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How Complex PTSD Can Ruin Our Adult Relationships


I have written elsewhere on this site about the connection between the experience of childhood trauma and the later development of complex post-traumatic stress syndrome.

In this article, however, I want to examine how a person’s PTSD symptoms affect the lives of their intimate partners.

Individuals who develop PTSD are likely to undergo extreme changes in their personalities. These changes may include:

– becoming emotionally withdrawn/shutting down emotionally/becoming emotionally detached

– becoming generally taciturn and non-communicative (especially in relation to ‘clamming up’ if asked to talk about their traumatic experiences that have led to the development of PTSD).

– becoming prone to dramatic mood fluctuations (often this may include outbursts of rage, anger, aggression, and sometimes physical violence)

– developing a desire to avoid social interaction/loss of interest in social activity

– developing a fear of leaving the house

– developing a fear of being left alone

– developing a pattern of drug/alcohol abuse

a change in sex drive (such as a loss of sexual desire).


Many PTSD sufferers express similar sentiments to those shown above.


The partner of the PTSD sufferer may feel helpless and impotent, angry and/or fearful (especially if the symptoms include proneness to aggression/violence).

S/he may, too, become resentful if s/he is forced to stay in with the partner (due to his/her fear of being left alone) and become socially isolated him/herself.

This, in turn, can lead to depression and anxiety and, in a desperate attempt by the partner to try to cope, an unhealthy, excessive reliance upon alcohol and/or drugs

If the PTSD sufferer has lost interest in sex, this can make the partner feel unloved, rejected, and undesirable, particularly as the loss of interest in sex is likely to be accompanied by emotional withdrawal/’shutting down’ by the individual with PTSD.

Indeed, research has shown that those living with individuals who are suffering from PTSD can sometimes, as a result, develop PTSD symptoms themselves.

As would be expected, the research has also shown that the more severe an individual’s PTSD symptoms are, the more the intimate partner’s own psychological condition is likely to be damaged.

Finally, further research has also shown that men with PTSD are more likely than others (all else being equal) to have marital problems and are more likely to contribute to the whole family of which he is a part becoming dysfunctional.



David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)


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