How can I rehabilitate my marriage?
January 9, 2013 4:24 PM   Subscribe

I think my husband's PTSD is triggered. He's kicked me out and is talking about divorce. Help?

We're a military couple, married 2 years, engaged 1 year, dating 1 year. I (30, f, civilian, student) met him (30, m, Army, enlisted) when he was recovering from injuries received in combat. We met through friends; we stayed together through his recovering from his injuries, his getting restationed to Korea, and a deployment. We got married following the deployment, and I eventually accelerated my academics so I could move out to his new post in another state, far away from my family, friends, and job opportunities. I did this because I love him; even though I was really homesick, I tried very hard to make it work. Unfortunately, I constantly disappointed him -- I was a bad housekeeper, bad at keeping a budget, bad at managing his and my schedule... even me taking 2 months in a bad economy to find a job made him angry. I ended up working 2 different jobs because he felt like he was being taken advantage of by supporting me. To be fair, I am actually pretty bad at being a housewife -- it was more difficult than I thought it would be to stay on chores and cooking and whatever, and I dropped the ball a lot.

He wasn't the person I'd married when I moved in with him. He was angry all the time, really quiet and distant, and sometimes a little scary. He would sometimes not talk to me at all when he came home, unless he wanted to know about dinner. Other times, he would come home, find a mistake I had made and yell at me for two hours straight. He never hit me, though, he just yelled a lot or avoided me. When he got diagnosed with PTSD, I inwardly rejoiced because I figured once we got it under control through treatment, things would go back to normal. He didn't pursue counseling, however, and things stayed the same. Eventually, he got an opportunity to switch career paths to something he was more interested in, and went to school for a few months, while I prepped the apartment we had for another move since this new career trajectory would make us have to move. We had been at this new post for only 8 months, but honestly I was so glad we would be moving because I thought this could be a fresh start for us, away from all the arguing and stress and mutual disappointment. This was not the case. He had decided at school that he wanted a divorce. He told me after I arrived to our new home that I should call my dad (who lives w. my mom in another state about 15 hrs away) to get me.

So now I'm at my parents' house. He was initially going to do invidiual counseling, because he said he was so angry all the time he thought he would hurt me and that was why he had needed me to leave. However he did the intake session and said he wont go back. He also wont do marriage counseling because he doesnt want to be told he needs to change or that he needs to be "less than" or prioritize me more (which the individual counselor apparrently said). He says he's so angry about our bad year that he doesn't even want to see me when I go pick up my stuff with my mom, and is also angry about a party I went to before we got engaged where I got a little drunk and flashed a girlfriend. He says I lied about that last bit (which I did) and that his finding out a few months after it happened (my sister was teasing me about it) was indicative of me being really manipulative. I told him it's actually more indicative of me being absent minded, since I had forgotten about not telling him, since the party was like 4 years ago. It's actually something I joke about with family and friends because even though it was initially embarassing to me, the story itself is funny (think slapstick goofiness at a co-ed bacholarette party involving maybe 3 minutes of boob). Plus, both the party and his finding out happened 3 years and 2 years ago respectively, so I'm not sure why now he's mad about it. We talked about it 2 years ago and he seemed ok. He says now he was just faking that because I had hurt him too much with that betrayal.

We'll be cool on the phone (in fact, almost like our good times), and have talked nearly every day for the last few weeks. I've asked him if we could work up to weekend trips or something like that, because I really love him and I don't want to get a divorce. I don't think he's so sick that he can't get better. However he says he's too angry, and that he's pretty sure this divorce is what he, at least, needs.

In writing this out, Im seeing how bad a situation it is, because I'm describing a husband who sounds, like, totally crazy and angry and has said he wants a divorce and is planning on talking to a lawyer about it. But please believe it's his PTSD -- he was not like this before his most recent deployment. He was incredibly sweet and kind, and genuinely loved me. I see glimpses of that man every time he laughs when we talk on the phone. He used to be so tender and sweet, but when he talks about how he's still angry at me or how he wants a divorce he gets really cold. He doesn't sound like himself at all. It's really weird.

Here are my question:
**What can I do to make this not hurt as much? It's so painful. Ive been crying so much I feel like Im choking. It's a little better now but then it will hit me again and I'm done. I feel like if I could be more rational/strategic I could figure this out.

**How can I fix this? I so, so don't want a divorce, and really feel like a good part of this is an extended episode of intrusive thoughts/emotions (like the uncontrollable anger he has) and chronic hyperarousal. I'm actually kind of worried about him, since Im really far away and he's in a new place without a support network. I'd move out there, but I don't know if he'd be receptive to that, and I don't have a way of supporting myself yet without living with him or my parents. I'm looking for jobs in both places in case something pans out.

**Is there a way I can support him in his struggles with PTSD without further hurting myself? I feel so sad and anxious all the time now and that wasn't who I was before we lived together. I'm constantly afraid of making mistakes, and I used to be more bold. I know this is in part because of his yelling, but again, I think if he got help we could figure this out.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (43 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
How can I fix this? He won't go to counseling with you, and he has acted in ways that you have found scary at times. Please don't worry about fixing your husband or your marriage - keep yourself and your heart safe. Consider going back to school and getting a divorce.

