Should special consideration be given to an abuser with post-traumatic stress disorder? My spouse recently returned from a two-year deployment overseas. In the month or two since he's been back I've noticed some disturbing changes in the way he treats me and the children. He's sullen and withdrawn. On occasion we've been subjected to verbal put-downs, emotional abuse, and even threats of physical violence. I'm afraid he may be suffering from the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. If this is the case, how should it impact my response to his behavior? Is there anything special I need to know?
Sadly, your spouse's situation is not unusual. Post-traumatic stress disorder is an issue that medical doctors and mental healthcare professionals find themselves confronting with increasing frequency in today's war-torn world. Many returning veterans find it difficult to share their emotional pain. They've been to the brink of hell and back. They naturally assume that only those who have actually engaged in combat can understand and appreciate their internal struggles. As a result, they keep their mouths shut and stuff their feelings deep down inside. Regrettably, this emotional suffering sometimes finds expression in the form of domestic abuse.
Does PTSD-induced abuse call for a special response? Yes and no. On the one hand, if your husband is suffering from the psychological impact of his combat experiences, there is a sense in which his condition is unique. It's vital that he receive intensive professional help as soon as possible. Abusive behavior isn't the only problem associated with PTSD. Deep psychological pain can express itself in the form of flashbacks, disturbing dreams, and physical or psychosomatic symptoms. For these reasons, we would strongly suggest that your spouse make an appointment to be evaluated by a qualified physician at the earliest opportunity. It's possible that some of the issues he's dealing with can be effectively treated by means of medication.
That said, it's crucial to add that there's another sense in which your dilemma doesn't differ significantly from that of any other abused or threatened wife. Regardless of the underlying causes, a woman in your position really has no choice. She has to adopt the attitude that safety is her top priority. This means being prepared to take decisive action. If your husband becomes physically violent, don't hesitate to call 911. If it's a question of emotional oppression and verbal put-downs, let him know that this kind of behavior is unacceptable. Insist that he seek professional assistance. If he refuses, or if you're afraid of jeopardizing his career by reporting him, contact the appropriate authorities and find out what options are available to servicemen in his situation. Because PTSD is so prevalent, most branches of the military are now providing private, confidential, one-on-one counseling for those who are struggling with the fallout of combat service.
We also recommend that your entire family seek out the services of a licensed Christian counselor. It's important that you walk through this experience together. Call us. Focus on the Family's Counseling department can provide you with a list of qualified therapists practicing in your area. They would also be happy to discuss your needs and concerns with you over the phone for a free consultation.
The Impact of PTSD on Military Families