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  • Writer's pictureAnna Morgan

Supporting Your Spouse After Deployment: Understanding Combat Stress and PTSD

When your spouse returns from deployment with combat injuries or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), it can have a profound impact on the entire household. In order to provide the best care for your loved one along with the rest of your family, it’s imperative to become as educated as possible concerning combat stress, available resources and more importantly, fortifying the health of your marital relationship.

Understanding Combat Stress and PTSD

Combat related strain is typically a frequent response to the disturbing and distressing experiences of war. Often, it arises as a natural reaction from exposure to traumatic or life-threatening events, or prolonged periods in high-stress conditions.

Symptoms of this particular disorder may manifest immediately following a catastrophic experience, or take weeks or even years to become perceptible.

Symptoms may include:

  • Intrusion: Intrusive thoughts that include repeated, involuntary recollections; frightening nightmares or flashbacks of the tragedy. Flashbacks are consistently so visceral that people feel as if they’re observing the incident actually occurring all over again, or reliving the experience another time.

  • Avoidance: Evading reminders of the occurrence might include averting people, places, activities, objects or situations which trigger the alarming reminders. Individuals with these post traumatic symptoms may attempt to repress or block out retaining anything related to the trauma. They may especially resist detailing specifics or emotions surrounding the situation.

  • Alterations in cognition and mood: Inability to recall major aspects of the catastrophe, recurrent fatalistic perceptions or beliefs leading to ongoing and distorted conclusions about oneself or others (e.g., “I’m inferior,” “No one can be trusted”). Distorted perspectives concerning the cause or consequences of the incident, leading to blaming oneself or others erroneously. Ongoing hypervigilance, dread, rage, shame and grief. Loss of interest in previously gratifying activities; apathetic detachment or alienation from others, or inability to experience optimistic perspectives (a void of emotional contentment and satisfaction).

  • Alterations in arousal and reactivity: Lack of reactivity and arousal indicators may include; outbursts of anger and frequent irritability, reckless or self-destructive behavior, high alert hypervigilance, being easily startled, or difficulty with sleep and concentration.

Symptoms of PTSD tend to fall into the following four categories, though specific symptoms can vary in severity.


The Strain of Caregiving

Managing ongoing combat stress and related symptoms, often necessitates assuming the position of caregiver.Typically, family members take on this responsibility which can be profoundly overwhelming.

“Caregiver burden” is the level of multifaceted strain experienced by the caretaker from undertaking complete responsibility for the family member and/or loved one, over an extended period of time.

Symptoms of caregiver burden may include:

  • Anxiety, stress, depression, social isolation, and health problems as a result of the caregiving duties.

  • Feeling solely responsible for keeping your loved one calm, comfortable, safe and in a healthy condition.

  • Assuming all financial, childcare related and household responsibilities.

  • Constant alert and anxiety surrounding triggering situations for your spouse, their angry outbursts or medical complications.

Managing Combat Stress and PTSD

  • Educate yourself about combat stress and PTSD.

  • Acknowledge and accept your service members injuries. Warfare related stress and PTSD are not signs of injury, not weakness. This realization may reduce the stigma preventing many veterans from seeking the physical and mental health treatment they desperately need and absolutely deserve.

  • Set reasonable expectations for yourself. Relatives often believe it is their obligation to meet each of their loved one's needs to create a perfect environment in public and at home. It’s crucial for the health and wellbeing of the marriage and family to let this mentality go. Sometimes some things have to give, in order to let go and move forward. It doesn’t feel acceptable in the moment, but eventually it will.

Caring for Your Children & Yourself

Avoid feelings of guilt. Management and care for someone experiencing physical or mental injury related to combat is a serious task, and it's more than acceptable to pursue support (I have personally been through years of counseling and therapy). Not having everything figured out or knowing all the answers, is in no way a reflection of your capabilities and commitment. Comprise a network of friends, relatives and professional assistance to produce a structure of commiseration and comradery around you.

Communicate with your children. When discussing battle related matters with young children, providing explanations suitable for their age and refraining from sharing disturbing details. Encourage your little ones to express their emotions in constructive ways, and cultivate opportunities for open and honest dialogue. Consider planning occasional outings or activities together to provide those occasions, and further strengthen your relationship. Be attentive to signs of anxiety and depression in your child, then take proactive measures to find counseling or other assistance for them if necessary.

Additional Resources of Support

Throughout Jed’s recovery and my time as caregiver for now over a decade, I’ve discovered

a range of exceptional organizations of support, that may provide benefit to you and your family:

Resources for Spouses and Caregivers of Veterans

Operation Heal Our Patriots

National Military Family Association

Operation Purple Programs

Support Military Families

Childcare Aware

Caregiver Support Program (VA)

The Elizabeth Dole Foundation

Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers

Wounded Warriors Family Support

Wounded Veteran Family Care

Easter Seals

USO Blue Star Families

Caregivers on the Homefront

Healing Household 6

Heal The Warriors

Hearts of Patriots

Military OneSource

National Caregiver Support Line

The Barbara McNally Foundation

Veterans Resources

Semper Fi Fund

Fisher House Foundation

Operation Second Chance

Vail Veterans Program

Salute America’s Heroes

Soldiers’ Angels

The Independence Fund

Wounded Warrior Project

American Red Cross

Samaritan's Purse

The Gary Sinise Foundation

Operation Second Chance

Operation Homefront

Armed Services YMCA

Hire Heroes USA

TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors)

Joni and Friends/Warrior Getaway

Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation

Catch a Lift Foundation

David’s Chair Foundation

Freedom Mobility Foundation

Volunteers of America

Taya and Chris Kyle Foundation

Hiring Our Heroes

Warrior Bonfire Program

I hope you find this information helpful!

Love and hugs,

~ Anna Morgan

Ps. With this blog, I intend to produce a space for all (especially those serving our nation's armed forces) to receive hope, support and encouragement.

May these words provide a bit of that for you today!

Receive a free copy of my book by joining my Launch Team!

Also, I'd love for you to join my community of support!

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