What can I do to make this hurt less? Get active. Join a club. Work out. Start taking classes again, even if you only are auditing online courses. Get a job. Stay busy for a while - the hurt will fade with time.

Is there a way I can support him in his struggles with PTSD without further hurting myself? You can't do anything right now, I'm sorry. He has told you he doesn't want to be with him. You can love him, and let him go. Hopefully he will be at a place where he can get and accept help sometime in the future.

I'm very sorry you're going through all this. I wish I could give you a hug. It WILL get better, I promise. Just take it one day at a time.
posted by arnicae at 4:52 PM on January 9, 2013 [5 favorites]

This is based on a layman's understanding of PTSD, but it sounds like the reason your marriage is falling apart isn't because of his PTSD symptoms; it's because he refuses to get help for them. That indicates that he doesn't think the status quo is a problem, at least not enough to put in the effort (and yes, it is a lot of effort) to change. That really doesn't sound like a symptom to me. It sounds like a change in personality and priorities.

You do sound like an abused wife: afraid of making mistakes, personality changes, blaming yourself for ridiculous things. As much as it sucks, it doesn't sound like there's a whole lot you can do; he refuses professional help, and it sounds like he doesn't want you around (for whatever reason). You can't argue him into changing his mind; you can only express your support and hope he accepts it (hopefully before the divorce goes through). Maybe the separation will help reinforce how much he needs you in his life, and motivate him to get help? Or it might show you how much better your life is when you're not walking on eggshells around him. How long have you been separated now?

(Getting yelled at for two hours for any mistake sounds like a living hell. I hope you dont need someone to tell you how unacceptable that is, PTSD or no, and that no one deserves that. Emotional/verbal abuse is still abuse, even without physical contact.)

That said, there does exist experimental therapy for PTSD using MDMA. Is there any chance he would be open to that? (Former clubber?) Long shot, I know, but I don't know what more you can do beyond suggesting novel therapies. He has to fix himself before you can fix your relationship. (All the flashing stuff sounds like a total red herring.) I know you're heartbroken that your husband isn't the man you married anymore, but the fact is that it sounds like he'll have to put in a lot of hard work to get back to that point; there's nothing you can say or do to turn back time and get that man back.

Are you in therapy? It sounds like you are developing self-esteem issues that could benefit from it.

Good luck.
posted by supercres at 4:52 PM on January 9, 2013 [13 favorites]

I don't know anything about PTSD and how that expresses itself so I won't comment on the behaviors you pointed out in the first few paragraphs.


How can I fix this?

You can't fix this by yourself. If he's refusing any type of counseling and attempts at reconciliation, there's nothing you can do to fix things. It won't work if you're the only one trying.

I would suggest taking the focus off of him and shifting it onto to yourself. Let him do what he does, maybe he'll come back or maybe he'll proceed with the divorce. For now, what do you need to be OK? What do you need to do for yourself to get through this? Let yourself grieve and don't try to figure out a solution, because until he tells you "I want to work through this" there's nothing you can do. You can't fix his PTSD and you can't force him to get help. He has to want to do it.

Don't try to support him through his PTSD. Don't contact him at all, really. While he's in "I want a divorce" and you're in "Let's work this out" mode you aren't going to be able to support him without further hurting yourself. Because every time you talk to him you'll get glimpses of the man he used to be, and your hopes will go up and then he'll turn into Mr. Cold and you'll be crushed again.

So... my suggestion is to tell him to please stop contacting you unless it's to tell you he's changed his mind about the divorce. Then do what you need to do to move forward.
posted by Autumn at 4:56 PM on January 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

Secondary PTSD is real and horrible. If at all possible, please get help of your own for that and for your grief. If you can't afford therapy right now, a least see if you can hit the library for the books that other people here will recommend.

You can't fix this. He has to choose to do the very hard, poorly-supported, openly-discouraged work he needs to do. It doesn't matter if he didn't used to be like this; this is how he is. Maybe for now. Maybe forever. It's not your fault, but if he doesn't want to be with you, you can't force/manipulate him to be.

You need to move on with your life on your own terms. Even if he gets help and stops being abusive and wants to continue the marriage on reasonable terms, you have to go into that with a strong firm spine and a refusal to be his punching bag, and that means no more giving up your life for him.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:00 PM on January 9, 2013 [6 favorites]

Can I gently suggest that you see a therapist yourself, even if he won't see one by himself or with you? There's a lot to untangle here, and it's a complicated mix of factors. There isn't going to be a simple answer, but I think it will be easier to get clarity if you talk things over with a professional who understands relationships and mental illness.
posted by Meg_Murry at 5:01 PM on January 9, 2013 [10 favorites]

Other folks have more articulate, educated therapeutic responses than me. What's been posted so far seems very sound.

Just wanted to throw in:

Are you sure there aren't extraneous factors? It strikes me as odd that he is so absolute on the divorce, as well as your immediate physical absence. If, by, chance, there is someone else involved....DTMFA pronto. To heck with sickness and therapy.

