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When a Different Husband Comes Home

PTSD. It’s a four-letter word heard a lot in the military community, particularly for combat soldiers in this modern era. As an infantryman's wife, just like loved ones of many of the combat roles across the branches, PTSD is a very real challenge that we prepare for in our community. There are courses and seminars, pamphlets and books, but no amount of dialoguing can prepare you for the harsh realities some soldiers experience upon their return home. Unfortunately, while there are countless messages of support, many of the resources come with a hefty price tag. Navigating PTSD, no matter the severity, is a challenge for any relationship. But support, compassion and a whole lot of deep, calming breaths can get you through it. Chocolate helps, too.

I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know how to help manage the transition. I didn’t know what to do.

I’ve written before about managing reintegration and navigating those tough battles, but in many ways the challenges of reintegration and PTSD diverge radically. Those initial few weeks and months relearning what it’s like to be a family and how to rely on each other as partners are more about adjusting to life together instead of apart, not managing the difficulties that occur in the anxiety and depression following a homecoming.

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As a spouse or friend, working through your loved one’s anxiety and depression is stressful in its own right. Before my husband returned home I spoke with friends about reintegration and homecoming. One story that stuck out was a recent experience by a friend whose husband deployed and returned a decade ago—and still experiences occasional reactions to sudden noises. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know how to help manage the transition. I didn’t know what to do.

The key here is the use of “I”. It isn’t about me or what I can do, except for being a supportive and present spouse. Asking, forcing and nagging about resources, therapies or behavior is completely counterproductive. Experts estimate that as many as one in three soldiers returning from war are dealing with some sort of PTSD. It’s national PTSD awareness day, and in honor of that, here are some tips for navigating PTSD as a couple—and preserving your marriage along the way:

1. Spend 30 minutes alone together each day. Put the kids to bed and take time to talk about your day, plan for the weekend or sit on the patio. Or, get a babysitter and spend some days trying new restaurants, activities or WHATEVER. Just spend time together.

2. Take a time-out. If things are getting heated or you are feeling overwhelmed, take a time-out to stop yourself from saying something you'll regret. Take a walk around the block or close the door and read a magazine.

3. Look forward instead of thinking about the days that were—rather than focusing on the life you had before deployment, just plan fun things to do together in the future and look at things with a positive light.

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4. Don’t be invisible. Show up for picnics and work events, and encourage your spouse to do the same for you. Supporting each other and each other’s dreams is important. And communicate when an event is important—it isn’t always transparent to your spouse or loved ones.

5. Like vs. love. As a spouse you should always love, but there will be times when you don’t necessarily like your spouse's choice or action. Instead of saying “hate,” communicate calmly your issues or thoughts. Saying "I love you, but don’t like you right now because … " is much better than escalating to yelling and aggression.

6. Comparison is the thief of joy. Families going through intense personal battles don’t often share them publicly. Don’t look around your community and feel discouraged because you feel you are the only ones struggling. Each family has its own battles—fight your own and be a supportive friend when you can.

7. Reach out to medical professionals as needed. Whether for yourself or if you fear your spouse or loved one is facing an emergency, know your emergency plan and act on it if the need arises.

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