‘Not Ever Quite Home – PTSD and Marriage’ Plus WW Link up!

PTSD & Marriage

Andrew thumbnailToday we are honored to have Andrew Budek-Schmeisser of Blessed are the Pure of Heart as our guest to share a perspective that he’s uniquely qualified to offer. He knows first-hand the devastation that PTSD can cause in marriage, so I was thrilled when he agreed to share his wisdom and experience here with all of us at Messy Marriage. He will be hosting WW as I spend a day of catching up with my sister, Faith! Please, make him feel welcome!
 

When Beth asked me to write a guest post on the subject of how Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder affects a marriage, I wondered where to start.

Half an hour ago, I got my answer.

A serious illness makes if necessary for my wife to help me in and out of the shower, and afterwards, she combs my hair (lifting my arms hurts).

Tonight, standing behind me, she sneezed. I spun around, dropped into a combat crouch, my left arm rising to block any blow, and my right hand dropping to my hip, where once a holstered .45 would have ridden.

That’s combat trauma. Welcome to our world.

PTSD is characterized as an abnormal reaction to a traumatic event, such as war, natural disaster, serious accident, and the like.

The “symptoms” are a tendency to relive the event, loss of interest in normal activities, emotional distance, difficulty sleeping, and difficulty concentrating. In the worst cases, self-medicating through alcohol and drugs, and suicide.

Most people affected by trauma experience at least some of these immediately after the event.

But most people, it’s said, “get over it”, while some remain stuck, and are diagnosed with PTSD.

I beg to differ. It all depends on the trauma itself, and the circumstances and context that surround it.

Living with hyper-vigilance, flashbacks, and nightmares has become the New Normal. Events that result in PTSD change one. They give memories that can’t be erased, and often demand responses that become part of one’s muscle memory.

You can’t go back to life as it was before. You can go through therapy to understand the how and why, and go through prayer to obtain absolution, but you can’t turn back the clock.

And many with PTSD, especially combat trauma, would not want to.

Combat is the catalyst for this conditioned process that forges a warrior from a civilian. It creates a new self-image and psyche whose fulfillment is found in standing ready to defend one’s country and people.

Combat is the warrior’s purpose. Not “peacekeeping”, not learning a useful civilian trade. The focus is the firefight.

The famous “Band of Brothers” speech from Shakespeare’s “Henry V” defines it well:

“Gentlemen in England now abed shall hold their manhoods cheap while any speaks, that fought with us upon this day.”

What would I be without my PTSD? What would define me? What would set me apart, in my heart? If I lose the meaning and immediacy of the firefight, do I surrender my soul?

So, the problem … the scars are an honor, but their effect on a marriage can be disastrous.

PTSD in Marriage

It’s been a hard road for my wife. She’s had to learn to look at life through a gunsight, as it were, and it’s made her a different person.

She didn’t ask for it; but I’ll let her have the last word: “It’s what comes with the territory of choosing to love.”

 

How has PTSD impacted your life and marriage?

 

What other words of advice would you offer to spouses married to a PTSD victim? 

 


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  • Andrew- I appreciate the understanding of PTSD from one that is living it. For those of us that don’t have any experience with it, hearing your perspective makes it real instead of just another term that someone has thrown into the diagnosis pool. I imagine the lack of understanding cause people to dismiss PTSD as something that is not real or something that is a scapegoat for for many who have served and are now suffering the effects of what you lived through while serving. Please know I am praying for you and your wife and hope that this post will provide more awareness for readers like me who don’t fully understand PTSD. Blessings my friend! Mary

    • Mary, thank you so much for being here today, and for the prayers.

      One of the hardest things about PTSD is that while there’s often an initial level of compassion, civilians start to expect the veteran to “get over it” within a period of time that’s usually defined by movies or novels…the cathartic climax leads to a Happily Ever After.

      It simply doesn’t work that way.

  • Interesting article. Thanks for sharing and thank you for being a veteran. I’m a civilian myself, but I know how much our armed forces help us.

    • Thanks, Julie – I appreciate your being here.

      I should say that my PTSD came from work as a paramilitary contractor – similar job description, different employer.

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  • So glad you shared this, Andrew. Not all of us will have or be married to someone with PTSD, but almost all of us will at least have a friend or family member in the situation, and it helps to be informed. Thanks for sharing another piece of your story. It’s always good to hear from you.

    • Thanks, Lisa.

      The one thing that I hope is that people will realize that there’s no quick fix for this. It can get better, but a supportive environment really helps.

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  • Andrew, God bless you for sharing your heart and soul with us today on something so personal that so many people face. I pray this helps many help loved ones who don’t know how to help someone facing PTSD. I never get tired of reading your life, friend.

    Blessings,

    Kim

  • Wow! I have learnt a lot from this Beth, now I know what advice to offer someone who lives with someone with PTSD. Thanks a lot for sharing and I pray God’s healing on your emotions Andrew.

    • Thanks, Ugochi!

      God’s healing is vital, though faith can be badly shaken by some of the events that may cause PTSD. It takes a very basic Christian approach, one that recognizes that God did not deliver His own Son from torture and death. The “feel good” Christianity so popular today can be quite damaging when offered to (or pushed on) someone with PTSD.