I am no expert on PTSD but it seems like something else could be afoot.

Finally, be good to yourself. You sound like a deeply caring, intelligent person. You do not deserve to be treated the way you describe. Even if you love him dearly, you need to love yourself more. Good luck.
posted by keasby at 5:04 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm so sorry this is happening. It's totally crummy that violence has changed this person you love so profoundly.

I am CERTAIN there are resources for you, a military wife, and I suggest you look into them - support groups, therapy, and the like.

If you were my sister/daughter/BFF I wouldn't want you going back to this fellow out of fear that the next time your parents get a phone call, it will be to collect you from the hospital. Or worse.

It sounds like your husband is doing the very best he can for you. Take him at his word and stay away.

I hope you get counseling and consider scaling way back on contact with this man to give yourself space to heal.

Please put yourself first.
posted by jbenben at 5:10 PM on January 9, 2013 [6 favorites]

I really can't offer you proper advice, but one thing that really stood out to me is that he's said he's so angry he's afraid he'd hurt you. Firstly, that means the smart move would be to avoid seeing him. Secondly, that makes it sound to me like he's aware something is going on with him. Perhaps you can find advice on what the best way to encourage him to go back to individual counseling is. I don't see what else you can do to fix things for him.
posted by hoyland at 5:15 PM on January 9, 2013 [6 favorites]

Military wife here. Please please please talk to someone at your local FRG (Family Readiness Group), this is exactly the type of thing FRG is for and they get this a lot more than you think. You can find your local group here, every unit has one. They can get you 12 free counseling sessions (individual and family), help with finding a job and support in the meantime and they have lots of good information on PTSD and legal things. From my work with FRG I can tell you that counseling and job help is like 90% of what FRG does with the rest being help with legal things (everything from a free notary to creating wills, power of attorney, free legal advice etc.).

I'm sorry you have to go through this, deployment and PTSD is hard and something 99% of people will never go through, it sucks and it definitely leaves some very real scars, but things can get better. If you want someone to talk to feel free to memail me and if you're anywhere near Ft. Bragg and don't mind a baby tagging along we can do coffee or whatever. ::hugs::
posted by julie_of_the_jungle at 5:18 PM on January 9, 2013 [37 favorites]

This does sound like something a PTSD suffer would do, but it also just may be him.'s not anything you DID, it's all about how he's interpreting things and his viewpoint on what his reality is. PTSD takes a lot of "rational" out of reality, especially if there is a triggering event or something that is making them feel threatened.

Your very first step is to seek counseling for yourself...if you can find someone who knows something about combat PTSD or helping spouses of PTSD sufferers that can help. Secondly, check out the forums and information at It has a lot of good information and very supportive people there. Your story sounds exactly like other stories I've read on there.

The bottom line is that you cannot fix him, and may not be able to fix your marriage unless he is willing to get help himself. He may calm down in a week or two and be willing to get help, or he may not. At the very least you need to find yourself some support to work through this. I know PTSD relationships are hard...VERY hard. It's not about you though, but you can learn a lot of things that will help you cope with what's going on so make that your number 1 priority.
posted by MultiFaceted at 5:21 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Your perspective seems so off that my heart is actually racing with worry for you, a total stranger who is just words on a screen. Please get help for yourself! I am so worried that you give so much credence to his abusive comments as if they were legitimate--between berating yourself for not being good at homemaking, or for taking several weeks to find paid work--this is irrational anger on your husband's part, not a valid assessment.

And then you come to us and ask how you can fix this marriage? This marriage isn't fixable. When someone tells you to stay away from them because they might hurt you, you listen and stay away. That's how the basic instinct of self-preservation is supposed to work, but yours is broken right now. You need help to fix it.

Please get help. Please get away from this person who has said very clearly that he no longer wants to be married to you because he is "so angry" he's afraid he'll hurt you.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:26 PM on January 9, 2013 [35 favorites]

he said he was so angry all the time he thought he would hurt me and that was why he had needed me to leave....

he says he's too angry, and that he's pretty sure this divorce is what he, at least, needs.

I think you should listen to what he's telling you here.

He's not willing to go marriage or individual counseling and doesn't want to be told to prioritize his relationship with you. He says he wants a divorce.

If this had any prayer of working out, he would need to be really and willing to seek treatment and willing to treat you better. He's not. The best he can offer is to try not to hurt you by sending you away and asking for a divorce.

As much as it may hurt now, your best bet for future happiness is to accept that offer.

I'm sorry you're in this boat, OP. I hope you take the advice to seek support / counseling.
posted by bunderful at 5:40 PM on January 9, 2013 [4 favorites]

I agree that you should seek support with someone who is familiar with PTSD and it's effects on family members. I would think the military would have some resources very specific to that, and if not, there must be support groups for spouses in the military going through the same thing.

I do also think that you should definitely stay away from him if the is afraid of his own anger. This, from the outside, does sound like an abusive situation. But it may be him pushing you away, trying to get you to hate him to get away from his suffering and danger. Whichever is true, you still need to stay away.

