THE BLOG
03/12/2013 05:30 pm ET Updated May 11, 2013

Viagra for Vets - Getting Intimate With PTSD

For spouses of Veterans, nothing compares to the moment when they finally have their loved ones back in their arms. It's an embrace they wait months, if not years, to feel. But what happens when their spouse coming home is when the problems start?

When our Warriors come home from the battlefield with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), they are coming home having lost a part of themselves. Unfortunately, that loss can translate into serious intimacy issues that plague them at a time when they're just settling back into their loving relationships.

PTSD now affects about one-third of the Veterans who walk through the VA's doors each year. And the VA isn't just treating these individuals with sleeping pills, mood disorder medication or cognitive therapy: It's spending $71.7 million on Viagra and other drugs to help our Veterans tackle sexual issues stemming from their PTSD. That's more than three times what it spent on erectile dysfunction drugs in 2006. In 2012, more than 4.5 million of our Vets were prescribed to these drugs, a surge from 2.7 million as recently as six years ago.

During the struggle with PTSD, an individual often begins to avoid intimacy, even with loved ones. Shameful and embarrassed, many Veterans go to great lengths to hide their trauma, which they perceive as weakness, from their spouses. This emotional harboring is a major roadblock to intimacy, and for many, causes them to lose sexual desire. These sexual difficulties can put additional strain on Veterans as they struggle to reconnect with the loved ones they have been without for so long.

For the spouse, these intimacy issues can be extremely traumatic, causing a mix of emotions they are not accustomed to associating with their significant other. Some feel angry or disappointed. They share with me the bewilderment over how these sexual issues developed. I waited so long for him to come back, and now he's not there with me 100 percent. Will my relationship ever be normal again? Will my wife ever share her feelings with me like she used to? These are all real concerns I hear from the partners I work with.

For other spouses, the loss of sexual and emotional intimacy breeds doubt. They feel rejected, suddenly feeling insecure about a relationship they were willing to sustain under less-than-ideal circumstances. Was there someone else while he was overseas? Is it something I've done? These sentiments can drive a deeper wedge between partners, or cause the spouse to lose intimacy toward the Veteran. It's important to find help before the lack of intimacy goes both ways.

During my time working with Veterans and their families, I've seen the impact that an open line of communication can have on struggling relationships. This openness isn't easy. It requires the Veteran overcoming the emotional seclusion that he or she has used as a tool for coping with PTSD. It also takes some growth from the Veteran's partner; facing sexual difficulties with someone you love is never easy and can cause that wide range of emotions I just discussed. Talking through these issues is a difficult process to go at alone; that's why I sing the praises of positive psychology for couples. Through couples therapy, a therapist is able to facilitate an open, supportive environment for sharing difficult and even embarrassing emotions. In this new space, couples can make their way back to each other, overcoming the hurdles of PTSD, war and their aftermath, together.

Subscribe to Must Reads.
The internet's best stories, and interviews with their authors.