Can you have PTSD from Divorce?

Wendi Schuller
Wendi Schuller
Author of
The Global Guide to Divorce

Traumatic relationships are a cause for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

You may have had an amicable break up and sailed through your divorce just fine.  Not everyone gets through relationships unscathed.

One man had three traumatic relationships after a toxic marriage. His solution was not to date for a decade. After this long break and support from Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), he was ready to give dating another go. Now he is happily coupled with a lovely woman.

When dating again after your divorce, you may be surprised at the walking wounded out there.

What is PTSD

The National Health Service (NHS) defines PTSD as an “anxiety disorder caused by very stressful or distressing events.” People with PTSD have high levels of stress hormones. When danger is perceived, the body produces adrenaline to trigger the fight or flight reaction. “People with PTSD have been found to continue to produce high amounts of fight or flight hormones even when there is no danger.”

How PTSD Manifests

In relationships, the person may bolt when things are getting serious. They are okay at the beginning – The Getting To Know You stage. When simple requests/demands are voiced by their dating partner, it can be overwhelming. “Do I stay and face a risk of rejection (whatever the trigger is)?”

This person dances into a relationship, then dances right out again.  Or keeps the partner at an arm’s length.

The individual with relationship PTSD can be self-medicating with either drugs, alcohol, cigarettes or all three. This is to numb themselves and tamp down emotions. It feels more comfortable to put up an emotional blockade around themselves. If they are like a zombie, then there is no opening for trauma to sneak in.

This is a faulty protection mechanism which is harmful to relationships.

Insomnia is another problem for those with PTSD. They may have difficulty falling asleep or wake up with nightmares.  Flashbacks can occur.  Something in a new relationship reminds previous trauma. They can panic and get bombarded with stress hormones

What to do when dating a person with PTSD after your divorce

  • Go Slowly.
  • Be Patient
  • Learn when to pull back. They may crawl into their cave when the relationship is getting too intense.
  • Give them space.  They may not initiate contact for a few weeks.

Allow time to build a firm foundation.  Then they can begin to trust you bit by bit. It is a delicate balancing act

Pushing to get closer scares them away. Too little leaves them guessing if you are about to do a runner, which may have led to PTSD from previous relationship. Consider sending a short, to the point text “How is your day going?” or when something notable occurs. “I didn’t get the job” or “My short story won a prize.”  Responding is easier than generating a text. 

Have a full life

When you are busy, your mind is focused on these activities and less likely to be dwelling on the frustration of this dating relationship. You are more interesting and enticing when you do get together.

They can laugh and wonder what antics/classes/events you are up to next. Your full life gives fuel for conversations.  Taking improv acting classes, having fun at karaoke and so forth, helps you seem different from previous dating partners where trauma occurred,

You may have to accept their pattern of being there and then backing away. No one can change another person. One can express needs with “I” statements. “I need you to text or call at least once a week.” “I want to get together at least every other week.”

Questions to ask yourself

  • Are you getting frustrated with the dance backwards and forwards?
  • Are you getting something out of the relationship?
  • Are the good times outweighing the disappearing act?
  • Are you feeling secure in the relationship?
  • Are you both able to discuss personal history, problems, worries, etc?
  • Are they focused on you when you are speaking?
  • How strongly do you feel about them? In love? Or is it lust or merely a fascination?

Your dating partner is operating from fear. Fear is their reality. They are looking for indications that they may be mistreated again.  You may be able to slowly build trust and have a successful relationship. Communication is imperative.  Give it your all, and then if you need to bail, you know you did everything that you could.

There is hope that after a bumpy start, your relationship can be successful.

Click here for more articles by Wendi Schuller

About Wendi Schuller

Wendi Schuller is a dating coach. She draws upon her knowledge as a nurse, Neuro-Linguistic Programmer (NLP), and hypnotherapist, providing a blueprint to guide people through divorce and beyond.

She is also dating consultant for all phases post -divorce: How to meet individuals, Get dates and Maintain a relationship. Her dating podcasts are on

Author of The Global Guide To Divorce.

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