Valentine's Day conjures up all sorts of memories: chocolates, flowers, teddy bears, cards, romance and happiness. Of course for most, it means a happy time showing their spouse, partner, fiancé, boyfriend or girlfriend just how much they mean to them. But for many -- especially veterans with PTSD -- Cupid's love arrows are going astray.
Unfortunately, when combat-related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is found in one of the partners, the visions of happiness are often replaced by those of disappointment, frustration, angry outbursts and even fighting. The worst part is that these couples often leave the day having little clue of what caused the problems. After all, the intentions for the day were "right on," but didn't quite go as planned.
PTSD can cause many unhappy endings on Valentine's Day. The symptoms that cause the most trouble include: avoiding crowds and not wanting to socialize; being emotionally distant and detached (even towards loved ones); and not being able to experience positive, joyous and loving feelings. This can increase irritability often directed towards those closest to us. These actions are misunderstood as being done purposely by the veteran. The reality is the veteran has all good intentions of love and happiness, but his PTSD makes him unable to express his true feelings.
Intimacy is often unheard of, because PTSD can cause the veteran to lose interest in sexual activity -- or he experiences difficulty when engaging in sex. He therefore tends to avoid it all together, even on Valentine's Day.
Here are some tips to better deal with PTSD on Valentine's Day:
-- Understand: The best Valentine's Day present you can give your veteran with PTSD is understanding, caring and compassion. Learn about PTSD, what sets your partner off, things to avoid and the right way to handle certain situations. Understand that things the veteran says or does isn't a direct indication of how he necessarily feels.
-- Plan ahead: PTSD and surprises don't go well together. Discuss your plans for Valentine's Day ahead of time with your partner. What do you want to do? Where do you want to eat dinner? Will you be staying home or meeting up with friends? Planing ahead eases anxiety.
-- Give the veteran an "out:" The idea here is to not make the veteran feel stuck or trapped in a situation. If attending a party, for example, taking two cars might put him at ease. Let the veteran know that if he needs to step outside for a few minutes to relax, that you are perfectly okay with this.
-- Limit alcohol: Restrict alcohol consumption, because too much can intensify PTSD symptoms (especially anger and irritability), not help it.
-- Start your own traditions: There's no need to follow so-called cultural norms if it makes the veteran uncomfortable. Start your own traditions on Valentine's Day, something the two of you enjoy doing together to mark this special day.
Most important, spouses need to recognize that PTSD can be problematic on Valentine's Day and other romantic occasions. Often times, the assumption by the spouse is that the veteran just doesn't care, which of course isn't true. This leaves the veteran bewildered and causes couples to dread other special occasions because the anticipation is that it will be filled with disappointment and frustration.
The good news is that PTSD doesn't have to put a damper on your Valentine's Day. With appropriate and effective treatment the condition can be controlled, allowing love and romance to prosper yet again in your relationship.