One of the biggest requests we get for information at Family Of a Vet is how to keep a marriage with PTSD and / or TBI in its midst going. Unfortunately, those of us living in marriages faced with post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury are at a significantly higher risk of divorce. BUT all is not lost.
It takes two to tango and it takes two to save a marriage — but it can be done...and here's some good ways to go about it.
1. Try to spend at least 30 minutes a day together ALONE.
Put the kids to bed early or get up earlier than is necessary. Take that time together. It doesn't have to be anything "special" — but taking the time out to just spend it together is precious.
2. Get a kitchen timer and use it.
Not just for cooking meals! Take a time out when you need it. When things are getting too heated, set that timer for 30 minutes and walk away from each other. You're going to save yourself hours of fighting and hours of apology.
3. Don't daydream about the "ol' glory days."
You aren't doing either of you any good. Sure, she used to be 50 pounds thinner and he used to not have PTSD/TBI/etc. My magic wand is broken and I can't fix everything - but I can tell you that dwelling on the past and wishing it could be your future is going to destroy your marriage. Focusing on what you CAN do and the good days ahead is a much more productive use of your time.
4. Don't be the invisible spouse.
I know work parties are boring because you don't know anyone and his/her friends aren't that interesting to you and sitting through another of your kid's band concerts just might leave you deaf ... but work with me here. For many years, I joked that I had an invisible spouse — and it was because it hurt. I know how hard it can be but honestly when people start to wonder if your spouse isn't just a fictional character, it's very painful. No one has died (that I know of) from sitting through a kid's concert. Get there early and get decent seats so it's easy to duck out if the noise gets to be too much. Consider an MP3 player for before/after your kid's performance. Try, at least twice a year, to make an appearance at something that's important to your spouse. It will mean the world because it's a tangible way to show you care.
5. If I've said it once, I've said it 1,000 times.
It's the little things that will kill a marriage. To me, surviving PTSD and TBI is the easy part. Surviving the little pet peeves and stupid things we do on a daily basis is what will get you. There's a wonderful scene in the movie Forget Paris about the two main characters debating out their little pet peeves. It's hysterical ... but so incredibly true! Work out those little things or be prepared to let them go. No one wants to have to tell a divorce attorney that the final straw was him squeezing the tube of toothpaste from the middle! It happens more than you'd think.
6. Just like it's the little things that will kill it, it's the little things that will SAVE it.
Try to do some small gesture every single day for your spouse. It doesn't have to be romance and flowers and chocolate. A kiss on the forehead to say "I love you" before you leave for work, picking up their favorite treat at the grocery store, a little smile from across the room. It all adds up — and it says "I love you" far clearer than any huge gift ever will.
7. A very stupid person once told me a very wise thing.
"No one always or nevers." It's true. Eliminate those words in a negative context from your vocabulary. "He never gets me flowers." "She's always yelling at me." The ONLY acceptable way to use these two words in the future is in a extremely positive context - "I will always love you and I will never leave you." Now go practice!
8. When I was a little girl my parents got divorced.
Sometimes nasty things would happen as they often do and I'd get angry as all little 9 year old girls do. My mother, sage, wonderful woman that she is offered me some great advice. "Honey, you don't have to like him, but he's your father and you do have to love him." I offer that advice to you. You may not always like your spouse, but you have to love them. Make that commitment and learn how to separate "I don't like you very much right now" from "I hate you." If you can, go one step further, "I don't like the fact that you just left a wet towel on my wood floor for 8 hours and likely ruined the finish" from "I hate you." It's a useful tool that gets to the heart of the REAL problem rather than masking it behind an emotion too large to define that overwhelms both of you.
9. Don't compare notes with other families — you'll always come up short!
EVEN within the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder/Traumatic Brain Injury community!!! Everyone is in a different situation, a different treatment plan, a different place on their journey. No family is going to be "just like you." Sure, Susan's husband just bought her a diamond necklace because he felt like it and your husband "NEVER" does things like that. (oops - there's that whole never thing...) You have no idea what else Susan's husband did. You have no idea what their income level is. Maybe Susan's really mad because it's a cheap piece of garbage and her husband makes a 6 figure salary. Don't play the judging game or ANY version of "Keeping up with the Jones's" — you'll never win what you really want and you'll most likely lose what's most precious.
10. Find something new to fall in love with about your spouse every single day.
The world will give you plenty of things to put on the "fall out of love" list. It's a conscious choice we have to make daily to fall a bit more in love, or a bit more out of it. Make that choice to better your marriage.