I am sorry you are going through this.
posted by Vaike at 5:51 PM on January 9, 2013

Something I forgot to highlight....if a PTSD sufferer is telling you to stay away because he/she is afraid they may hurt you in anger, BELIEVE THEM!! If they are triggered or have a flashback, they won't "recognize" you (so to speak) and could harm you without truly wanting to.

Grey's Anatomy had a scene just like that when Cristina and Owen were in bed together (several seasons ago). The ceiling fan above their bed triggered a flashback of a helicopter for Owen and he was suddenly choking Cristina, even though he was visualizing an entirely different situation.

When a sufferer gives you that warning to stay away, it's because they actually don't want to hurt you, but at some point they lose control of their anger. So heed that advice and give him the space he's asking for. Pressuring a PTSD sufferer never works out well.
posted by MultiFaceted at 5:59 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Honestly, I don't know from PTSD. But this guy sounds like a textbook case of an abuser to me, and I can think of a lot of abusers who act like this without PTSD/the military in their lives. I can't magically say the PTSD caused it or not, or that he will be fixed with PTSD treatment. But he's really mentally flagging me for abuser behavior anyway.

The relationship is usually all wonderful BEFORE marriage, and then after marriage you can't do anything right. He's constantly angry, at you, and is taking it out on you. Abusers like to isolate you from family and friends--okay, he's in the military and that happens, but either way you don't have other resources besides him to rely on. Abusers aren't interested in getting therapy because as far as they're concerned, they're perfect and it's everyone else around them that's horrible. He claims you lie. You're constantly considered a fuckup. He gets super angry and offended (2 hours of yelling?!) at the slightest fucking thing like flashing a girl. Big freaking whoop!

Frankly, I'm amazed he hasn't hit you yet, and that he told you he wants to hurt you. I have to give him kudos for warning you about this. Please, please don't go back to him if he wants to hit you. If he wants a divorce? TAKE HIM UP ON IT. It's a lot easier to get a divorce from someone who wants out than an abuser who wants to keep you or string it out to make your life miserable. And if he doesn't want help, the relationship isn't saveable anyway.

Some links on abusive behavior:
Signs of abuse.
Are you dating an abuser?
Warning signs of an abuser.
Abuser tricks.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:01 PM on January 9, 2013 [12 favorites]

I agree with everything jenfullmoon just said. If sometime tells you " he was so angry all the time he thought he would hurt me and that was why he had needed me to leave," I'd say "thank you for the warning, i wish you the best," and get out! You can be happier than you are now.
posted by salvia at 6:08 PM on January 9, 2013 [5 favorites]

This is your second chance. Take it and don't look back -- he does not sound like he is able or willing to take the necessary steps to repair his side of your marriage, and he has suggested violence against you. No one is worth that kind of hell. You deserve to be in a relationship that does not involve this kind of stuff at all.

Divorce him and move forward with your life. He is not the man you fell in love with, and he is not the man you should stay with. He is not meeting you half way.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 6:18 PM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Do not try and solve his problems yourself.

Please contact the Family Advocacy Program/your FRG immediately. The OneSource phone number is 1-800-342-9647, and (as the title suggests) they can get you to exactly where you need to go with one phone call. The military has some information for family members that may be helpful to look at while you're waiting for the advocate types to help you.
posted by SMPA at 6:20 PM on January 9, 2013 [6 favorites]

Did the injuries he received include a head injury of some kind? A brain injury does significantly alter the personality, sometimes forever. There is eventually some kind of healing and return to some sort of normalcy. (Personal experience: two member of my family have a head injury)

But right now he seem to require at least a separation, so give it to him. I'm not suggesting that you give him up, just remove yourself and let him do his thing. Be there for him if he asks, but don't push. If it is meant to be, you will be back together eventually.
posted by francesca too at 6:25 PM on January 9, 2013

By the way, OP, your spouse isn't just presenting a danger to you. PTSD does not come with a handy exclusive spousal-targeting system.

Which is part of why I'm saying contact the Family Advocacy Program/your FRG immediately.

And if you end up on base, having ignored all of the advice in this thread, and things go badly, get help from the MPs immediately.
posted by SMPA at 6:36 PM on January 9, 2013 [5 favorites]

Everything you're describing is classic, classic PTSD. I think you know this, but maybe it helps to hear from someone else.

I'm really not sure you should try to help him, given that he doesn't want treatment. That said, if you do want to try, here's what I suggest.

1. First rule of emergency responders: keep yourself safe. If you're trying to rescue someone who fell through the ice, you can't help if you also fall through the ice. You need therapy, and helping remotely/talking on the phone is safer than seeing him in person while he is triggered. He is telling you that it's not safe to be near him. Listen to what he is telling you.

2. The immediate goal is to end the PTSD freakout. Here's the script: "You sound triggered/you sound really scared/you sound like you're freaking out. I don't want us to make any decisions about our relationship or our future until you feel safe and it's not an emergency. What can we do to help you feel more safe?" Talk with him about what has made him feel safe in the past. Right now he's found that running away has made him feel safer, so he doesn't want to be near you. This makes sense given that he feels like he is in a life threatening situation and his fight or flight response has been triggered. Figuring out ways to calm his nervous system is his/your goal as a couple.

