Emotional Exhaustion in Relationships

Emotional Exhaustion in Relationships

Emotional exhaustion is a reality for many milspouses (me included) and more than being in extreme physical and mental fatigue like the Oxford dictionary defines it; it also steals our energy and keeps us from success.

Is this you?

  • Are you feeling exhausted from your relationships?
  • Is your spouse’s PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) draining your energy because they’ve checked out? Maybe you’re always tiptoeing around their moods. It doesn’t just drain you emotionally, it also drains you physically.
  • You’re probably not getting any help around the house or with the kids.
  • You could feel so desperate to connect with anyone that even though your neighbor is constantly complaining about military life, you still hang out because you’re incredibly lonely and any company is better than none, right?  But you’re left feeling completely mentally drained after spending any length of time with her.

I am gonna break down how it’s so incredibly easy to get stuck in this cycle as a military spouse. I see it so often amongst my clients, friends, peers, colleagues and I’ve lived it for years. Although ever since I made a conscious shift in my life, I began to break the cycle and take my energy and power back.

Now I’m going to share how you can break the cycle and make a conscious shift in your life. I’m going to share my journey, how that looked and see if you can recognize if you’re doing some of the same things.

3 Things That Cause Emotionally Exhaustion for a Military Spouse

  • A spouse with PTSD
  • Toxic Family Members and Friends
  • Society Labeling Military Spouses as Not as Important and the subconscious effect on you

These things could be keeping you from reaching for more and no doubt keeping you from the happiness you so deserve. 

This is a big topic and one I don’t hear many people talking about, not from a vulnerable place anyway. Someone can throw all the statistics at you but for me, I want real-life examples. I want someone who has lived it to share how to get out of it and that’s what I’m going to do for you.

Start of my Emotional Exhaustion: My Spouse had PTSD

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is such a common occurrence with service members because they deploy a lot! Their primary obligation is to train for war.

Almost all deploys get in highly stressful emotional situations. Most are not equipped to handle or process those emotions and so they don’t. The reintegration trainings they receive (as was the case for me too when I returned from Iraq) were boring, bland and unrelatable. These lectures ticked a box for the military, saying the service member received the info needed or where to find help. But honestly, almost no one follows up with that. No one wants to be *that person* that needs help. And so the cycle begins.

Here is my personal experience with my husband and his PTSD, how it affects me and my children.

emotional exhaustion
Image Credit: Pexels

A typical day with my husband with PTSD:

  • He was a whirlwind; morning, noon and night leaving a complete mess everywhere he went but never coming back to clean it up
  • Came home from work, unloaded all of his frustrations and then hopped on his iPad to play games, not caring to hear about my day
  • Never made eye contact when we spoke, even though I always asked for it, this led to many arguments
  • Prioritized his needs over others – working out, napping, sex, only wanting to dine out where he wanted to eat
  • Stopped participating in bedtime routines with the kids, leaving it all on me
  • Was no longer a partner; emotionally disconnected and not present
  • Was a total energy vampire (meaning he stole all my energy)

Although I wouldn’t wish him on deployment or rotations, I’m very grateful that I recently had these nine months to work on myself. When you’re in a home with someone’s toxic behaviors, it will leave you exhausted mentally and physically.

It’s funny I was seeing people share how exhausted they were while their spouse was deployed and I felt exactly the opposite. I was taking back my energy. My energy vampire was out of the home and it was a huge eye-opener for me to see how much I allowed him to drain me. Even though his PTSD symptoms caused much of the withdrawal, it doesn’t mean he is not to be held accountable. Or that I didn’t deserve a partner.

We were at a breaking point. We have had ebbs and flows in our marriage but this time we were discussing who was going where and what our new normal was going to look like. We hadn’t ever gotten this close to divorce.

We’re still sorting out and navigating what our life is going to be together. 

We were modeling a very disconnected marriage and that’s absolutely not what I want my children to repeat. 

I have an amazing local therapist that was walking me through drawing boundaries. Helping me see I was allowing myself to be treated this way and how it wasn’t good enough for me anymore, even if that meant splitting up my family.

I began to share the news with very close friends and family. We were separating.

My husband has PTSD and presented itself in that he couldn’t tap into any emotions at all. Except for frustration, no patience with our kids, side-eyes, sneering, hurtful actions, shut down, and extreme emotional detachment.

