Spouses want to know: “He doesn’t want to talk about his PTSD”

Well, hello again, everyone!

Today’s question is: “He doesn’t want to talk about it [his PTSD], or tell people. But I don’t think he has anything to be ashamed of, and I think it will help people understand why he is acting this way. What should I do?”

First, a disclaimer: I usually try to write in a way that applies as widely as possible. This time, I’m answering a reader’s question, so not everyone might relate. I know that not everyone who has PTSD is male, or married. If you have a different question you’d like me to answer in a post, please let me know.

This reader’s point of view goes sort of like this:

“Honey, you have nothing to be ashamed of; you didn’t choose to get sick, this happened to you. It’s no more shameful than a physical injury. I want to tell people so that when you need your space, they can be more understanding.”

Makes perfect sense, right? So – why is her husband (and maybe yours) so adamant that he doesn’t want anyone to know?

Because being able to talk about it happens at a point in his healing called acceptance, and he’s not there yet.

Because he’s still used to being Superman, and it’s hard to wrap his head around the idea of being this “sick guy” who needs to be fussed over.

Because he’s sick and tired of being sick and tired, and talking about it just reminds him when sometimes, he’d just like to forget.

Because talking about a problem is the way we women naturally tend to cope. Guys like to fix things, and if they can’t fix it, they don’t want to talk about it.

Because facts and feelings are two different things – so his head may understand that this illness is not his fault, but he may still feel shame, guilt, and anger at himself for “allowing” this to happen to him.  He may feel broken or weak, and helpless that he can’t just “buck up” and shake this thing off.

If he’s sick enough that he can’t work right now, he may be struggling with the fact that he can’t work to provide for his family.

If his illness has led to out-of-character temper outbursts that have frightened you and the kids, he may have feelings of shame and guilt about that, too.

And thinking about it all is just so painful and overwhelming, that he just can’t. Not because he’s being to be stubborn, but because it’s all just too much.

So… That leaves you, the spouse, in a bit of a conundrum: his behaviour is different, and maybe he can’t attend family functions, so friends and family are asking what’s wrong. Yes, it would be a lot easier if he was ready to talk about it – but he’s not there yet, and pressuring him won’t speed his healing process.

So – what do you do?

You take care of you. This is tough on you – so get support from other spouses who can relate, and consider getting some counselling yourself, to help you cope.

You can be helpful by doing other things, like offering a smile or a hug. If he’s okay with it, maybe the two of you can talk with his therapist about what might be fun, trigger-free things for the two of you to do as a couple, or things to do as a family – because making life seem a little more “normal” might be just the ray of hope that both of you need to see that life can go on.

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I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel free to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted. The photo gracing today’s post was taken by Wojtek Rajski, and I’d like to thank him for generously allowing me to use his work. Please do not copy photographs from Coming Back Home without permission.

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6 thoughts on “Spouses want to know: “He doesn’t want to talk about his PTSD”

  1. Hi thank you for all your helpful post. My hubby is a Marine served in Vietnam, how can I help with Hus outburst in public because of something I said funny? Any suggestions? Thank you

    • If it’s a trigger, it may very well be that you can’t help it, and it’s important not to blame yourself. However, realize that being in a public place, particularly if it’s busy, may be stressful for him, so he’s more likely to be triggered.

      Once the moment passes, when he’s ready, it may be helpful to discuss how to handle a situation like that differently next time; that way, you can work as a team and learn to manage symptoms more effectively over time.

      • Thank you Dr. Dee, thats makes perfect sense! What if this happens again? We know its been bottled up for years and just 6 months ago the light come on, (so too speak) and things are being talked and dealt with. What do I say as a Marines wife? of course listen ,what if my opinion is asked? Thats why youre the Doc. Lol thanks Dr Dee,youre great!

  2. I will say one thing you know your stuff and realy get us where we are. Personally when I was finally ready at the behest of friends who were publishing a website about PTSD got me a finally write it down for them. This was very hard to go back into th details and if I remember correctly it took me over three months to write the who;e story by doing a little and leaving it for a bit until I was ready again. Each time it got a little easier and once I had completed it it became very much easier to edit it. So if it helps get him to write it out first and then if he wishes he can let you read it and discuss it with him. I had a very suuportive wife but I didn’t want to burdon her with my story, some of which she knew from the TV broadcasts and the film coverage that I was included on. After I wrote it she actually read it and found out everything, it made me feel better and her understanding of what and why I withheld some of the info. Just be sure you as the spouse are ready for the full horrors and try not to show and judgmental looks or speech. If it upsets you let him know you now know what he has gone through and hold him close if he allows it, my wife was really the only one who could touch me for many years an I am still jumpy if approched from the rear and touched even if I hear you.

    • Thank you Dr. Dee, thats makes perfect sense! What if this happens again? We know its been bottled up for years and just 6 months ago the light come on, (so too speak) and things are being talked and dealt with. What do I say as a Marines wife? of course listen ,what if my opinion is asked? Thats why youre the Doc. Lol thanks Dr Dee,youre great!

  3. I have found that sharing my symptoms and feelings from my PTSD, not necessarily what caused the PTSD, has been extremely helpful to me. My closest family and friends have been very supportive and have either asked me questions or researched both, wanting to be helpful and supportive. The small amount that I have talked to that didn’t handle it well, some I chose to keep as an acquaintance for casual contact and some I decided to no longer have in my life. Sharing was very healthy for me.

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