Friday, January 11, 2008

Post-traumatic stress disorder and growth in wives and partners

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can have many negative effects, not just on the people suffering from it but on their wives and partners as well. They can suffer from tension, physical illness, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, loneliness, confusion, loss of control and self-blame. However, most women continue to cope and stay with their husbands and recent research has been addressing how they cope with their partners' problems. Research has found that they maintain a reservoir of good feelings towards their husbands from before their mental-health problems and that the experience of watching their husbands' daily struggle can deepen their appreciation of their courage and determination and enhance their love for them. Their husbands' struggle serves as an example which facilitates their coping and their husbands' difficulties were often seen as enhancing their sensitiveness towards their wives. The women also gained a sense of strength and empowerment from their own struggle to help their husbands and keep their families together. These unexpected gains from their partners' PTSD have been called post-traumatic growth. A study of 161 wives of veterans of the Yom Kippur war in Israel compared those married to former prisoners of war (who, for the purposes of the study were assumed to have suffered from more PTSD) with those married to other veterans of the conflict. The researchers also looked at the women's attachment styles. Attachment is the way in which we make and conduct relationships with other people. Those who show avoidant attachment prefer not to rely on or open up to other people, feel uncomfortable with intimacy and are less secure with depending on others and having others depend on them. Those who show anxious attachment tend to worry about whether their partner is available to them and responsive. People with secure attachment are comfortable with intimate relationships and see their partner as being responsive. They perceive themselves in a positive and coherent way, have good problem-solving skills, tend to view stressful situations optimistically and believe that others will help them in their time of need. The study found that the wives of former prisoners of war had both higher levels of distress and of growth than the wives of former veterans. The worse their husbands' PTSD the higher the wives' levels of growth and distress were. Those women with anxious and avoidant attachment styles suffered from more distress but also experienced more growth as a result of their husbands' PTSD.

Dekel, Rachel - Post-traumatic distress and growth among wives of prisoners of war : the contribution of husbands' post-traumatic stress disorder and wives' own attachment American Journal of Orthopsychiatry July 2007, 77(3), 419-426

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