If this all sounds familiar to you, I’m so sorry.

I know the extremely lonely place you’ve been living in emotionally. It fucking sucks. I was a shell of myself and I didn’t share it with anyone until I reached my final breaking point.

I was embarrassed I allowed myself to be treated this way for years. I knew many military spouses would understand my pain but family and civilians would see me as abandoning a total hero. How could I leave someone who was suffering so deeply that happened as a result of their service to the country?

But I had to draw a hard line in the sand. I was no longer going to allow that to be my reality anymore because I knew that I deserved a partner. 

PTSD had taken over so much that I didn’t have a partner anymore and that’s how I was giving my power and energy away.

Thankfully after many incredibly hard conversations and sorting out logistics, he could tell I was holding firm with my boundary. 

The thing is, many times as moms and spouses, we let boundaries slide. We allow them to get crossed and we don’t hold firm to ourselves. 

He hit his rock bottom and reached out for help during his deployment and finally began doing the personal development and counseling work he wasn’t ever open to doing before.

Previous times he was doing surface work. Or simply discussing the things about me that pissed him off with his counselor.

This time he looked inward. 

He was open in a way I hadn’t ever seen before. He began to see the possibility of feeling again. Connection. Love beyond sex. Listening instead of always talking.

For years I gave my power away because I took it as good enough, and it really drained me mentally, emotionally, and physically. 

Anything that’s draining your emotions and your energy is going to drain you physically as well.

I spent years trying to keep everything status quo. 

I was trying to keep the family happy enough but I was diving behind doors and crying, then collecting myself and carrying on.

I let go of what I really needed, craved, yearned for, and desired; for the better of the family, at least that’s what I thought I was doing.

But there’s a way to strike a balance, because any time that you’re giving away part of yourself just to keep everybody else happy, it will slowly tear you down emotionally. 

It eats away at your soul.

You may have been raised watching a mother that perfected not claiming anything for herself which can make you feel guilty if you’re trying to.

It’s going to affect your health. It’s going to affect all of your relationships. So that is one benefit of deployment is that you can take that time away.

And even though I had three little kids that three little boys that I needed to raise, I didn’t have that swirling sort of emotionally withdrawn negative energy in the house anymore.

And I was really able to come back to life with who I am and what I love and explore new things.

You know, I started painting mandalas and drawing Zen tangles and just doing different, different stuff that I never had the energy to do that before because just the daily tasks were so draining.

So take a look at your life and see are your daily tasks draining you so much that you can’t do anything else for yourself?

And if that is the case, what’s causing so much of it to drain? Are you giving your power away so another way that your power gets taken from you and this is sort of as a general as a whole for military spouses?

Emotional Exhaustion: Society Labeling Military Spouses as Not as Important and the subconscious effect on you

The way that our culture is set up is that we’re seen as this dependence. It’s almost like we’re not even seen as our own entity as our own person. As somebody who is working her ass off to take care of everything on the home front, to take care of the children, to keep the home, going, to have a safe space for the service member to come home to while they work long, hard hours.

They are gone for constant trainings and were coming back to a country and if it weren’t for us keeping everything running, whether it’s bumpy or smooth while they’re gone because we know shit’s gonna hit the fan when they’re gone. Everything breaks.

There’s three service members, and then there is the military spouse and family, and we’re down here and everybody worries. You hear a lot of worry and concern about the kids a lot. And of course, that is absolutely true.

Image Credit: Pexels

I mean, I saw it firsthand. My youngest. How hard this last deployment just was on him was devastating, but we’re getting some more thoughts in traction to a military spouse, mental health and wellness and awareness.

But we’re still very behind the power curve when it comes to that, and we really need to step up our game so the society can acknowledge all that we do that helps the country because we are helping keep the home front going, and that gives the service member peace of mind.

It helps them to go to their job and not be concerned about the children or the finances or whatever back home because they know we’re taking care of it.

But even if you are totally fine with the way that you feel about our culture is in seeing military spouses, I really bet that there is a slight subconscious effect that it has on you because we know how society sees us. The very example that just comes to mind is when it comes to service member-only discounts, you know, they have to have an active duty ID in order to prove to get the military discount, because, you know, it’s sending this sort of subliminal message that they’re the ones that have earned it, and I’m not taking away from what they’ve done.

