Tips for dating someone with PTSD – why would I need those?
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can happen for a variety of reasons, none of them pleasant. Living with PTSD is a constant reminder of the traumatic events they have experienced. Once upon a time, we thought only soldiers developed PTSD, now we know that it is a condition that can affect victims of abuse, survivors of shootings and violence, rape survivors, and domestic violence survivors. PTSD can be debilitating, and it requires therapy to assist the survivor in managing the symptoms, identifying triggers, and healing from the trauma that caused the health conditions. Dating is complicated on its own, but PTSD adds another layer of complexity.
What is PTSD?
PTSD comes as a result of a traumatic event. Post traumatic stress disorder can have a negative effect on your daily mental health. People with PTSD relive their traumatic events through flashbacks. Basically, the traumatic event is relived through those flashbacks. What causes a flashback? Triggers.
What are PTSD triggers?
When you’re talking about triggers, you’ll learn they can come from just about anything. There could be a story about war on television. with all of the gore and noise and realistic acting that can be played out. Fireworks and loud noises can trigger someone. Someone who has survived a car accident may be triggered by the sound of screeching brakes. For me, being around people who are angry, especially if they are raising their voice, that can be a trigger.
A sight, smell, or sound can take me back to experiences of abuse that I have had. Unfortunately, we have no control over our triggers. Sometimes we feel guilt or shame about the triggers we do have. It took me a long time to realize I didn’t have to feel guilty because people whose anger is clearly escalating is a trigger for me. I thought asking people to accommodate my triggers was unfair of me. It is important for people with PTSD to know it is ok to talk to the people in your life.
What challenges are there for dating with PTSD?
Healing from trauma doesn’t happen overnight. That healing takes place over an extended period of time. During that time, you’ll resume activities from your regular life. You’ll feel safer interacting with people, and part of that interaction means it could be time to consider your romantic prospects again. While you may be ready to consider that step, there are some challenges you can face when you’re dating with PTSD. Here are some points you’ll want to consider while you’re deciding if you’re ready.
- How soon do I tell someone about the PTSD? – This isn’t first date conversation, but it is important that you tell someone what you’re dealing with. As you are forming a bond with someone, you will know when it is safe to trust them.
- How do I handle it if the relationship doesn’t work out? – Rejection hurts. When we feel that hurt, it is important to have a plan to deal with the pain. It is ok for a relationship not to work out. Put a plan in place to manage the rejection if it comes.
- Don’t take it too seriously – Surviving trauma can make us a little more serious than we used to be. When you survive a traumatic experience, it can cause you to be hyper-vigilant or overthink. Don’t forget to have fun. Dating is about getting to know people and create bonds, which may feel scary but it can also be really invigorating.
Tips for dating someone with PTSD
If you discover you are dating someone with PTSD, there will be an adjustment period for both of you in the beginning. People who have been traumatized need an extra dose of love and understanding, but if you pour that love into a relationship with them, you’ll receive it back and more. As you build your relationship, keep these tips for dating someone with PTSD in mind.
Tips for dating with PTSD
- Be patient – I began treatment for PTSD earlier this year after surviving an abusive relationship. What I discovered in my next relationship was that I need someone who will be patient with me. Learning about PTSD has meant that I have to discover what my triggers are. That discovery takes time and having someone who is willing to give me the time and space I need to learn and communicate with them is important.
- Hear what they are NOT saying – Dating someone with PTSD might mean that you have to think outside the box. For instance, I can tell my partner that raising his voice to me during an argument is frightening to me because of the abuse I experienced. Or he could recognize my body language and me shutting down emotionally and realize that I have been triggered. When I began treatment, I didn’t know what my triggers were. I’m still learning. Regardless, someone can tell when I am withdrawing from the activity or conversation or argument and conclude that I’m upset. Hearing what the person is not saying is important.