3. Get help from people who know about PTSD. Someone who is currently triggered can be abusive, but his behavior could change on a dime if he can establish a sense of safety. This makes it more complicated than some other types of abuse. You need help from people who know about this; most people on metafilter do not.
posted by medusa at 7:23 PM on January 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

Couldn't agree more with the above. Wherever this is coming from, this man is a walking train wreck and he is ruining your life. Beyond the shorter-term issues, sorry to say odds of success look to be minuscule at best.

At the risk of being indelicate, as I read the first part, I wondered how much time you spent together (living in the same area, seeing each other several times a week, etc.) before you got married. Some sense that it wasn't a vast amount of time..........
posted by ambient2 at 7:24 PM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Also, feel free to memail me.
posted by medusa at 7:34 PM on January 9, 2013

Do what the above folks said re contacting the family readiness group, etc.

But he did you a real favor when he told you not to be around him, dear. PTSD is no joke, I live near Bragg myself and the truth is you aren't safe with him, and God forbid you would have had a child with him while he is like this.

He may or may not choose to do what he needs to do to heal, but believe what he tells you. I don't wanna pick up the newspaper and read about you THAT way.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:36 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

The advice you're getting in this thread is somewhat mixed. On the one hand, your husband is absolutely showing abusive behavior toward you. You need to take that seriously. You need to keep yourself safe. You need to get help.

On the other hand, PTSD is complicated but can be very treatable. Pretend for a second that your spouse had schizophrenia, was in the middle of a psychotic episode, and the voices in his head told him that you were a space alien sent to abduct him and therefore he wanted a divorce. Some people would tell you, dude, that guy's crazy and divorcing him is a great idea. Other people might tell you that your husband has a serious mental illness that can be treated, and that you might want to wait to make major marital decisions until he's not in the middle of a psychotic episode.

That's the dilemma I have with your question. Your husband is in the middle of a PTSD episode in which he really is not like his old self. In the mental state of being triggered, he feels like he is in a life-threatening situation. He is in fear for his life. He is in an intense state of panic. He looks around and wonders what is wrong with his life that is making him feel so terrible. He sees that the house isn't that clean, and he fixates on that. (Even though of course it's insane to think that an untidy house is a life-threatening situation on par with combat.) He thinks that if only the goddamn house were clean then he would be safe and he would feel ok. Then he thinks that the problem is you, because you're not keeping the house clean therefore you are making him feel like he's about to die. Therefore you need to get out of the picture because you are a threat to his life. The whole line of thinking is internally consistent, even though it doesn't correspond to what you or I would think of as reality. But the fact that he asked you to leave actually shows that he's trying to improve his mental state and do something to lessen his fear.

Of course, it won't actually help him to keep the house perfectly clean. That's how this turns into an abusive trap. You cannot singlehandedly alter his emotional state to give him a sense of safety. Trying to make this your responsibility is a very very bad idea. You have been falling into this trap, and several other people who have answered are reacting very strongly to that. You need to not be in the trap. You need to be very clear about that.

The sliver of hope I see in your question - and the reason that I might consider trying to keep working on things with him - is that when you talk on the phone he's able to act like his old self. I think that by having some distance from you, he has been able to increase his sense of safety. (This is super common for people with PTSD.) This lets him not feel quite so terrified, and allows him to get in touch with his emotional connection with you. That can be useful. That can be something you can build on. But he also has to be willing to work on it. He has to be willing to figure out how to work on ending the PTSD freakout. If he's not willing to do that, then you don't have many other options.

I'd also like to add that normally refusal to see a therapist is a very bad sign. But in this case it's possible that the counselor didn't have much of a clue. If the therapist didn't know he has PTSD or isn't knowledgeable about PTSD then saying things like he needs to change or that he needs to be "less than" or prioritize me more (if in fact your husband is being honest about what happened) would seem pretty reasonable. But a helpful therapist for PTSD should have the absolutely top priority be to help him figure out the safety thing. If you were currently terrified for your life and feeling like you are about to be killed any second, having someone tell you that you need to prioritize your wife would probably seem pretty stupid. If he can calm down and get a more helpful therapist, there could be a way forward here.
posted by medusa at 8:08 PM on January 9, 2013 [13 favorites]

It sounds like he knows this isnt a good situation for either of you right now. Yes, he could be working towards making good choices in a healthier or more productive way (therapy, medications etc) but he is not capable to that right now. What he IS capable of right now is focusing on himself and selfishly putting himself first. Although you don't mean to, what you think of as "helping" him - reminding him you want to be married, being in constant contact, looking for jobs/planning to move to his area, accepting his anger and abusive behaviour - is actually making the likelihood you will get divorce more real.

I would recommend you read Harriet Lerner's The Dance of Anger, getting professional help for yourself, give yourself time to grieve the relationship you had hoped for and focus on being the healthy person someone would want to be married to. Right now you are (justifiably) anxious, resentful, confused and needy. He doesn't have the energy to support you right now -you have to expand your own support network and focus FIRST on yourself and getting healthier, secondly on being any support to him. The support you are offering him right now is just enough to get him stuck in repetitive patterns but not enough to allow him to either feel able to accept who he is now nor magically achieve change all by itself. Show him you have faith in him in solving his own problems.

