Relationships after Iraq: Keeping the War out of your Relationship

Military relationships often come with extra strains; frequent good-byes, unexpected moves, endless waiting lists for housing, and the fearful, yet honoring deployments to defend the country by going to war.

Fighting for our country is courageous and rewarding, yet life changing. Those who go to war face a tremendous about of trauma; they see things more devastating than others can ever imagine, fear most of us can’t ever understand, and the untold horror of losing friends to war.

The partners left behind face their own troubled times when a solder is at war. The fear of losing a partner, to the anxiety from wondering if their ok; from loneliness because of no contact, to the pain of seeing friends enjoying their loved ones can all cause a slow buildup of stress and resentment.

Finally… good news…he is back at home, away from Iraq…but also bad news…things just don’t seem to be the same.

I will walk you through a few quick tips on how to keep Iraq from controlling your relationship when you are finally able to enjoy the companionship of your partner.

When in combat, the body goes into “survival mode”…disconnecting from emotion and “auto-pilot” kicks in…fighting to stay alive. He or she might have dreams that haunt them, feelings of anxiety and irritability at night, flash backs, feelings of remorse and guilt, etc. Some of these symptoms are known as PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), a frequent diagnosis for trauma survivors, such as that seen in veterans returning from war. Get educated on PTSD and the impact it has on your partner. The more education, the better understanding you will have. It might keep you from personalizing his seemingly distant or disconnected behaviors.

You might want to be there for your partner, support him or her, and help them through the recovery phase, but he or she might not be ready to talk about what happened, or know how to talk about. Don’t push or pull them into talking about it. Give them time. Their time frame might be very different than yours. Give your partner as much time as he needs.

In the past she or he might have been your rock, but now things have changed. It is your turn to be the rock and give support. Battle is complete chaos. Your partner needs to be able to lean on you and depend on your stability. Help your partner stand and get through this recovery.

The after math of returning to home and getting into the routine of American life can cause those buried emotions to come out…or should I say “attempt” to come out. The body naturally wants to release the emotion, and if it can’t come out in a healthy way, it will find its own way out. Some of the ways it might come out is through anger out-bursts, night mares, etc. Or those emotions come up all at once and become too painful, therefore your partner resorting to “self-medicating” behaviors such as increase drinking, drug use, or emotionally distancing. Does any of this sound familiar?

All of these unhealthy behaviors are indicators of emotional distress coming out. While this is not an excuse for his behavior, it can help you understand your partner better. S/He has seen something more devastating than you can ever imagine. Seek professional help before things get worse. Make an appointment for couples therapist, encourage him to get help through support groups, medication, 12-step groups, and/or individual counseling.

War is an experience that is life changing. Learn that s/he won’t be back to the old ways, but you can cherish and love who your partner is now and adjust to the new person. Often we might wish for the “old” relationship. But that is unrealistic. Remember...the relationship can’t go back, but it can go forward.