- Be flexible – It is important for both parties to be flexible as they are getting to know each other. The world does not revolve around one person’s triggers. However, the people they are intimate with should be gentle around those areas. It is important for the person with PTSD to understand that it is a learning process for their partner. When we keep an open heart and give each other grace, dating someone with PTSD becomes more simple.
- Learn what their triggers are and how you can avoid them – It is important to know that no one chooses their triggers. Being triggered can take someone back to a bad experience instantly. There are sounds, smells, and situations that are innocent to others that cause distress for someone with PTSD. I am still learning what my triggers are, and as I know I communicate those to the people in my life. As you are dating someone with PTSD, don’t be afraid to ask them what those triggers are and what the signs are that they have been triggered or need help.
- Be vocal about your needs too – Dating someone with PTSD doesn’t mean their PTSD runs the relationship. You have needs too, and you have to make them known. Being vocal about your needs ensures that the person you’re in a relationship with knows their boundaries. None of us are mind readers, so we have to get very clear about our needs.
- Reassurance may be necessary – People who have been traumatized have been exposed to the worst of human behavior. They have been betrayed by people who were supposed to protect them. Being hurt in that way means you need assurances from the people in your life. Dating someone with PTSD means you have to give them that reassurance. Tell them you won’t quit on them. Let them know when they are improving. Be gentle with your suggestions when they are not improving. In time they will understand that you are going to be there for them.
- Respect their boundaries – The thing about triggers is that they are different for everyone. What seems innocent and lighthearted to one person could be a painful reminder to another. If someone tells you not to speak to them in a certain way or touch them in a certain way, heed that. Dating someone with PTSD might mean there are triggers you don’t understand, but you still have to respect the boundary.
- Be willing to have difficult conversations – Not everything about this process is neat and easy. Sometimes you will have to have conversations that are uncomfortable. It is totally ok to take a break and come back to a conversation later if it becomes too intense. Keeping the line of communication open is critical in every relationship, but especially if you are dating someone with PTSD.
- Honesty is the best policy – Honesty is important in any relationship, but especially when you are dating someone with PTSD. People who have been traumatized have been lied to or about many times. Giving them the truth, even if it is unpleasant, gives them the ability to control their own choices. It can be extremely triggering when someone who has PTSD finds out they have been lied to. Spare yourself and them the trouble by being honest with them.
- Keep an open mind – People with trauma are more common than you think. Traumatic experiences can happen to anyone. Because of that, try to have an open mind. Don’t make assumptions, ask questions. Assumptions only lead to misunderstandings. Not passing judgment shows the person who has experienced trauma that you are trustworthy. Allow people the space to be who they are and watch your relationship with them flourish.
Just be gentle
You’ll notice a lot of these tips for dating someone with PTSD are good practices for dating anyone. Why is that? Well, because people who have had a traumatic experience are still people. As they are recovering and healing from their trauma, they merely need some extra consideration. Whether they have survived sexual abuse, emotional abuse, or been in a dangerous or violent environment, they are going to need to be treated gently. Be yourself, be honest, and show them you are a safe person for them to trust. Good luck on your dating journey!
Quick Tips for managing PTSD
If you have PTSD, it can be difficult to manage, but not impossible. For starters, you MUST find a quality therapist. Trauma does not resolve on its own. Consider doing family therapy if the trauma stems from dysfunction in your family. Sometimes our loved ones can behave in a way that can be a trigger for our PTSD symptoms, and working in family therapy can help those closest to you learn your treatment program as well. Having a strong support system will be crucial to assembling a treatment plan and working through it well. Joining support groups can be extremely helpful as well. Explore your treatment options, there are many. Establishing relationships with people who understand PTSD will be crucial in helping you to feel understood and working through your post-trauma life. That includes creating a relationship with someone who wants to show you love.
Until next time,
Learn more about dating someone with PTSD
Dating someone with complex PTSD
What It’s Like To Date When You Live With PTSD
Read more from Black Girl, Lost Keys
Books for Recovering from Emotional Abuse
Sexual Coercion: The Rape No One Wants To Talk About