A Guide To Dating Someone With PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)¹ is a mental health condition that may occur after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. It can be overwhelming and confusing to navigate, and it may also affect social and romantic relationships. 

If you’re dating or considering dating someone living with PTSD, it’s important to understand what PTSD is. This way, you can understand what your partner is experiencing, know what to expect, and how to provide support.

Have you considered clinical trials for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

What is PTSD? 

Approximately 12 million adults² in the US experience post-traumatic stress disorder in any given year. PTSD can develop following traumatic events such as combat during the war, sexual abuse, and domestic violence. The condition is more frequent among women than men. PTSD has two categories, and it’s possible to have both at once:

  • Traditional PTSD:³ A subtype of PTSD that generally arises from a single traumatic event or a series of events in a short time

  • Complex PTSD:⁴ A subtype of PTSD caused by long-term exposure to multiple traumatic events (e.g., child abuse, neglect, or other childhood trauma) 

While not everyone who experiences a traumatic event develops PTSD, it’s crucial to understand the hallmark signs and symptoms before you try to offer support to someone living with PTSD. 

People with PTSD may deal with the condition for weeks, months, or even years after the traumatic event. 

Symptoms of PTSD

While PTSD affects everyone differently, your partner may exhibit specific⁵ symptoms, such as: 

Intrusion symptoms

These may occur when your partner has repeated memories of the event, which uncontrollably affect their thoughts. Examples include flashbacks, nightmares, and upsetting memories. 

Avoidance symptoms

These may occur when your partner actively tries to avoid thinking or talking about the traumatic event. They may also avoid places, people, or activities that could trigger thoughts about the traumatic event. 

Cognitive changes

Your partner may experience changes in mood and thought processes. They may find it difficult to concentrate or remember certain parts of the traumatic event and may feel detached from their loved ones. 

Changes to reactivity

Your partner may always seem on edge, irritable, or anxious. They may also display anger outbursts or have difficulty concentrating, sleeping, or controlling their emotions. 

Your partner may experience additional symptoms such as: 

  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure

  • Lightheadedness

  • Sleep disruptions or fatigue

  • Loss of faith or hope

  • A negative view of self 

How can I help or support my partner who has PTSD?

Learning about PTSD 

To understand how to support your partner with PTSD, you need to know what the condition entails. 

The more you know about symptoms, causes, risk factors, and potential treatment options, the more you’ll be able to empathize and navigate conversations about your partner’s situation. 

Learning their triggers

PTSD can affect people differently, so you need to learn and understand your partner's triggers. Ask if they’re comfortable discussing their triggers, and then actively participate by trying to understand possible triggers that may lead to changes in their behavior (e.g., sounds, smells, and places.) 

This allows you to be mindful and promptly respond to your partner’s needs, particularly if they’re in an environment that may trigger symptoms. 

It’s crucial to respect your partner’s boundaries if they’re uncomfortable discussing their triggers. Alternatively, you can learn about their triggers by actively observing their daily routine and how they respond to certain situations. 

Signs you may want to keep an eye out for include fists or jaw clenching, shaking, and visible agitation. 

Communicating and establishing safe spaces 

Research⁶ has shown that someone sharing details of traumatic events can benefit their mental health, particularly when their close ones respond positively to sharing information. 

People living with PTSD may find it challenging to communicate their needs, so creating lines of open communication creates a safe space for your partner where they feel comfortable confiding in you. Some things that may help include: 

  • Expressing your support, acknowledging, and validating what they’re feeling

  • Displaying positive emotional responses when they share information (e.g., showing gratitude, kindness, and compassion)

  • Practicing active listening skills rather than offering advice as this may not always be helpful 

Remember to respect their emotions, thoughts, and reactions throughout the conversations. Coming across as judgemental, disgusted, or horrified may not help them build the trust and confidence to discuss their thoughts with you. 

Creating routines and habits 

Planning and following a day-to-day routine provides structure and may reduce the chance of experiencing PTSD symptoms. Try to balance the routine by incorporating hobbies you and your partner enjoy, such as home workouts, cooking together, scheduled social gatherings with friends and family, or learning a new skill.

Including your partner in the planning process may help them feel safe and secure. 

Exploring treatment options 

Research⁷ has often praised different types of psychotherapy as effective PTSD treatments. 

Still, bringing up the topic of seeking treatment can be touchy. Instead of viewing treatment options as a cure, consider these options as an additional resource. They can equip your partner with the necessary skills to ​​manage various challenging situations, including PTSD symptoms. 

Encouraging your partner to join local PTSD support groups may make them feel a greater sense of connection and strengthen their support system. 

You can gently approach the topic if they haven’t received treatment from a licensed mental health professional. If you share information about therapists and different types of treatments, they may understand that they can tailor treatment to their needs. 

Enlisting the support of close loved ones or a trusted health professional may help your partner become more receptive to receiving treatment. 

However, you must be careful not to push your partner or manipulate them into treatment, as this could damage their trust in you. 

Practicing self-care

Ignoring your own needs and mental health can quickly lead to burnout, so check in with yourself to understand how you’re feeling physically and emotionally. Consider allocating some time for yourself to do what you need to recharge. 

This will differ for everyone but may include working out, socializing, or catching up on your favorite shows. Taking care of your mental health may also involve reaching out to a licensed mental health professional such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or therapist. 

The lowdown

Navigating PTSD symptoms and simultaneously being involved in a romantic relationship may seem overwhelming. However, learning about PTSD and finding the right support system promotes positive growth for you, your partner, and your relationship. 

It’s possible to create a healthy relationship with someone living with PTSD, and like all relationships, patience, understanding, compassion, and clear communication are key. 


Why does the difference between traditional and complex PTSD matter?

Traditional PTSD arises from a single traumatic event or from a series of events in a short time. In contrast, complex PTSD occurs from chronic exposure to multiple traumatic events. 

Understanding the difference is essential ​​as this may change treatment options. It may also affect how you and your partner view each other, and professional guidance may be best for the health of your relationship. 

What should I expect when dating someone with PTSD?

People with PTSD act and respond differently based on their unique situations. Your partner may experience difficulties concentrating or regulating and expressing emotions. They may also deal with panic attacks, flashbacks, and irritability. 

Your partner may feel hesitant about going to particular places, interacting with certain people, or engaging in anything that may remind them of the traumatic event. It’s important to remember not to take these actions personally and not blame them for how they act.

Have you considered clinical trials for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

Discover which clinical trials you are eligible for

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