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Stars and Stripes Scene, Sunday, January 3, 2010

My boyfriend (a Marine) was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder in 2005 after his third tour in Iraq. We started dating after that, and everything was goingreally well. We saw each other every day.

A few months ago, I stayed at his house for two weeks (first extended time at one house). About a week and a half in, he went into one of his phases. This is the first phase I am experiencing.

He has some baggage from previous marriages. His first wife cheated and his second wanted a divorce because of the PTSD.

He’s not violent or anything, just shuts me out and doesn’t seem to want to spend time with me. I love him very much — though haven’t told him yet because of the PTSD; I don’t want to make things worse. I want to be with him and am willing to do what it takes. I’m not ready to give up on him.

Last night he said he would appreciate it more for me to be a friend and nothing more just for now, because he doesn’t want to hurt me. He started going to counseling but has only had two appointments and hasn’t had one in about a month because of training. Anyone have any advice about what I should do?

— C.R. (from the Spouse Calls blog)

You say you are willing to "do what it takes" because you want to be with this man. When you stayed with him for two weeks, you got a small taste of what life with him will be like. What it will take is a lot more days, weeks and months just like those — which now have you sending questions into the blogosphere, hoping for an answer that is better than what you already know is the truth.

Before you consider sharing your life with this man, please read the PTSD entries on the Spouse Calls blog thoroughly. Search online and find other similar blogs. On many of these you will see posts from women who have been living with and loving their husbands through PTSD for years, even decades.

Your boyfriend’s behavior is not just a "phase." It is a disorder, and living with it can be a heartbreaking uphill battle, and one that requires incredible self-sacrifice and strength on your part and his. If you have children, you will face another kind of battle as you do your best to shield them from effects of this disorder.

PTSD does not make your boyfriend a bad person, but it also does not make him a good candidate for marriage. I think you know this if you have realized that telling him you love him will "make things worse." That is not a symptom of a healthy relationship.

It’s interesting that you say he is not violent, he just shuts you out and doesn’t want to spend time with you. Is that really the kind of relationship you are looking for — one that is acceptable because he is not violent?

If he shuts you out now and says he only wants to be your friend, take him at his word. You say you love him, but be careful that you are not confusing compassion and a desire to help him with love.

You asked for advice, and this is mine: Take a giant step back and a good hard look at your life and his before you go any further in this relationship.

See the Spouse Calls blog for more information and links to sites regarding PTSD, as well as posts from spouses and loved ones about their experiences.

Terri Barnes is a military wife and mother of three. She lives and writes in Germany. Contact her at spousecalls@stripes.com and see the Spouse Calls blog at http://blogs.stripes.com/blogs/spousecalls

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