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PTSD and Your Family

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can have negative effects on family relationships. Living with someone who is easily startled, has nightmares, and often avoids social situations, can take a toll on even the most caring family. If you have PTSD, you may have a hard time feeling emotions. You may feel detached from others. You may not talk about the traumatic experience that led to PTSD. Any of these things can cause problems in your personal relationships.

Your family members may experience the following:


They may feel sorry for your suffering. But it is important to keep in mind that there are effective treatments for PTSD. With their help, you can get better.

Negative feelings

PTSD can make you seem like a different person. If you have changed, your family may feel differently about you. The best way to avoid negative feelings is to learn about PTSD. Even if you need some time before you begin treatment, your family will probably benefit from some support..


Avoidance is one of the symptoms of PTSD. When you have PTSD, you may avoid situations and reminders of your traumatic experience. They may be avoiding the same things as you – like crowded places or social events. Or they may be afraid of your reaction to certain cues. They can learn to plan for activities, and allow you to join at a comfortable pace.  


It is common to feel down when they see you struggling. When PTSD lasts for a long time, they may begin to lose hope that their family will ever get back to normal. PTSD treatment can help, no matter how long ago the symptoms began.

Anger or guilt

They might feel responsible for your happiness, and then feel guilty when they can't make a difference. They could also be angry or frustrated if you can't keep a job or drink too much. You may be often angry or irritable, which can affect relationships too. You and your family can talk about these feelings and learn how to communicate better.  

Health problems

Bad habits can get worse when trying to cope with stress. This can include things like drinking alcohol, smoking, and not exercising. Your family members may have less time or energy to take care of themselves. They may also develop other health problems if they're overly worried, angry, or depressed.

What can others do to help?

Family is an important part of recovering from PTSD. Talking about PTSD can help you and your family learn how best to cope. It is also important for family members to take care of themselves – for their own good – and to help you manage PTSD.

There are many things that friends and family can do to help. Learning about PTSD and effective treatments is a good start. Offering to help with rides to healthcare provider appointments or going with you to help keep track of information is also helpful. And social support matters, whether it's checking in with you or planning fun activities that you feel comfortable doing.

It can also be helpful to talk to those you trust about things that remind you of your traumatic event. These are called triggers. Triggers can bring up stressful feelings or cause a flashback, where you feel like you are reliving the event over again. It's normal for you to want to avoid triggers, but this can keep you from staying away from things you used to enjoy. If your family is aware of your triggers, they can help you find ways to cope with them.

PTSD and relationship problems

The exact link between PTSD symptoms and relationship problems is not clearly known. Some PTSD symptoms, like negative changes in beliefs and feelings, may lead directly to family problems. But other symptoms, like avoidance, may also affect family relationships. This is because you no longer do the activities you used to enjoy together.

Although relationship problems are common when someone has PTSD, treatment can help. There are effective treatments for PTSD available.

For more information

Treatment for PTSD

Author: StayWell Custom Communications
Last Annual Review Date: 2/1/2018
Copyright © The StayWell Company, LLC. except where otherwise noted.
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