FamilyOfaVet - Real world info about PTSD, TBI, & life after combat
FamilyOfaVet - Real World info about PTSD, TBI, & life after combat.

Learning to Communicate in
a PTSD Relationship

Remember when you were a kid playing telephone with your friends?  Someone would
start with something said at one end and the message was passed on until it reached the
end.  Invariably, along the road, those precocious little mouths and ears turned a simple,
normal, innocent phrase or sentence into some twisted, weird, humorous concoction that
often had you giggling for hours!

Communication in a
PTSD marriage, if not properly tended, can have the exact same
problem.  Instead of passing from person to person, the message can get held up in the
brain and not transmit in the way the sender intended.  Instead, a convoluted, strange,
and often confusing message is delivered and the next thing you know, you’re scrambling
to apologize for something as simple as trying to find out what your spouse wanted for

Step 1:  Clear, concise messages are needed to get your information across.  

Clear, concise messages register far better than well thought out ones.  The more words
you add, the easier it is to be confused on the other end.  When you’re juggling
traumatic stress disorder
and traumatic brain injury in one brain, this is not the time to
start getting fancy with your vocabulary!  Instead of saying, “I was thinking it might be a
good idea if we considered going to the movies this weekend because there’s this new
action film out I know you would want to see and I think Charlotte can babysit on Saturday
around lunchtime so what do you think?” a better question would be “Want to go to the
movies Saturday?”.  Too many details are likely to get jumbled in a mind already struggling
with post-traumatic stress disorder.  Your spouse needs a simple, concise message so he
or she can give you a simple, concise answer.

And before we leave simple and concise – do yourself a favor, stop looking for pretty
flowery sentiments.  “I love you” might be all you’re going to get sometimes.  On some
days, even that is asking too much.  Know this – if your veteran is there with you and trying
to make your marriage work, he or she loves you more than words will ever be able to
express.  Let that action speak when your hero cannot.

Step 2:  The Sound of Silence

This is a biggie for PTSD/TBI marriages.  Get comfortable with silence.  It’s okay to not say
anything.  Every last minute of every moment together does not have to be filled with noise.

I’m not talking about awkward, in the middle of a fight silence (although that can have its
place too!).  I’m talking about companionable driving down the road or hanging out in the
living room silence.  Just because every second of the day isn’t filled with conversation
doesn’t mean something is wrong.

On that note, if you’re a stay-at-home caregiver and/or parent, please note that your
spouse can no longer be expected to be your sounding board at the end of the day.  You’
re setting yourself up for failure.  Talk through your day’s frustrations with someone else.  
Call a friend.   Beat up a pillow.  Move some heavy boxes.  Do something else!  Let there
be SILENCE!  It’s okay!  The Jabber Police are not around the corner coming to take you

And on that fighting note, sometimes your best defense during a PTSD blow up is to simply
stop talking.  Pray in your head.  Count the number of lines on your hand.  Make a list of
things to do next week.  Whatever it takes - but if everything you say is being thrown back
at you, your best defense is to just stop talking.  This isn’t something you do because
you've “lost”… it’s something you do because you’re strong enough to understand that
arguing with
PTSD just doesn’t work.

Step 3:  Allow your veteran to answer.

This is a tough one for many people.  I tend to jump on top of my husband’s answer and
try to talk over him.  BAD idea!  Let your spouse talk.  Let your veteran have time to
formulate his or her answer (as opposed to just continuing to talk until your hero finally
says something).  This goes along with Step 2 – Silence.  You must be willing to be silent
and wait for your spouse to figure out an answer.  If a traumatic brain injury (TBI) is
involved, this is twice as important because it may very well take longer for your veteran’s
brain to process (even if you’ve followed Step 1 and delivered a clear, concise message!).

Step 4:  Question everything!

Your crazy college professor may have talked to you about “reflective listening,” but you
probably didn’t know it would be helpful marriage advice.  Here’s how this works using the
previous movie anecdote:

You: “Want to go to the movies on Saturday?”

Him: “Yeah. Fast Five would be good.”

You: “So you’d like to go see Fast Five.”

Him: “Yes.”

You: “So Fast Five on Saturday, right?”

Him: “Yeah.”

With your third statement you've reconfirmed the information.  If you’re on a roll and
getting more than one word answers, this is even more important.  Try rephrasing what
you THINK you heard and asking your spouse if you’re correct.  For example, in an
argument he or she says that you don’t clean the house well enough.  “So, what you are
saying is I don’t clean the house well enough.”  Your veteran may have actually said
something different or at least thought he said something different.  By repeating the story
from what you are hearing, you are eliminating the possibility of a misunderstanding.  This
works both ways and can be an effective way to reduce escalation in arguments because
you are keeping logic intact rather than resorting to pure emotions.

The Result

Every relationship takes work.  And, while communication in a family or friendship face with
PTSD may take more work than normal, it's worth it!  How many people get to say that the
hard work they do on behalf of their spouse (brother, sister, son, friend, etc.) is in support
of a hero?  Keep at it!  You can do it!  And we're here to help :)

This article was written by our own Heather Hummert, the wife of an OIF Veteran & Purple
Heart Recipient.  If you would like to contact Heather directly, you can e-mail her at
Heather -at- or

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