I am so sorry you have gone through this. You will survive though.
posted by saucysault at 8:09 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Are you sure there aren't extraneous factors? It strikes me as odd that he is so absolute on the divorce, as well as your immediate physical absence. If, by, chance, there is someone else involved....DTMFA pronto. To heck with sickness and therapy.

I am no expert on PTSD but it seems like something else could be afoot.

Yeah, um, except that his wanting his wife to be absent and to get a divorce is a 100% classic PTSD response to this situation. Saying that you don't know anything about PTSD but that his PTSD-inspired behavior doesn't make sense is a really unhelpful answer.

Sorry to be so blunt, but I honestly think that this man just doesn't want to be married to you. The flashing thing seems like such a red herring, as do other things you've mentioned.

Being fixated on the flashing thing is also 100% classic PTSD behavior. It's not a red herring at all. It's another indicator that he is in the middle of a PTSD freakout.

Did the injuries he received include a head injury of some kind? A brain injury does significantly alter the personality, sometimes forever. There is eventually some kind of healing and return to some sort of normalcy.

PTSD is a brain injury. It may not come from a violent blow to the head but it is just as much a brain injury as a concussion.
posted by medusa at 8:18 PM on January 9, 2013 [6 favorites]

What medusa said.

Keep your distance as you have been. Live your own life- have hobbies besides worrying about him. Believe it or not, it'll be good for HIM if your own mental health isn't dependent on his.

If his therapist wasn't up on PTSD he probably sucked. Doesn't the VA have any suggestions about good PTSD therapists? And find a military-spouse group. You're going through some heavy shit and a lot of people aren't going to understand the way that group will.

You can do it. You aren't by yourself- there are folks here on metafilter, and there are dozens of other group resources, too. Hugs! Really- hugs to you. I wish I could do it in person.
posted by small_ruminant at 8:21 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

So I am taking in all of this feedback from people who seem to be very knowledgeable about combat-related PTSD and maybe I was hasty in saying that the marriage is unfixable. Perhaps if your husband can work through his PTSD in a safe setting with a skilled counselor, the two of you can rebuild a marriage once he is able to manage his feelings and behaviors.

But you need help right now, because you think you can fix your marriage with the tools you have, and the tools you have are the tools of codependence, which are exactly the wrong tools. If this is going to work in the long run, you need new tools---the tools of healthy boundaries, so that you can do your work on your stuff while he does his PTSD work, and so you don't get back into the traps of thinking that you could avert his anger explosions by keeping the house cleaner, for example.

And he needs to get help. Which I know is not simple to find, and it's a national shame and a scandal that we don't do more to help military personnel with PTSD. But he is going to need help, and not from you. He's being really clear that he needs space from you. He could not be clearer, but your codependency issues are keeping you from hearing that.

Please give him and yourself the time apart you need. Get help for yourself, and encourage him to get help. Maybe you'll get to a point where the two of you can be together in a healthy relationship, who knows?
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:26 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Your husband has a brain injury. He has told you that he is worried about endangering you. He has been abusive to you. He is asking for a divorce. That is all very worrisome.

For your safety, can you have a separation? You can d be separated - still married. I know he's pushing for a divorce, but a separation is supposed to be a break that allows both parties to heal, evaluate things or make changes. You may feel that a separation is the same as divorce, but I really think this mindset keeps too many people in abusive environments. (Me included.) I am now a great advocate for separations, which may or may not lead to immediate divorce or reconciliation or some other arrangment. There's no need to rush to divorce and your husband may feel differently if he has some time and space. Perhaps a change would help him consider something like therapy or treatment. Or perhaps the change will show him that it's more than just the marriage. Or maybe he's still going to want a divorce.

But the separation could help you regain your safety. Right now, I'm worried about your safety. I encourage you to call a women's centre and ask for their support and legal advice. The military chaplain/padre may also be of some assistance (I'm Canadian, so I could be wrong). I'm very worried about your safety. Your husband has a brain injury, says he is worried about hurting you, and wants a divorce. Please, take steps to keep yourself safe and then you can work on your relationship.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 9:09 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

How supportive are your parents? Can you show them this page so that they can support you in getting the help you need? Don't keep this situation a secret. This guy is not safe for you. I'm sorry that this happened to you. It's not your fault and you cannot heal him.
posted by amanda at 9:22 PM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

I just wanted to add that I also meant that the time during the separation may allow your husband to focus 100% on what he needs to feel safe and to heal. PTSD is a serious health situation and a separation may be the step he needs to take to start his healing journey.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 10:23 PM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

I feel like if I could be more rational/strategic I could figure this out.

I know what you mean. And I'm sorry, but you probably actually can't. It is really sad.

I hope he eventually finds help in a way that allows your relationship to be repaired, but he may not.

In the face of such pain, things like long walks and meditation may be the only things that help at all. The book When Things Fall Apart is a good one.

Sad as it is, the part of you that feels despondent and sees little option but to give up is actually the part to trust and listen to here.

