There are several studies that have been completed demonstrating that the symptoms veterans experience in relation to PTSD might have a negative impact on their family relationships, and that family relationships might also either improve or aggravate the PTSD a veteran experiences, as well as any comorbid conditions the veteran has. There are some common relationship issues veterans with PTSD experience.
Research has both examined and shown the effects of PTSD on relationships, revealing severe and pervasive negative effects on adjustment to marriage, mental health of partners, and functioning as a family in general, in some instances. Untreated PTSD and negative effects may result in issues such as family violence, compromised parenting, sexual issues, aggression, caregiver burden, and divorce.
Veterans who are male and who experience PTSD are more likely to report issues with their marriage or relationship. They are more likely to report trouble with parenting, and generally adjust to family life more poorly than veterans who do not experience PTSD. Research has demonstrated that veterans with PTSD tend to be less expressive and self-disclosing with their partners than veterans without PTSD. Veterans who have PTSD and their wives have also reported an increased sense of anxiety surrounding intimacy. Combat veterans with PTSD tend to experience more sexual dysfunction than veterans without PTSD. One suggestion made is that diminished sexual interest contributes to a decrease in adjustment and couple satisfaction.
Where impairments in the functioning of a relationship is concerned, there is a high rate of both separation and divorce among veterans; both with PTSD and without. Around 38% of Vietnam veterans who get married found themselves divorced within six months of their return from war. Overall, the divorce rate among Vietnam veterans is notably higher than for people in the general population; divorce rates are even higher for veterans who experience PTSD.
The National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study (NVVRS) discovered that male and female veterans who do not have PTSD tended to have relationships that were longer-lasting than veterans who did have PTSD. The rates of divorce for veterans with PTSD were two-times higher for veterans without PTSD. Veterans who did experience PTSD were three-times more likely than veterans without PTSD to marry and divorce two or more times.
Untreated Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) may affect the way couples interact with one-another. It has the potential to affect the mental health of partners. Generally, PTSD may have a negative impact on a veterans entire family. Male veterans with untreated PTSD are more likely to report the issues below than veterans without PTSD.
- Parenting trouble
- Poor family functioning
- Marriage or relationship issues
The majority of research concerning PTSD and families has been done with female partners of veterans who are male. It is important to note that the same issues may occur should the veteran with untreated PTSD be female.
Veterans with Untreated PTSD and the Mental health of Their Partners
Untreated Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has the potential to affect the mental health and life satisfaction of the partners of veterans with it. A number of studies have discovered that partners of veterans with untreated PTSD, or other forms of combat stress reactions, experience a higher likelihood of developing their own mental health issues when compared to partners of veterans without PTSD or other stress reactions. In one example, the wives of Israeli veterans with PTSD were found to report more symptoms of mental health and more unsatisfying and impaired social relationships when compared with the wives of veterans who did not experience PTSD.
At least two other studies, to include the NVVRS, showed that partners of Vietnam veterans with untreated PTSD reported notably reduced satisfaction in their lives, decreased levels of happiness, and greater demoralization than Vietnam veterans who do not experience PTSD. Around 50% of the partners of veterans with untreated PTSD indicated they had felt they were, 'on the verge of a nervous breakdown.' Male partners of female Vietnam veterans with untreated PTSD reported more social isolation and poorer subjective well-being than female veterans who do not experience PTSD.
Another study, performed by Nelson and Wright, indicates that partners of veterans with untreated PTSD many times describe the difficulties they experience with their loved one's PTSD symptoms. They describe the stress they experience due to needs that remain unmet, and describe experiences of emotional and physical violence. The difficulties partners experience can be described as, 'secondary traumatization,' something that is the indirect impact of trauma on people who are in close contact with victims. The mental health symptoms partners experience may also be the results of their own experiences of trauma in relation to living with a veteran with untreated PTSD, or it may be related to a prior trauma.
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