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10 Gift Ideas for the Partners and Spouses of Those Living With PTSD

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Five years ago, my husband was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). With that, my role as spouse changed. Areas of life that were shared became mine alone, money manager, car purchaser, health-care advocate and non-professional trauma therapist.

• What is PTSD?

The journey as the partner/spouse of someone with PTSD is lonely, confusing, scary and stressful. Often, the needs of the partner/spouse are overlooked by friends, by professionals and even by ourselves. It’s not intentional, but it’s still hard.

In honor of the often forgotten but invaluable partners and spouses of those living with PTSD, I’ve created a list of 10 holiday gifts just for you.

1. Validation.

You need to hear that your journey is hard. When your partner/spouse is struggling, you are the one who picks up the pieces. Face it. Daily life doesn’t stop. There’s money to earn, groceries to buy, meals to prep and kids to drive. Many times, you carry the load.

2. Affirmation.

You are the most important person in your partner’s recovery. Research show treatment for PTSD is more effective for patients in committed relationships. Your role is invaluable. Don’t ever forget this!

3. Respite

You need a break from the intensity, complexity and responsibility of PTSD. It doesn’t have to be a long vacation! Short periods of laughter, time out and brief getaways are important. Friends, you know your friend. Offer a night out, gift certificate or a coffee. It doesn’t have to be complicated.

4. Questions about you.

You need questions about yourself (not about your partner/spouse or kids).

Friends, ask questions like:

  • What’s it like for you as the spouse/partner?
  • What would be helpful for you?
  • What are your needs?
  • In what areas are you feeling the most strain (mental, physical, financial…)?
  • Could I do ____________ for you?

5. Resources.

You may need all, or some, of the following:

  • Professionals to help the person with PTSD and to help you.
  • Support people and groups for you. There are not a lot of support groups for the partners and spouses. Online group, Twitter chats and online forums can be helpful.
  • Books, articles, blogs to help you understand your partner/spouse and to help you understand yourself. Understanding, inspiration and encouragement through reading are important.
  • Friends who offer to assist finding the support and to help.

6. Practical help.

You may need help with the practical side of life. The challenges of living with someone with PTSD are similar to living with a person with a physical illness. PTSD is a serious illness linked to high rates of self-harm and suicide. Furthermore, living with a person who’s experienced trauma increases the likelihood of a partner/spouse developing vicarious or secondary trauma. Caregiver burnout is also a possibility. Friends, drop off a meal, take the kids for an afternoon, offer to clean house, and if needed, financial help. Ask your friend what he or she needs.

7. Friends who listen.

You need people who will listen without judgment or “quick-fix” answers. PTSD is complex. Recovery is slow, and there are no easy answers. Friends, you don’t have to understand PTSD, trauma or abuse to listen. Compassion, empathy and companionship go a long way.

8. A sense of humor.

You need to know it’s OK to laugh. Life with PTSD is heavy. Appropriate, well-timed humor helps diffuse stress. Please, note I do not mean laughing at the person with PTSD. Friends, don’t be intimidated by the heaviness of your friend’s life. Laughing together is so important for well-being.

9. Connection with your partner/spouse.

When life is about PTSD, it’s hard to talk about anything else. You need to find ways to connect with your partner outside of the subject matter of trauma. (Honestly, during certain periods, it may not be possible.) When you can, do what works for you: coffee at Starbucks, a movie, a sports event or a meal.

10. Stamina, strength and perseverance.

You need all of these. Practice regular self-care. Recovery from PTSD is possible, but it is a long journey. As the partner/spouse, you need lots of this gift.

This holiday season, let’s not forget the partners and spouses. Friends, give what you can to show your love, support and care for them. Just one or two of these gifts makes a big difference!

And of course, these suggestions are not just for the holidays. They are needed year round.

This post originally appeared on Heather Tuba.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

Image via Thinkstock.

Originally published: December 23, 2016
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