Ask the Expert - Brian Klassen, PhD: How Do I Deal with My Spouse’s PTSD and Excessive Behavior?

My husband is a vet with PTSD and will not stop playing video games … he stays up all hours of the night. Should I be worried? Dr. Klassen answers your questions about mental health treatment.

Brian Klassen, PhD, is the Clinical Director of the Road Home Program, part of the Wounded Warrior Project's Warrior Care Network.

For information about treatments for PTSD please visit The Treatment Hub.

Hi, I’m Dr. Klassen, I’m a clinical psychologist. And here’s our question: “My husband is a veteran with PTSD, and he will not stop playing videogames, staying up all hours of the night. Should I be concerned?”

 This is a wonderful question because I think it kind of nicely illustrates a problem that’s happening in a lot of military families right now. I always kind of look to see, like, what is the degree of involvement, or the sort of impairment as a result of a certain behavior, whatever it is, whether it’s video game playing, alcohol use, use of pornography, shopping, whatever it is. And I would say that there is reason for concern if it is to the point where your husband has like checked out of relationships with your children, checked out of your relationship, and if he’s staying up all night and is not able to function at work the next day, or not able to make appointments.

You know, that’s when it kind of crosses the line from sort of a mildly obnoxious behavior that a spouse would engage in, into something that’s a little more serious and might bear a clinical intervention. The hope is, is that through talking with you, talking with other veterans, perhaps even talking with a therapist and doing therapy more formally, he might come to realize the short-term problem that it’s meant to address is actually having some long-term impacts on himself and his family.

One other thing I’ll say too is that this could be a difficult conversation to have with your husband. But I do - and this is kind of based on my years of experience in working with veterans and military families - that I think a direct sort of no-nonsense, let’s just kind of not beat around the bush approach is good.

I suggest that you, if you haven’t already shared your concerns directly with your husband, then - and I think in such a way that also leaves the door open for him to share his concerns - I think that most often people I see in therapy are often well-aware of how their PTSD is affecting their family, as well as themselves, but they feel trapped, they feel unable to change, or they feel sort of hopeless that things will get better.

And so I think while you’re sharing your concerns directly with him, also realize that he may have some of the same concerns that you do. And I think if he’s able to express those, either through you asking him open-ended questions or giving him space to talk, you might find out that you’re actually more on the same page than it seems.

I think also that excessive involvement in anything, and whether it’s videogames, whether it’s alcohol use, whether it’s sort of over-working or over-scheduling yourself, whether it’s spending too much, these can all be signs of what we call avoidance which is a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder. And I think it could be a sign that your husband’s engaging in this activity to sort of keep some very painful memories at bay or keep some very difficult emotions at bay.

And so, I think it’s important to think about the level of impairment or the effects it’s having on you and your family as well as your husband, but also to recognize, what’s the function of the behavior? Why is he doing this? What problem is it helping him to solve?

And I think hopefully through clinical intervention he’ll begin to kind of see that while over-involvement in video games might be solving a short term problem, meaning it’s he’s not thinking about upsetting things, he’s not feeling distressing emotions, that it may be causing more long-term harm on himself and your family. Thank you for the question.

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Posted on BrainLine October 12, 2021. Reviewed October 12, 2021.

About the author: Brian Klassen, PhD

Brian Klassen, Ph.D., is the Clinical Director for The Road Home Program: The National Center of Excellence for Veterans and Their Families at Rush University in Chicago, Illinois. Brian spent his formative years training at the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center, completing rotations in chronic pain management, residential substance use disorder treatment, and PTSD. Brian has special expertise in providing front-line treatments for PTSD, including Prolonged Exposure and Cognitive Processing Therapy.

Headshot of Dr. Brian Klassen