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  • Thank you for sharing your heart, Andrew. My father served in Vietnam and came home to shame and disgrace from his fellow countrymen. I’m thankful for a mom who loved and supported him even though she little understood the changes he underwent as a result of what he experienced during the war. My dad is a shining example of someone who deals with PTSD (even before he knew what it was) and overcomes.
    Blessings to you and your family,
    ~Candy

    • I’m so glad for you that your Dad was able to overcome!

      You touched on a key point – PTSD is definitely made worse by a lack of acceptance at “home”. The way Viet Nam veterans were treated was disgraceful…and the “we support our troops bu oppose the war” thing so popular today isn’t a whole lot better. It’s condescending.

  • So grateful to have read this so as to get a better understanding of how PTSD affects marriage. May God be with you & your wife as you navigate through this stress. And may He use you to bring help to others who are struggling. Thank you for sharing so transparently. Blessings!

    • Thank you so much, Joanne. It is definitely a “navigation” process; there is no roadmap.

  • Jen

    My husband suffers from PTSD, although not combat related. One thing I had to learn early on is that it’s not about me. When he’s struggling, it’s not my fault and often there is little I can do to help except be patient and loving. I can’t “fix” it for him. That was a hard lesson, one that I’m still learning in many ways. But it helps to be reminded!
    Jen @ Being Confident of This

    • Jen, that’s an excellent point – it’s not about you, and it’s not for you to “fix”.

      Being there, being supportive is the best thing anyone can do.

  • Andrew – what you have written is significant. Pure and simple. I can imagine that it’s next to impossible to put your experience into words, but, as always, I appreciate your candor, and once again, I have walked away from a conversation with you richer for it.

    And I appreciate your wife having the last word! It’s good to meet her. Be sure to tell her that we said ‘thanks’ for letting you share life with us … even the messy stuff.

    We learn much from what you bring to the table.

    Warmest blessings, as always.

    • Linda, thank you so much.

      Being married to someone with PTSD is rough, and it takes a very strong faith compass to make it through. I’m very fortunate indeed.

  • Andrew, the first thing I want to say is thank you for your service. You and thousands of others who put your lives on the lines for your countrymen and democracy in general are modern day heroes.

    Secondly, your post really hit home with me. I have non-combat PTSD from severe childhood abuse.
    My husband, like your wife, has had a difficult time dealing with the ins and outs of a spouse with PTSD. It hadn’t occurred to me that I could have PTSD until then, but I can relate to all the same symptoms you describe.

    I really appreciated how you explained that responses become a part of muscle memory. Try as I might, I just can’t seem to shake the hyper-startle response. In the most benign situations I can jump a mile high and go into survival mode. People around me raise their eyebrows, cock their heads, and look at each other questioningly. I can’t help it.

    Therapy has brought me to a much better place, and resolved much of my anger. My therapist told me the hyper startle is the one symptom/response that she’s never seen fully go away.

    Kudos to your wife for such a loving and marvelous attitude. Love prevails!!

    • Denise, thank you for sharing your experiences. Therapy is important, when it’s done by the right person – and I’m glad you found someone good.

      The startle response is probably the most deeply ingrained. A few years after my work as a paramilitary, I returned to school and was working on a research project in a structural testing lab. One day I was on some scaffolding, about 40 feet up, when another test in the facility concluded with a loud ‘bang’.

      I very nearly dove off the scaffold tower. When I recovered my composure, I went over to the other test and started screaming at the tech who had run it. He hadn’t known I was in the building, and he was very upset.

      He was also a Viet Nam veteran, and he made me stay in his office for the rest of the day. He knew – and he was right – that I needed time to get past it to the point where I was safe to even walk to my car.

  • I’m so grateful, Andrew for your willingness to not only host WW today, but for your brutal honesty about PTSD. I’m no expert on the subject, but I would think that PTSD and grief must be closely linked–since grief typically takes an unpredictable and often counterintuitive path. There’s nothing linear or clear-cut about it and that seems to be the case with what you’ve described of PTSD. You never know what might trigger an old memory or traumatic rush. I’m thankful for your willingness to tell it like it is, yet providing steps that a spouse can take and/or avoid. These steps may not seem like a huge or noticeable effort to the average person, since they are not directive or overtly active. But I believe that in time, they can bring a couple closer together regardless of the circumstances. My prayers are with you and your wife, my friend. I hope and pray that God blesses you with health physically, emotionally and relationally!

    • Beth, being here today has been an honor.

      As for a link between grief and PTSD…yes and no, at least from my experience.

      Before I got married, my life was built around the combat persona, even as I worked toward a PhD. The only way it worked out was that my field was structural engineering, and I was on the experimental side, so I worked with techs more than with professors. Many were veterans, and we spoke the same language. My home was a bear garden of weapons and large, unruly dogs, and fun for me was working out and building airplanes. I was content with who and what I was, and felt that I could always step back into war.

      Then came matrimony, and a lot of that life changed. I became a professor, and tried to mold my persona into what I thought my wife wanted. I didn’t fit, and then, yes…there came the link with grief.

