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How Couples Can Work Through PTSD

  • Jim Daly Jim Daly is president and chief executive officer of Focus on the Family, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping families thrive.
  • 2013 Jul 17

Yesterday I wrote about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from the perspective of military marriages – what might couples expect after a war veteran returns home.  Today I’m continuing this two-part series by sharing how couples can work through PTSD in a way that will make the marriage stronger than it ever was before.

One thing to remember is that it’s not only war vets who can struggle with PTSD. People who have experienced any sort of trauma are vulnerable – living through a natural disaster, like the wildfires that raged through Colorado last summer and this year, or the tornado that recently ravaged Moore, Okla., or events like the Boston bombings or chemical explosion in Texas. All these things can trigger PTSD. Personal trauma like sexual assault or abuse, the murder or suicide of a family member or loved one, living through abject poverty or gang violence can also cause PTSD in someone.  

It’s estimated that about 5.2 million adults have PTSD in the U.S. during a given year, so there’s a good chance that you might know a couple, or might someday know one, that will need to work through this issue. Despite the challenges, these marriages can thrive with the Lord’s help and with the aid of community and professional support.

Today I’ll share some of the practical advice our counselors here at Focus give to couples dealing with trauma and PTSD. These principles are useful both for military couples reeling from the aftereffects of war, or for couples who are working through trauma of a different sort, like the almost-500 families who lost homes in the recent Black Forest Fire here in Colorado. 

Point One: HOPE
Marriages can not only “bounce back” from PTSD – they can “bounce forward.” This is because horrific trauma and adversity can be profited from. Think about someone who is experiencing PTSD as a result of war or other trauma. Once they work through that, little else will shake them – but their heart can become soft and compassionate for others experiencing hardship.  

The process of successfully working through a challenge like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder not only can build character and strength, it can create a resilient marriage. This process takes discipline, time and hard work. You have to make active choices to move forward a little bit each day – but the knowledge that your marriage relationship can become stronger as a result can serve as motivation to keep going.   

Point Two: TEAM
Marriage is about teamwork. The commitment to foster the discipline to go through tough times takes love, resilience, perseverance – and a plan.

Work together to create a plan that will start moving you forward, and that will enable you to connect positively with your spouse.

Point Three: SKILLS
Moving forward as a team will be difficult unless you have the skills to achieve that goal.

Participating in positive activities together

Engaging in positive communication

Taking part in positive problem solving

Each stage requires the “wellbeing skills” of forgiveness, kindness, self-control, patience and thankfulness.

To the combat veteran: please understand that the skills you had to learn on the battlefront might not serve you well at home – other skills are needed. Home is different. You are with a person who loves, cares and is committed to you now, not an enemy.  Just as you learned the skills needed to survive combat, you can now take on a new mission: learning the skills needed to thrive at home and in your marriage.  


The person living with PTSD needs to make the choice to notice and be aware when the threat-perceiving/reacting portion of the brain starts to ramp up. He or she needs to take charge of the emotions that are welling up. This can be done by taking a break to gain perspective and reestablishing emotional equilibrium and balance. The spouse can help by disengaging and taking up the matter at hand at a more opportune time.

A word about emotions: they are important, but they can’t be in charge. Think about it this way – while you can openly invite your emotions to the table, you can’t let them sit at the head of the table.

If all of this seems like a lot of hard work, it’s because it is. It may not seem fair to have to take on an uphill battle after already enduring through so much. But be encouraged that it’s not “too” difficult.

Married couples: Be heartened that Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome, and adjusting back to civilian life after a wartime deployment, is something you can achieve together. Don’t do it alone. Reach out to your community, to your church, and to us here at Focus. We’ll make it through together.

To speak with a Focus on the Family help specialist or counselor, contact us at 1-800-A-FAMILY, or via email at help@focusonthefamily.com.

If you’d like to learn more about the struggles military marriages face after the return home, you can read our series of articles on post-deployment reality on our website. You can also listen to our two-day broadcast from a few years back, the “Impact of PTSD on Military Families, Part I and Part II.”

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