How Can PTSD Impact Intimate Relationships?

How Can PTSD Impact Intimate Relationships?

June marks PTSD Awareness Month, a time to shed light on the challenges faced by those living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). While PTSD often brings to mind its psychological and emotional toll, its effects extend into intimate relationships, influencing sexual health and closeness between partners. Understanding these impacts is important for individuals and their partners seeking to navigate these challenges with empathy and support.

The Interplay of PTSD and Intimacy: PTSD can cast a long shadow over intimate relationships, affecting both the individual with PTSD and their partner. Traumatic experiences can lead to a range of symptoms, including hypervigilance, avoidance, and intrusive memories, which can disrupt emotional and physical intimacy. These symptoms may manifest or be triggered by sexual encounters, making it difficult to connect with one another on a deeper level. Furthermore, changes in a person’s mood or temperament brought on by PTSD can make it more difficult for some individuals to put their trust in others or maintain close interpersonal relationships.

Sexual Health Challenges: Individuals with PTSD may experience various sexual health challenges that affect their intimate relationships. Research suggests that PTSD can contribute to increased incidence of sexual dysfunction, such as erectile dysfunction or decreased libido, due to the physiological and psychological effects of trauma. Studies also show that people with PTSD often have lower sexual frequency than those without PTSD, possibly because symptoms can be triggered by the state of vulnerability that is necessary for sexual activity. Lastly, the hyperarousal and hypervigilance associated with PTSD can make it challenging for individuals to relax and enjoy sexual experiences fully.

Communication Breakdown: Effective communication is vital in any relationship, but it becomes even more critical when one or both partners are coping with PTSD. Symptoms like avoidance or emotional numbing can hinder open and honest communication about sexual desires, boundaries, and concerns. This communication breakdown can lead to misunderstandings, resentment, and further distance between partners.

Rebuilding Trust and Connection: PTSD can erode trust and intimacy within relationships, especially if the trauma involves betrayal or interpersonal violence. Both partners may struggle with feelings of anger, resentment, or guilt, further complicating efforts to rebuild trust and connection. Therapy, both individual and couples, can provide a safe space to explore these emotions and work towards healing and reconciliation.

Strategies for Healing: Recovery from PTSD and rebuilding intimacy in relationships is a journey that requires patience, understanding, and commitment from both partners. Here are some strategies to consider:

  1. Seek Professional Help: Therapy for individuals and/or couples can provide tools and strategies to address PTSD symptoms and navigate relationship challenges. The American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT) is a great place to find a qualified counselor or sex therapist.
  2. Practice Self-Care: Prioritize self-care activities that promote relaxation and reduce stress, such as mindfulness, exercise, and hobbies can help alleviate or lessen PTSD symptoms. What’s more, taking care of your own well-being is essential for nurturing healthy relationships.
  3. Foster Open Communication: Create a safe and supportive environment for honest communication about thoughts, feelings, and needs. Active listening and empathy can strengthen emotional bonds and enhance intimacy between partners.
  4. Explore Sensate Focus: Sensate focus is a therapeutic technique commonly used in sex therapy to help couples enhance intimacy and reconnect physically and emotionally. Sensate focus exercises can help couples restore their intimate connection by focusing on sensual touch and pleasure without the pressure of sexual performance.
  5. Educate Yourself: Learn more about PTSD and its effects on intimate relationships through reputable sources and support networks. Knowledge empowers individuals and partners to better understand and support each other.

Navigating intimacy and sexual health in the context of PTSD can be challenging, but it’s not insurmountable. By understanding the impact of PTSD on intimate relationships and implementing strategies for healing and connection, individuals and their partners can cultivate healthier and more fulfilling relationships.


  • American Psychological Association. (2020). Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

  • Brotto, L. A., & Yule, M. A. (2016). Asexuality and Sexual Functioning in Women with PTSD. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 13(11), 1659–1667.

  • Monson, C. M., & Fredman, S. J. (2012). Cognitive-Behavioral Conjoint Therapy for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: Harnessing the Healing Power of Relationships. Guilford Press.

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