      The ‘useful’ and grounded part of me had been sent away, and I was a disaster as a ‘young academic’ and as a husband. The ‘field’ persona wasn’t wanted by anyone – except me, and I was outvoted.

      Then came divorce, and remarriage, after a LOT of therapy.

      Now…well, I’m happier, partly because I have my very own war to fight, one for my physical existence. My doctor thinks I should be dead, and I am set on winning.

      The dogs are a big help – we don;t really have living space…the house is a kennel, and for these guys, it was that or death. Another bow to combat ethos.

      I’m no longer well enough to work – except for short spurts of writing, but I can live kind of like I would have on deployment. I’m awake on a 24/7 schedule, just napping occasionally, and I take my meals sitting on the kitchen floor when I feel well enough to eat (which doesn’t often coincide with my wife’s schedule).

      All the symptoms are still there, but I can live with them better now, since I’m more at home with what’s around me, with the way I live. I’m no longer a disaster to live with. I can be a support, and something of a help.

      And I have an extraordinarily patient wife. She has seen that what I did was worthwhile, and that it’s both her duty and desire to help me through the rest of my life. She’s given up House Beautiful, vacations, dinner-table conversation, and a host of other things she might have expected. She did it for love.

  • I’m a fix-it person learning to live hands-off – and I think that’s a hard lesson to learn. Your story is filled with so many important lessons – like choosing to love, that to expect life to be smooth and all challenges wrapped up neat and tidy can create more problems than help, – and that some hard-times are not about “you” – and how to respond when you really don’t know how someone else is feeling. So many things in life are not quick-fixes – but going through them with someone who’s not giving up on you – that can make so much difference. Thank you for the service you gave your country – and for showing us how bravery is walked out every day!

    • And thank you, for the grace and compassion of your comment!

      Life is kind of like that weird Christmas present you got as a kid…the one that was wrapped clumsily, with about fifteen kinds of wrapping paper, and it looked so ODD under the tree.

      And then you unwrapped it, and it was your first bicycle, which cost you several front teeth as you climbed the learning curve, but eventually gave wings to your feet.

  • Andrew, thank you. Thank you for the article and more so, thank you for your service. I have heard some of these stories before and am amazed at the sacrifice of both the person in the military and the spouse. We are grateful to you both.

  • Andrew, thank you for your service and for the gift of all that you write. I very much appreciate it.

    The man I am blessed to call my best-friend-husband is a USMC Vietnam combat veteran with severe PTSD. He is now on 100% disability, a direct result of his two tours of duty in Vietnam when he was 20-21 years old – more than 40 years ago.

    My husband is my hero.

    Although I have never been in a war, I have also been diagnosed with PTSD stemming from severe, repeated traumas that happened throughout my childhood. And I am also on disability due to my PTSD.

    My husband and I often say that we put the fun in dysfunction. 🙂

    My earliest symptoms of PTSD go back to at least 1965. My husband’s earliest PTSD symptoms can be traced to 1969. But PTSD wasn’t an official psychiatric diagnosis until 1980. Even then, it was many more years before PTSD was widely known, particularly for people like me who were never in the military.

    My husband was not diagnosed until the late 1980s, which means he lived with undiagnosed PTSD for almost 20 years. My PTSD wasn’t diagnosed until 2003, so I lived with undiagnosed PTSD for close to 40 years.

    Living with the debilitating symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and not knowing what in the world is even WRONG with you is a nightmare. I thought I was just “crazy.” A lot of other people thought that, too. Ditto for my husband.

    Today, my husband and I are the happiest we have ever been in our lives. We have a great Christian therapist and a precious supportive church family. Most of all, we know in our hearts that we are secure in the love of the Lord Jesus and in the love we have for each other. Nothing can separate us from God’s love and, I believe, nothing other than death will ever separate my husband and me. We’ve survived too much together to turn back now.

    The psychiatrist who diagnosed my PTSD in March 2003 is Paul Meier, MD, a Christian who has authored/co-authored over 80 books and is the founder of a nationwide chain of mental health clinics. After giving me a full battery of psychological tests, Dr. Meier told me that I have PTSD. He also told me that, although PTSD is classified as a “mental illness” for insurance purposes, having a PTSD reaction to overwhelming trauma is NORMAL, not “crazy,” just as it is normal to bleed if you are stabbed. God did not create our bodies to withstand being stabbed, he said, therefore even the strongest, healthiest person is going to bleed if he is stabbed. In the same way, Dr. Meier explained, God did not create our psyches to be mistreated, rejected, and abused. We were created for love, he said, not for hate.

    I have a saying:
    “Treat PTSD with CARE: Compassion, Acceptance, Respect, and Encouragement.”

    Throw in some sacrificial Christ-like love, and you’re Golden.

    ~Alaina, aka @LadyQuixote, author of Healing from Crazy blog

  • Amdrew thank you for sharing, i am a paramedic of 17 years dealing with PTSD and my wife was speaking to me about what role she now plays in our in our marriage, there are more questions we have than answers. Glad I found this site and your post, take care and thank you.