Earlier this year, a good friend of mine revealed to me a detailed story about the struggles she and her husband had been having throughout the previous year. Ever since he had come back from deployment, he had not been himself. He would lose his temper at the slightest things and direct his outbursts towards her or the kids. He was always on-edge and easily agitated. He never got physical, but she worried that it was only a matter of time.
Sarah’s (name changed for anonymity) husband had been deployed to Afghanistan for twelve months. During his mid-tour visit home, Sarah noticed that her husband was quick to anger with their five children. This caused her to expect challenges when he returned home. Sure enough, after the deployment he immediately had difficulty relating to her and the children. She described his attitude as stubborn, selfish, irritable, and critical. “I didn’t realize we were seeing symptoms of PTSD. At the time, I felt he had spent too much time deployed and had become self-absorbed,” Sarah told me. But what confused her was that when he wasn’t agitated, he was the same loving, compassionate, generous man she had married.
PTSD: When Home Turns from Safe to Scary…
Over time, her husband’s temper and irritability worsened. Sarah explained, “He felt that we (his family) were against him and no longer needed him. He lost his ability to relate to us. He was performing well at his job but completely unmotivated at home. He forgot to pay bills on several occasions. We even had our water shut-off at one point. His driving became much more aggressive and he would often become irritated or rude in restaurants or crowds. There were days where he barely resembled the man I married.”
Sarah found herself acting as a buffer between her husband and the kids. She tried to minimize the questions, decisions, or stress the kids might introduce. Her husband’s unpredictability caused the kids and even the pets to become anxious. Their home turned from a place of refuge from the world to a source of stress, anxiety, and hurt feelings. “I was constantly apologizing to the kids for their father’s behavior,” she said.
Regarding her personal relationship with her husband, Sarah said, “I lost my partner. I felt completely alone and uncared for. We were unable to connect on any level but physical. Any attempt I made to resolve conflict seemed to be the wrong one. I became resentful and exhausted. I was angered that he seemed so patient and generous with everyone outside our immediate family, but would unleash his frustrations at home. It was an extremely sad and lonely period for both of us. I wasn’t sure how our marriage would survive.”
The turning point came when Sarah read a book titled Wounded Warrior, Wounded Home, by Marshele Carter Waddell. She felt the book had been written about her family. She asked her husband to look up the symptoms of PTSD online to see if he could relate to them. He saw himself in many of the symptoms.
Sarah explained to her husband that she thought he was experiencing PTSD. “I asked him to seek counseling and explained that our home life had become so stressful that I was considering asking him to leave. Since my credibility was in question by him since his return, I suggested he speak to our children regarding how he had changed. Afterwards, he apologized to all of us and pursued help through his healthcare provider and Chaplain. He was referred to Military OneSource by his PCM and began seeing the Chaplain twice a month. I am immensely proud of him for seeking help.”
As time moved on, Sarah and her husband were honest with the kids about what was happening. “We wanted them to know we realized our home was stressful and scary at times, and that their Dad was working hard to fix himself. We empowered them to speak their truth whenever they saw he was struggling with his temper or his expectations. Immediately after seeing the Chaplain, my husband was able to relate to the family and consider our feelings and perspectives.”
Far too many families go through similar experiences after a deployment. Unfortunately, signs of PTSD may not always be obvious. Sarah’s advice to others who feel something is amiss with their spouse post-deployment is this:
“Talk to someone. Don’t isolate yourself. Encourage your spouse to seek counseling. If your spouse refuses help, then seek counseling for yourself or find an outlet such as exercise or getting involved in a group. Validate your children’s feelings and experiences. Realize you are not alone. When my husband initially sought help, he encountered roadblocks. Encourage your spouse not to give up. It is possible to regain the marriage and family life you are desperately missing.”