensives, throughout the states of Virginia, South Carolina, Arkansas, and Nevada. As a military brat and now military spouse, she has devoted much of her career to helping couples over come PTSD symptoms together. Click the button below to schedule a complimentary consult. ​

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    About Author

    Elizabeth Polinsky is a Certified Emotionally Focused Couple Therapist (EFT) providing EFT marriage counseling in the states of Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Arkansas, and Nevada. She also provides EFT training and supervision to therapists looking to become certified in EFT Couple Therapy. As a military spouse, she has a special passion for working with military and veteran couples, and is also the host of The Communicate & Connect Podcast for Military Relationships.


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