I know it from both sides. I have been deployed for a year to Iraq, and now I’ve been much longer a military spouse for 15 years.

But God, we do so damn much back here. And it’s not that when you give accolades or props or kudos, it’s that there’s a finite amount.

There’s enough to go around for the service members for these military spouses, for the children, for everybody.

We could give enough to everyone, and we’re never gonna run out of that. So I really hope and keep pushing to bring awareness to the fact that we also deserve high accolades for everything that we do on the home front.

And that is just one way that our power sort of gets taken from us because I see it so many times, especially with clients that I work with.

Their self-esteem is so poor, and it can be because it has been in the background that, you know people think you’re not worthy, and what is worthy is the American hero that’s going out of line on the front lines and, you know, going to war.

Our roles are equally as important. It’s just different. It’s just different, but it is equally as important that you are keeping your family and everything going.

So that is something that I want you to realize and give yourself your own kudos. Go look in the mirror and say, Oh my God, a good job like you do such a good job.

It’s not always pretty. It’s not always, you know, smooth sailing and that’s OK. That’s life.

That is absolutely life. But damn it, you’re doing a good job, and I’m proud of you.

Emotional Exhaustion: Toxic Family Members and Friends

And I’m talking, not your husband or children dynamics, that could be the case, too. I’m speaking about extended family, your mom, and dad, your siblings, maybe your in-laws, whoever it is.

Whatever relatives, maybe your grandparents, something that everybody has, you know, things that are less than perfect from when you’re growing up that there are those of us that are extra special that have the really toxic routines or relationships.

You know that next level stuff that may subconsciously be cheesing things for you and so you really have to be open to seeing and then learning how to stop that.

You are not always gonna be widely accepted.

I have definitely learned that within my family I have a couple of family members, one of them being my mom, that currently do not speak to me.

And that is unfortunate, but that is their choice. That is not in my control. And that is how I take that power back.

That is how I keep it from devastating me because I realize that is their choice. They have their reasons and me having, owning and feeling my power and being on this healing journey as well as a learning journey.

When you combine the two, you were gonna reach this place of self-worth and self-esteem to wear when things will rattle you, because things will still get to you.

But they’re not going to completely make you crumble. They’re not gonna devastate you. They are not going to derail you for months at a time.

Maybe it’ll just be for a few hours or maybe a day as opposed Thio weeks. You know, if you get on the phone with family members and as military families, we do not live close, usually to our family.

So sometimes we get the benefit of living a little further away. That could be a good thing. But if you get on a phone call with a family member, every time you get off, you just feel drained like emotionally drained. That’s somebody taking your power. That is somebody taking your power. And that doesn’t have to happen.

And that happens with friends, too. You know, in this lifestyle, we can very much sort of reach desperation for friendship because we’re always starting over and you reach those days were like, Oh my God, I’m just so lonely.

I really just wanna go grab lunch or coffee with a girlfriend and I’m gonna call this person down the road, even though I know every time I talked to her, she’s just always complaining about military life, and it’s, you know, just leaves you exhausted. Those are not good relationships.

These are people that are taking your power, and you have to allow it not to happen. So start taking a look around when you have interactions with people.

And when you leave that conversation that day hanging out, maybe it’s a play date you have with somebody, because maybe your kids get along fabulously but as adults when you leave, if you just feel like I was just handed a bunch of backhanded compliments or, they might not even actually be, you know, mean to you.

But they’re just so miserable or unhappy and not in a place that you know somebody has a bad day. Of course you need to vent. You need to get things off. Sometimes that lifestyle was really flipping hard. You absolutely have to have those bodies that you do that with, but it just can’t all be one cited.

It can’t be so emotionally draining when you leave and you no longer have the energy to do what you need to do to get through your day.

That is somebody taking your power. So I really urge you to think about those three things. Do you have a spouse of PTSD? And do you notice any of those things that I mentioned? Military culture? Are you aware of somebody letting little comments out that you may allow to penetrate you and bring you down?

And family dynamics, family members, friends, faux friends be aware of that and realize that we are on a healing journey and the learning journey, and that the two of those together are going to give you your most powerful self.

So thank you for joining me today. I would love to know what resonated most with you. Share with me in the comment section.


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