The part that believes you can succeed if you just keep trying has probably served you well at work, school, and self-improvement, but it may be counterproductive in relationships. So much of a relationship -- like what other people feel and do, and even your own feelings -- are outside your control.

That's one reason people are mentioning codependence. I'm not saying "you are codependent," but it could be a useful thing to learn about. The best book I know on the topic -- Diagnosing and Treating Codependence: A Guide for Professionals Who Work with Chemical Dependents, Their Spouses, and Children -- talks specifically about willpower. See if you can read pp 11-17 here (if that link doesn't work, just search inside the book for Criterion A and start at the first link). The basic idea is that one hallmark of codependence is believing that if you can just hang in there, say the right thing, keep the house clean enough, etc., then the situation will become okay.

I think you know this already, but the things he's getting angry at you for are totally unreasonable. This is not your fault, and I'm so sorry it's happening to you. Take care of yourself and stay safe!
posted by salvia at 10:32 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

The above advice to contact OneSource and FRG is excellent; I would add that if, after contacting FRG and getting help, the situation gets worse -- it is time to contact your husband's immediate commander. Your husband will probably be unhappy with this action, but it's necessary if things have devolved beyond a certain point. Don't be afraid to speak with his commander; it is part of his/her job, and the commander is in the best position to take action.

That action may involve making sure your husband gets help, that he attends therapy/PTSD treatment when he is supposed to, etc. It also involves making sure that your husband is meeting his family obligations (ensuring that you or any children are supported during this difficult time). For example, as a married active-duty service member, he may receive BAH (or other benefits, courtesy of you) which need to be distributed as intended. Withholding benefits like BAH from a spouse in situations like this is common and amounts to defrauding the government. His commander has a strong incentive to not tolerate that kind of BS. Your husband may not feel accountable to a therapist, he may not feel accountable to you, but he is damn well accountable to his commander.

Often, your FRG contact will be his commander's spouse (FRG may actually recommend that you directly contact the commander). But, again, if things go sideways after contacting FRG, please make the extra effort (your parents may be helpful in this area, if you feel unable to do this yourself at this time) to directly contact his commander and have that conversation. The commander's response may vary from being very supportive to being brusque/business-like, but it is important to get it into the chain of command.

This kind of situation will only improve if you start advocating for yourself and connect with all available resources. It's not a guarantee, but it's the best shot.

(Also, if your initial experience with FRG is not supportive, keep trying until you get the help you need. The key is connecting with the right person, who will listen and then follow through. FRG groups vary - many are terrific and effective, others....not so much.)
posted by tanuki.gao at 10:56 PM on January 9, 2013 [4 favorites]

This question made me sad. I don't know anything about the military, or about PTSD as a medical diagnosis. I do know that your husband is treating you horribly, and one of the really nasty dark things I've found is that sometimes basically good people have horrible things happen to them, and then treat other people horribly for really valid reasons, and it's not any less horrible despite being truly not their fault. I'm sorry if this is sounds patronizing or simplistic, it isn't meant to be. I spent years and years of my life thinking that if a person was acting horribly for a justified reason, then it wasn't their fault; and if it wasn't their fault then I ought to be patient and help them and support them. But there's a problem with the second step of that logic - even if it were completely zero percent his fault that he's acting abusive, he is still acting abusive, and can still hurt you (physically and emotionally) and it's still wrong. And since treating you that way is wrong, he's right in asking you to stay away so as to minimize the wrong done, and you would be right to stay away from him in order to minimize the ultimate wrong done. That might actually be the only way, as long as he is like this.

If a person was having a psychotic episode that caused them to frantically wave a baseball bat at imaginary attackers, I would not be uncompassionate to step out of reach of the bat. I would not be abandoning them by taking myself out of harm's way. At some point you have to take care of yourself and not glorify martyrdom. And if he's yelling at you for everything, dragging up old drama and making life crazy, you need to stay away from it.

I speak from experience; I was in a relationship (engaged, but not married) for five years with a man who had been through violent trauma both as a child and adult. He was never formally diagnosed, because he refused to tell anyone - I only found out several years in, due to many trigger-y episodes involving myself. Despite knowing that there was a tragic cause to his irrationality, the fact that he refused to get help meant that I eventually had to sever myself from the situation.
posted by celtalitha at 12:46 AM on January 10, 2013 [8 favorites]

PTSD is treatable, but recovery is much better with treatment. If he is not getting treatment, I think you should accept the divorce. Your post is quite focused on how he feels that you fall short. You will be so much better off if you consider your own needs, and recognize that your needs and wants are just as important as his, and the more you know that, the more he will respect you. You cope by breathing, by establishing a routine of work and taking care of yourself. You deserve to be loved, and to be in a mutually respectful relationship, and you have not been getting that. Therapy will help. It took me a year of couples therapy and individual therapy to realize that my marriage could not be fixed, and was damaging to me, that my now ex- was using me and was emotionally manipulative and not very nice or honest. Instead of having a goal of fixing this marriage, have the goal of being a happy successful person who deserves a loving partner. If he wants to work on being a loving partner, loves you and wants you in his life and will work with you to resolve issues, including his PTSD, great. If not, divorce is best for both of you.
posted by theora55 at 7:53 AM on January 10, 2013

My Dad was a military counselor with the Family Advocacy Group. If nothing else, they'll work with you so that you understand that this is not YOUR failure. So as other's have said up thread, call them to get an appointment.

