The costs of loving a trauma survivor

There are costs to loving a trauma survivor. I know this statement may come across as or unsupportive, insensitive, or unkind. But despite the potential misinterpretations of this statement, it still needs to be said.

There are costs to loving a trauma survivor.

As a partner of twenty-seven years to a man with complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, I am well-acquainted with the cost of a loving a trauma survivor. I know the cost too from the daily interactions with partners in my coaching practice and from the emails I receive from partners on an almost daily basis.

There are costs to loving a trauma survivor.

There are physical costs

Many partners struggle with health issues, some of which were pre-existing; others begin after an increase in complex PTSD symptoms of their loved one. Partners’ health conditions are exacerbated by the chronic stress of the home.

Physical pain is a problem for partners. Neck, shoulder, and back pain is frequently reported as is an increased vulnerability to colds and flu. Many partners, myself included, report an increase in pain when a survivor-partner is struggling.

Disrupted sleep patterns, insomnia, and resulting physical and mental fatigue are common. Many of us as partners are on ‘high alert’ most of the day as we juggle parental duties, financial responsibilities, and ‘being there’ for our partners.

There are psychological costs

Many, many partners experience a profound sense of powerlessness as we witness our most loved ones disappear from us. Despite our best efforts to love and to care, there are times when the overwhelm of cPTSD carries our loved ones to a place far from us. It is during these moments, days, and sometimes months, that partners experience a deep sense of loss, loneliness, and abandonment. To cope, we may become entrenched in our own anxieties as we seek to find an internal answer as to what we did to trigger the events. (As I tell partners, it is not us, it is the cPTSD.)

Frequently, we feel desperate for understanding, for connection, and for some sense of control leading to our own fight-or-flight responses. Increased conflict in the home, emotional withdrawal, and yes, termination of relationships are common.

Many of us suffer from symptoms of secondary traumatic stress. Despite the toll, partners of survivors are frequently the unacknowledged caregivers by the medical and psychological systems. We are expected to carry the burden of care with little support. Most of us educate ourselves about the impact of cPTSD and related symptoms like dissociation, depression, and addictions at our own initiative.

There are financial costs

There is a cost when a loved one cannot work. Complex PTSD can be a debilitating condition disrupting employment for short and long periods. Without adequate therapy, some individuals do not return to the workforce. Partners and families make large financial sacrifices to care for their loved one, including a non-survivor partner returning to full-time employment, selling belongings, minimizing children’s involvement in extracurriculars, and relocating to access better treatment.

There is a cost for therapy too. Complex PTSD requires long-term, trauma-specific therapy and this is generally not covered. The financial implications are enormous.

As well, many partners and children could benefit from individual and family therapy. Complex PTSD is not an individual problem. It is a family issue. Sadly, most families cannot afford the costs of additional services.

  Complex PTSD is not an individual problem. It is a family issue.

There are relational costs.

Many partners lose pre-existing support systems. A common scenario occurs when a survivor who is functioning well is triggered into a prolonged period of complex trauma symptoms. This change, often abrupt and unanticipated, is challenging for supporters to understand and to know how to offer help. Sadly, this is when support systems are needed most.

There is also a cost to standing by and standing up for a survivor. Partners feel the misunderstanding and judgment too. In fact, we are often the front-line advocates for our loved ones, which means we are just as easily impacted by the stigmas around mental health and trauma.

Furthermore, partners face labels. Codependent and enabling are sometimes applied with no regard to the physiological and neurological and components of complex PTSD. Yes, complex PTSD is like other chronic illnesses.

There are costs to loving a trauma survivor.

Yet, despite this, partners of individuals with cPTSD are deeply committed, loving, and caring people. In fact, the lengths that partners go in order to support, to find answers, to locate a therapist, and to continue when systems fail us, is nothing short of remarkable.

There are costs to loving a trauma survivor. Isn’t it time we acknowledge that too?