Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Relationship PTSD

My father was a Vietnam Veteran and I learned from a young age that many soldiers suffer from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).  PTSD can be triggered by the sound of a door slamming or the rotation of a ceiling fan.  Basically, anything can set it off without warning.  In those moments, some soldiers are able to calm themselves and realize they are not back on the front lines, but some soldiers are sent reeling back to a time of complete chaos and horror.  What does this cheerful topic have to do with dating?

We all have past relationships that were unsuccessful, life altering, even downright wounding.  The ghosts of our past relationships follow us every where.  They are with us when we meet some good-looking gentleman at the bookstore, the gym, or the bar.  They sit at the table with us during our first date and they are even present during sexy time.  We may not notice them right away.  It may take weeks or months for those ghosts to make their presence known, but make no mistake...they are there.

I was married for many years and went through a very ugly divorce.  Obviously I carried wounds from that time into the dating world.  It took many years to let go of the pain, anger, and hurt.  I knew it would be unfair to the men I might date if I punished them for my ex-husband's actions, so I tried not to do that.  Once I got past the divorce, I realized I had a whole new set of wounds to heal.  The ones I acquired from the front lines of dating.  Now I have to be mindful not to punish future dates for the ones from my past.

I have been open with the men I have dated.  If they do something or say something that sends me back to an experience that hurt me, I explain it to them in an adult manner.  I ask them to understand and to not do those things in the future.  Typically most of them respond with, "Don't punish me for the guys in your past."  That is not fair!  I am not punishing them.  I am expressing what I need from them.  At what point are we supposed to just be quiet and accept behavior that we are not comfortable with in order to make them feel better?  Isn't that what the soldiers from Vietnam did, just kept quiet because it made people uncomfortable to think about their dark experiences?  Are we not supposed to learn from our past relationships and figure out what we don't want to deal with again?  Don't we (the couple) need to deal with the PTSD of our past relationships?

I'm not saying that dating is as gruesome as war.  What I am saying is we all carry battle wounds from past relationships.  We all have bad memories and bad feelings from those past relationships and sometimes the current person in our lives can send us back to a time that makes us uncomfortable.  When we address those issues with our new person we are not punishing them.  All we are doing is expressing what we need from them in order to feel comfortable in the current relationship.  Isn't this whole point of dating?????

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