What To Do When Your Spouse Is Changed By Combat

I gripped the steering wheel as if it was my one and only lifeline. Hot, angry, hurt tears made trails on my cheeks as I watched the radio clock tick another minute.

Midnight. 12 a.m.

It was a new day, but I felt as though it was a night that was going to linger endlessly and never take the pain away. Our one year old son (our only child at the time) slept peacefully in his car seat, clueless of what was going on.

Clueless. Oh, how I wanted to be clueless of the man my husband had become. I wanted to be clueless of the fact that the man who returned from Afghanistan was not the same man I had tearfully kissed goodbye several months back.

I noticed it that ride home after our initially joyful reunion. The man sitting next to me had changed. He had become a stranger, despite the countless letters we wrote during the deployment.

As the months went by, I noticed how different he’d become. He struggled with his belief in God. He became angry and distant. He grew stressed. His fuse drew shorter and shorter, and he became all too familiar with the taste of alcohol.

I found myself praying every morning; praying that we would have a good day that day. That I would be able to reach through the shell of the man I had married.

He never became abusive. He was just angry . . . all the time. He said things I knew he didn’t truly mean. But, I was weary. I watched the man I loved so much deteriorate before my eyes. I felt as though I didn’t even know him anymore.

Then, we found out we were pregnant with our second baby. I was terrified. I did not want to bring another baby into this. I did not want our children to suffer with a father who was slowly becoming an alcoholic.

I released the grip of the steering wheel to pick up my cell phone. I paused as I listened for the voice of my mother-in-law.

“Mom? I can’t. I can’t do this anymore. Evan got drunk again and we fought, and it was awful. I left. I have Ian in the car, and we’re sitting in the Walmart parking lot. I’m prepared to just drive right now and leave. We might be at your house tomorrow.”

I was serious. I was ready to leave without even saying goodbye. I wasn’t thinking divorce. I just wanted to get away; for us to take a break from each other. My husband needed help, but I didn’t know how to help him.

Then, my mother-in-law surprised me.

“Lydia, you know that dad and I will be here to welcome you with open arms if you decide to leave. But, is this really what you want? Are you sure you’re ready to throw in the towel just yet? Leaving might make him wake up to what he’s doing, but it also might not be the best solution. If you can work through it, don’t give up just yet.”

I cried. No, sobbed. I didn’t want to leave, but I also didn’t want to stay. I didn’t want another night of alcohol, another night of fighting that would just leave me full of hurt and praying for the man I originally married to come back.

changed by combat

I put the car into drive and found myself on the dimly lit road back to our home.

I was going to make it work, and we would push through.

That was when I learned how much my husband was hurting. Over time, he began to open up about the atrocities that he had seen and, unfortunately, during his time over there, he had fallen away from the Lord. It’s no wonder he had turned to alcohol. His mind was full of pain, and he felt as though there was nowhere to turn.

He had PTSD and was struggling to face that reality.

Eventually, the man I married did come back, albeit deeply scarred. But, our life improved vastly over time.

Perhaps you are in this situation. Perhaps you have a spouse suffering from PTSD, who is in denial. Are you finding yourself spending nights crying and praying?

I was there too. But, over time, things can get better! And there are some things you need to know.

It’s okay to mourn the loss of the person you married.

That man standing before you today is not the same person you married. Yes, his physicality is the same, but the embodiment of who he was seems to be in the distant past. It is okay and possible to mourn the loss of that person while still loving him no matter what. Let yourself cry. Let yourself grieve. But, hold onto hope that he can still possibly come back, just not quite the same as he was before.  

Understand that the things he has seen and experienced have forever been burned on his mind.

Men are great at compartmentalizing, but they are unable to erase those images and experiences that any human being would buckle under. Realize that in the moment of combat, he has to press forward no matter what and it isn’t until he is in a moment of safety again that he can truly process what has happened. The adrenaline wears off and he is left with the images that are now planted on his mind forever.

It is hard for him to talk about.

Don’t press him. Honestly, you probably don’t even want to know. The only reason I know some of the things I do is because my husband told me when he was relaxed from alcohol. I’ll never forget the one night that he buckled under the weight of what he was carrying and dropped his head into my lap and cried. All I could do was stroke his hair and cry along with him.

Your spouse has been through a lot and beyond that hard exterior is a man who is hurting, crying out in pain.

changed by combat

He often doesn’t even know what he’s angry about.

Extreme anger is one of the biggest telltale signs of PTSD. All the pain that they are carrying mentally leaks out in anger. They have a heavy burden and it subconsciously makes them irritable, tense, and able to blow up about the littlest thing.

Now, if your husband is becoming abusive, that is NOT okay. He really is in a lot of pain, but you must not allow yourself to become a subject of his physical anger. If you are in danger, get you and your children (if you have any) to safety as soon as possible! Then, you can work on getting help for all of you from a distance.

He had spent several months under intense activity and relaxing just isn’t easy.

This is one of the reasons many turn to alcohol. They just do not know how to relax. Their minds are in constant overdrive. It’s hard to get out of a mindset of months and months of constantly looking for IEDs, dodging bullets, and wondering if the next step you took would be your demise.

Pray for him.

You are probably already doing this. But, pray heaven down for him. Pray for God to protect his mind and put a hedge of protection around him. Pray for strength for yourself and for an understanding heart.

changed by combat

Prayer was one of the biggest things that helped me get through this season of our marriage.

Seek support from family and friends, preferably people who want the best for your marriage.

Find someone to talk to. You need to be able to talk about what’s going on. I had friends at the time who were going through similar struggles. We were able to talk about the pain and the hurt and pray for each other. We encouraged each other to push through and hang on.

Please make sure that the people you are seeking support from are ones who truly support you and your husband and want the best for your marriage. Try not to seek support from people who are bent on destroying what you have.

Get help from counselors and find therapy programs on base.

One of my friends told me about a Christian PTSD therapy program on base called, REBOOT. This program was designed specifically for helping marriages through PTSD struggles. I signed us up and my husband agreed to go, though he wasn’t initially very thrilled about it. We weren’t able to attend for the entirety of the program, but what we did attend helped.

Every military installation has multiple counseling options and many of them are free. Even if your spouse does not want to seek help, you can still attend sessions to help you know how to wade through the struggles.

Don’t lose hope.

Above all, don’t lose hope. Your husband will eventually come back to you. It will take time, so be patient. He needs help to work through the things he has seen and will never forget. He needs to learn how to do life again.

Give him time. Give him space.

Give him love.

He needs someone to have faith and hope in him. He won’t be the same person he was, but he will be able to do life again.

changed by combat

There IS marriage after combat.

You will find happiness again. You will have a new, GOOD normal.

My husband and I have come through it, and we’re doing very well. He doesn’t turn to alcohol anymore. His relationship with God has taken a 180, and he is one of the most spiritually strong men I know. On top of all this, he has learned to work through his anger.

Honestly, I think our marriage is so much stronger now because of this. God helped us push through, and we have learned to work through it.

You can too.

There is marriage after combat!


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