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What Our 'Ever After' Looks Like After My Husband Was Diagnosed With PTSD

I say, don’t listen to the songs. Don’t believe¬†the fairytales. In the real world, nobody gets a ‚Äúhappily ever after.‚ÄĚ The real world is full of real people, and real people are never¬†perfect. Marriage is never perfect.

Yet so many of us continue to idolize a happily ever after, and we even think we see it in some of our friends ‚ÄĒ¬†but every marriage will have conflict. Every marriage will know¬†frustration and experience anger. Every marriage will face adversity.

We had known each other for four years when we married, and we lived together for three.¬†Time enough to discover¬†our flaws. Time enough to see the cracks. Honest¬†enough to accept¬†what was manageable. Secure¬†enough to know our foundation was strong.¬†And when post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) entered our lives shortly after our fifth wedding anniversary, it certainly wasn’t¬†the first test we had faced. We were a strong team with a proven track record.

Mental illness didn’t scare me. We had the knowledge, and I¬†was sure we had the skills. I didn’t expect marriage to be easy; I didn’t expect a happily ever after.¬†And so, in the face of adversity, we accepted the cards we had been dealt and we naturally drew together.

Time passed, but the PTSD didn’t.¬†After five years of mental illness¬†wreaking havoc on our relationship, I was beginning to feel utterly trapped. This time, our unity wasn’t even close to winning¬†the battle. I could never have imagined a marriage could look like this. I could never have imagined fighting this illness¬†would be so complex and so unrelenting. And I could never have imagined I might lose my best friend.

It was clear the PTSD had cut deep, and I felt thoroughly helpless watching it drive wedges into the original cracks, forcing them open into gaping crevasses. Our marriage, tearing apart at the seams.¬†As I hastily clung to the shreds, I was still blind to the fact that¬†PTSD had set us up with opposing challenges. And I was yet to learn that mental illness doesn’t play fair in a marriage. There were¬†certainly no guidelines for¬†this.

Mental illness has redefined our¬†marriage in every way, and every day I struggle to find where I fit. I’m not the wife I once was. I no longer¬†feel like his best friend. I cannot be his therapist. And I’m not welcomed as his carer.¬†I never once expected a happily ever after, but¬†I never once expected to be married¬†to¬†a man with a¬†complex mental illness.

In the face of PTSD, what type of partner do I become?

Where does the mental illness end and the marriage begin?

I am a compassionate partner: This was not his choice, but it will be with us always, and we need to learn how to live with it.

I¬†am a¬†supportive partner: His mental illness affects our¬†whole family, and because it’s our problem together, we’ll fix it together.

I¬†am a¬†defensive partner: No, he can’t just ‚Äúsuck it up.‚ÄĚ No, he can’t just forget about it, and no, he can’t just move on.

I am an encouraging partner: PTSD¬†doesn’t define him; it’s something that happened to him, and it¬†can¬†be managed.

I¬†am a¬†frustrated partner: Surely, he’s¬†stronger than this; why isn’t he¬†getting better?

I am a¬†loyal partner: I¬†will stand by him¬†while there’s still a chance we can find a better way forward, while there’s still so much to fight for.

I¬†am a¬†cold partner: His behavior hurts me and his words deceive me, so he¬†doesn’t get to touch me.

I am an ashamed partner: I am overwhelmed with guilt each and every time I question how long I can go on like this, and how long I should go on like this.

I¬†am an¬†angry partner: He dares to give in to the pain. He¬†dares to treat me like I’m not worth the fight.

I am a relieved partner: His episodes have been bad, really bad, but thankfully he has not become a statistic. We still have another chance.

I¬†am a¬†fearful¬†partner: His moods are unpredictable and¬†his anger is¬†escalating ‚ÄĒ how much is truly¬†too much?

I am a broken¬†partner: I’m so tired of the predictable cycles. How much longer can I do this? How much longer can I wait?

I¬†am a¬†hopeful partner: This time it’ll be better. This time, I’m sure he¬†will¬†fully commit to his recovery. Maybe this time I can believe.

I am a resilient partner: I stand steady amidst each flurry of chaos and in the face of each wild storm, along a treacherous and uncertain journey.

I am a lonely partner: I grieve for a person I still see each day and sleep next to each night.

I am wife to a man with a complex mental illness. And although I am entirely lost as to how this marriage should function, this is our ever after.

Image via Contributor.

A version of this post originally appeared on Away With Her Words.

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