What you are describing in your husband is very indicative of someone who is returning from deployment with a very military frame of mind, expecting a spouce to hop to it like a comrade or a direct report. In either case, it's inappropriate behavior and common as dirt.

Your marriage may be over, if your husband refuses to deal with his issues, I don't see how you can stay married to him, but working with a counselor in Family Advocacy, you'll at least have some coping skills and strategies to help you transition away from this disaster of a marriage.

I reiterate, sweetie, it wasn't you. It was the deployment. No one is at fault here, everyone is a victim, but sometimes, that's how it plays out.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:06 AM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

My initial thought was for the OP to contact his commander. But from what she's written here, I hesitated because he sounds so unstable. All military personnel are trained as killers and have access to weaponry. He knows where she is staying. Part of the military ethos is maintaining a stiff upper lip, powering through the impossible. This is at odds with asking for and receiving help. While I'm sure they have made great strides in this area, a lot depends on the attitudes of his higher-ups and the other soldiers in his unit.

They are divorcing. She is away from the situation. Before reporting, I'd want her to have a safer and more hidden place to be.
posted by amanda at 8:11 AM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

If the situation is such that the husband may be intent on coming out to harm the OP - do not wait on FRG and contact his leadership immediately, do not pass Go. If she or her family are not comfortable contacting a commander, than anyone just above the husband will do. Counseling and support through OneSource, etc, is important, but getting the husband on leadership's radar is imperative.

Amanda's point about the stiff upper lip ethos is valid, but Army leadership is now under pressure to improve their accountability for post-deployment family issues. If instability is reported and ignored, there are repercussions.

When I spoke to my ex-husband's commander, two officers were assigned responsibility for my ex (this was after a military no-contact order was established, if I remember correctly). I had the phone numbers of both officers and could contact them at any time, and they were responsible for making sure my ex was where he was supposed to be and not engaging in anything that would violate the order.

By all means, the OP should do whatever feels safest and most prudent. But she also has to do what is effective.
posted by tanuki.gao at 9:11 AM on January 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

sorry, distracted typing - I forgot to add, Amanda's advice is sound - creating as many protections as possible before doing something that will almost definitely provoke a negative response in the husband is a very good idea.
posted by tanuki.gao at 9:21 AM on January 10, 2013

My first reaction to hearing your story was to be relieved that you don't have children together because you can walk away forever and get on with a happier life, one which allows you to love yourself and find someone who makes you happy and loves you for who you are. And he's giving you an out by initiating the divorce!! Take it, for crying out loud. The hardest part of a divorce is mourning the dream of what you'd hoped things would be. Let go of all the illusions of what you had wanted your prince charming and life together to be. Look at the reality of what it was. Pay attention to how you felt inside during this relationship. The majority of the time, did you feel loved, safe, and secure with him? It sure doesn't sound like it, and it's what you deserve. I know this is hard to believe because your self esteem is probably in the toilet. Again, look at what it really was next to what you'd hoped it would be, and let it go! PTSD or not, he's responsible for taking care of himself and if he chooses not to, there is nothing you can do to change that. You can only change yourself. I wish freedom and happiness for you. Good luck!
posted by Jandoe at 9:27 AM on January 10, 2013

I wanted to pop back in just to Nth speaking with the commanding officer (or First Sergeant.)

Officers and senior enlisted men are trained rather extensively in how to respond to instability on the part of junior unit members. I sometimes get the impression that this is actually mostly what First Sergeants, and a lot of junior officers, do with their time when they're not deployed. It almost all seems to boil down to drinking/gambling/domestic woes/being stupid late adolescents.

I'd definitely give the CO a head's up if you planned to file for a divorce, separation, civil restraining order, etc.

(The CO will be involved if any shenanigans happen on base, BTW.)
posted by SMPA at 6:52 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

I received a memail specifically asking me to post the following comment in this thread.
I'm the OP from the Anon post a few days ago on PTSD and its impact on our marriage. I really want to thank you and everyone else who posted -- your compassion really helped me come to terms with an untenable situation that's been rapidly deteriorating for the past several months. I realize that I have to focus on me and really start self advocating. So for concrete steps:

1. I've joined a gym near my parents' house, and have been consistently going every morning to at least lift weights and swim, like I used to when I was single.

2. I'm drafting an email right now to the FSA at his post to at the very least find out what legal, financial, and psychiatric resources are available to me.

3. I contacted my advisor, and found out what steps I need to take to formally graduate with my degree.

4. I've tried to have a "friend date" by phone every night with a rotating cadre of friends from college. According the PTSD Relationship book, that's something you need to do to resist the isolation often associated with being a loved one of someone with PTSD. I hadn't realized how lonely I was getting until I started trying to fix it, so that is a big deal for me.

Thanks again!
posted by medusa at 4:56 AM on January 12, 2013 [6 favorites]

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