Okay, girls and boys.  I'm going to talk plainly (even more than normal) on this page.  So, if
you're faint of heart or ear, hit the back button.  There may be some Veterans who will be
aggravated by the following... and some spouses who will be shocked.  However, the
following comes from my own experience and experiences that other vet wives have shared
with me.

There is a strong relationship between Combat PTSD and physical, sexual or emotional
spousal abuse.  A 1995 study found that 63% of Veterans seeking help for PTSD had
been aggressive towards their partners at some point in the last year.  A later study of
Vietnam veterans with PTSD found that 42% had been physically abusive toward their
spouse, 92% had been verbally abusive, and 100% had used "psychological aggression."  
While there is no excuse for such abuse, it's obviously happening - and sticking our head
in the sand and ignoring it isn't going to help.  Instead, I think we should look harder at why
this phenomenon occurs.

In a combat zone there is no "in between," no "gray area," no "slightly pissed off," or slightly
in danger.  Any circumstance that is the least bit threatening is considered a matter a life
and death (and rightfully so).  In Iraq or Afghanistan, your Veteran couldn't take the chance
of responding to any threat without full "I'm going to kill you" rage.

Now - fast forward a few months (or years) and that same Vet still has a deep,
subconscious reaction to threats - even on the home-front.  His (or her) idea of a "threat" is
very different than it used to be. His fuse is MUCH shorter.  And, his version of fighting (or
"discussing") any marital issue is now very, very dirty.  He's not going to use kid gloves - in
a combat zone, kid gloves would have gotten him killed.

I AM NOT EXCUSING any Veteran that physically or verbally abuses his or her
spouse.  There is nothing, no reason, that makes abuse okay.  I'm simply giving you a
birds eye view into the brain of a vet.  The wise wife of a Vietnam vet once gave me the
same view and it literally changed how I reacted to my Vet.  It allowed me to understand a
little bit of the "why" behind his actions.

Fortunately, our family seems to be headed back in the right direction and my Veteran's
actions never went past verbal abuse.  However, when my husband's PTSD was at its
worse, I took responsibility and formulated an "escape" plan just in case his anger crossed
the line.  In my opinion, for my own sake (and for that of our child), it was something that
had to be done.  I spoke candidly with a good friend, explained to her what was going on,
and asked if I could come to her house - at any time, day or night - if I felt my husband was
out of control.

One word of caution at this point - there have been cases of children being taken by
child protective services after a vet spouse has sought counseling and told a counselor
that her spouse has physically attacked her.  You, of course, have to make your own
decision about the point at which you no longer feel safe and are willing to risk anything to
get help.  I know of many wives, however, that did not know this was a possibility, and were
blind-sided.  Most law enforcement, child protection, etc., agencies do not differentiate
between a Veteran with PTSD who needs help and an a**hole who enjoys slapping his wife

If your spouse seems to be reaching a boiling point - if his (or her) anger seems to be
getting more and more out of control - I strongly recommend formulating your own escape
plan.  I'm not advocating divorce (though, sadly, that's sometimes the result).  I am
advocating having a safe way to get some space and time between you and your Vet until
things have a chance to cool off.

I also think that if your Veteran has reached a point that his anger is boiling over - he has
to be told to get help.  It's not right for you (or any children involved) to live a life that is full
of fear.  You have to find a balance between helping your Vet and saving yourself.  It may
require enlisting the help of friends or family in order to help the vet see the impact of his
actions (and it may also make it safer for you to tell him that way).  It's not an easy thing
and many Veterans resist.  However, for the sake of your family and marriage, it's worth

There is also the chance of you developing "
Secondary PTSD" - basically living so long
with someone who is suffering from PTSD that you start mirroring their behavior and
developing your own mental issues.  As a result, you start adding "fuel" of your own to
arguments.  When one spouse has PTSD and the other has secondary PTSD, domestic
violence becomes an even greater likelihood. Now when your Veteran is screaming at the
top of his lungs two inches from your face - you're going to scream, red-faced and shaking,
right back in his face.  He's going to cuss at you like a sailor and you're going to cuss back
like a sailor who has been on a three-day drinking binge.  Your anger is going to be just as
out-of-control and irrational as the vet's.  And, without anyone who is "sane" in the
equation it is too, too, TOO easy for things to escalate.  It's better if the Veteran and
everyone involved gets help before you reach that point.

The following articles about dealing with Domestic Violence are available on
Family Of a Vet:

What is Domestic Violence? - An article which covers the many different types of violence
which can occur within a home.

When Nightmares Become Real (Part 1): Creating a Safe Place for Children - A
step-by-step guide on creating a safe haven for your children in the event of the

When Nightmares Become Real (Part 2): Creating an Escape Plan - This article will help
you work out a plan for use in case of an emergency Domestic Violence situation.  Again,
we are not advocating divorce!  But, if your Vet is becoming increasingly angry or violent,
you should for your own safety and the safety of your children, have a plan in place.

If you're interested in finding Internet resources about the relationship between
PTSD and domestic violence, check out any of the following links:

The National Center for PTSD - Domestic Violence Fact Sheet

Domestic Violence and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Severity for Participants of a
Domestic Violence Rehabilitation Program (this article is a little "technical" but still has
some good background information)

Cop's Eye View Of Domestic Violence And The Military (this story is not for the faint of

Domestic Violence in Veterans With Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Who See Couples
Therapy (an article from the Journal of Marital & Family Therapy; 2006)

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Domestic Violence (This is a PowerPoint presentation
written by Dr. David Riggs from the Center for Deployment Psychology.  If you don't have
PowerPoint installed on your computer, you can download the Microsoft PowerPoint viewer
for free by

PTSD and Domestic Violence (an article by Dr. Matthew Tull available on About.com; there
is also an option to sign up for their PTSD newsletter).

The National Domestic Violence Hotline Website (this site doesn't have information
specifically about PTSD and Domestic Violence.  It does, however, have a wealth of
information about Domestic Violence in general).

15 Domestic Violence Incidents Every Month at Army Post (a September 2006 article from
the Denver Post)

Key Elements in Couples Therapy for PTSD - This is a research article posted on the
American Psychological Association website.  It's very technical, but gives a wealth of
A good number to keep handy:
National Toll-Free Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
FamilyOfaVet - Real world info about PTSD, TBI, & life after combat
FamilyOfaVet - Real World info about PTSD, TBI, & life after combat.

PTSD & Domestic Violence

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