What to say to your wife, a PTSD decoder ring

Men are famous for those manly grunts in response to nearly everything we women say to them. No doubt it can be confusing to figure out how to respond to your wife, and even harder if she has any mental health issues like anxiety, depression, and/or PTSD, or a history of childhood abuse.

I’ve noticed Hubby struggling lately, so I wanted to provide a clue on what would be helpful or not helpful in a few situations.  I’ve gotten so much better that I think it may be difficult to think I am still not well, and may never be. The difference is that I understand and accept my brain and body now. I am coping and making healthy changes, but inside I am still often a mess. But my new tools from therapy and blogging help me clean up this mess and live much more happily now.

Your wife has withdrawn from you and the kids: Did she recently do something stressful? Did she venture out of her warm, safe home and returned to give you the cold shoulder? It has NOTHING to do with you. Here are some likely possibilities.

  • She is an introvert and must withdraw into herself to heal, recover, and recharge.
  • She struggles with trust when stressed, and must learn to trust even her hubby, again, each time.
  • She hates herself at that moment and doesn’t want to inflict any pain onto you by simply being in the same room with you.
  • She knows she is not completely rational at the moment and would prefer no social interaction, unsure of how she will react.
  • She feels out of control, and does not want to say or do anything hurtful that she will regret later.
  • She does not want to be touched, it sets off triggers right now.
  • What to do or say ——– Leave her alone. Try to keep the kids away for a bit. Don’t touch her. Tell her you love her, that you’re there when she is ready, and then back off and wait. If you get the hand in the air, or she squirms away from your touch, give her more space. Do NOT call her weird, or act surprised. Show understanding and respect from a safe distance. She has to work through this and remember you are trusted and wait until she feels balanced again.

Your wife is not doing what she usually does around the house asks for help with things she usually handles herself: Does she look extra tired? Is she in yesterday’s, or even more days ago, set of clothes with hair a mess and no makeup on? Does it look like she may have been crying or are her eyes glassy and blank? It has NOTHING to do with you. Here are some likely possibilities.

  • She is depressed. No matter how hard we fight, depression seems to find us. We get out again, we try not to lose hope, but we do get stuck sometimes.
  • She had a flashback. Flashbacks are exhausting. It takes every bit of emotional and physical strength to come back out of that and feel whole. Reliving your worst moments is a cruel disease. We may feel like our childhood pet just died, because to us it just happened again. The grief and turmoil is real.
  • She is doubting her worth. She may even be thinking suicidal thoughts but doesn’t want to tell you. Sometimes the negativity and self loathing is so strong that her brain tells her the world would be better off without her and that nothing is worth this struggle. She needs time to get through this and wants to make sure household things are taken care of to ease her burden.
  • She is overwhelmed. Sometimes life is just too hard and she has learned to ask for help to get through it. She tries to do her fair share and it was really difficult to ask for the help and admit failure. She doesn’t want to let you down and sees how tired you already are, but doesn’t know what else to do.
  • What to do or say ——– Just help her. Tell her you will take care of it, and then take care of it. I know you are tired and it probably does not seem fair, but this is the life you accepted when you said you love her. Sometimes she needs more help. If you can’t do it, find someone else who can. Do not give the task back to her, it will add to her guilt and exhaustion. She will try to make it up to you when she feels better. Give her lots of affection if she will accept it. Sometimes extra hugs and even just choosing to sit next  to her may tip the scales and show her she is worth loving. Complaining about how she makes you do extra work and making her ask you multiple times increases her guilt and makes her think she is not a good wife or mom.

She acts like she is angry at you and/or complains about everything: Has she had any time alone lately? Did she have to try anything new or stressful? Any deadlines or important dates approaching?  It has NOTHING to do with you. Here are some likely possibilities.

  • She wants something to be perfect. Like a child’s birthday party, no bills overdue, kids eating healthy foods, house looking tidy, etc. When things feel wrong in her mind, she tries to lessen the pain by making her outside world better.
  • She feels pressured. Time passes quickly when depressed and seems to slip away unnoticed. She has so many fuzzy thinking or low energy days that she feels pressured to take care of everything when her brain/body let that happen.
  • She feels judged. She does not have any Mom friends and feels pressured to act like them for the sake of the kids. She doesn’t want to let anyone down or embarrass them.
  • She blames herself. If dinner is late, if the kids have no clean socks, if the catbox needs tending, if the sink is full of dirty dishes she blames herself for not taking care of it. She hates that she can’t do it all.
  • She can’t stop the negative thoughts. Sometimes her inner critic is so harsh, spewing cruel lies at her endlessly, and it simply puts her in a terrible mood. What she says to you is like sweet roses compared to the garbage rolling around in her head, aimed at herself.
  • What to do or say ——– Let her know gently, without yelling, that she is being harsh. She may not realize she is voicing all that negativity and could use your help to stop. Use positive phrases and tell her everything is fine. Is she is worried or complaining about anything, tell her it will be OK. A little reassurance goes a long way here. She may appear confident, but doesn’t feel this way. She worries about everything and always thinks the worst before fighting her way through whatever it is. Encourage her to write her thoughts. If you can listen, then ask her about it, but if you can’t handle the dark or negative thoughts, don’t feel like you have to. Encourage her to schedule a visit with her therapist too. Tell her about all the good things she has already done and let her know you believe in her. Let her know that you will help, that you will get through whatever it is together. She needs to hear that you are a team.

So the key here is that whatever is happening likely has nothing to do with you, the spouse. She needs you to be patient and understanding, and at times be a gifted mood/mind reader to help her through tough spots without judging or adding more negativity or anger. She knows this is difficult, but trusts that you will do your best, just like she does, to act out of love every day. She trusts in this marriage and loves you, always. So you can do this.


12 thoughts on “What to say to your wife, a PTSD decoder ring

  1. Pingback: I’m not married… | The Project: Me by Judy

  2. How strange. I’ve never been happier IN my marriage than lately. I may not be happy myself at times, but IN my marriage I’m happy! I wouldn’t marry anybody else ever.

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