It’s All in the Family With Post-Traumatic Stress

AuthorDr. Sharon S. Laing is a research psychologist at the National Center for Telehealth & Technology.

A recent study of married combat veterans found that in almost one-quarter of those marriages, both the spouse and the veteran were experiencing clinical symptoms of post-traumatic stress (PTS). The spouses had no exposure to combat, yet the symptoms they reported were almost the same as the combat veterans’ symptoms.

The reason why spouses were having PTS symptoms is unclear. The one thing that is certain is that PTS in both members places the entire family at risk for discord and dysfunction.

To help offset the impact of PTS, couples should try a layered approach, featuring:
– mental health support
– coping skills to deal with daily challenges, and
– strategies to build and sustain the relationship.

Mental health support
If you are a combat veteran or the spouse of a veteran and you suspect that you might have symptoms of PTS, your first step is to talk to a mental health provider to get screened. The website provides information for locating a mental health provider near your residence. If you screen positive for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), begin treatment right away to initiate the process of healing for both you and your spouse.

Coping skills 
You should also learn skills that help you manage life’s challenges as well as build resilience in both you and your spouse. One key finding of the study was that even in the face of PTS, the couples who had high resilience and were capable of adapting to setbacks were able to sustain healthy relationships. You can learn strategies for developing and maintaining healthy spousal bonds, asserting yourself within your marriage, and implementing effective communication strategies by reviewing the information within the Resilience topic in the library.

Sustaining the relationship
Finally, you can improve cohesion in your relationship by visiting the Families and Friendships section of This section includes cohesion-building strategies, information about how to handle conflicts, and guidance for addressing problem behaviors within your marriage.

The impact of combat-related post-traumatic stress is no doubt a family affair, and it will take a family-focused approach to make substantive change.