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The relationships needs of wounded soldiers and their partners

June 8th, 2008

Dr Petra

One of the neglected aspects of war is what happens to soldiers when they return from combat. What impact does active service have on intimate relationships – particularly where a soldier has been mentally or physically wounded?

For many years this issue has tended to be overlooked, or the focus has been on related problems of PTSD or drug/alcohol abuse mental health problems or homelessness in ex service personnel. Which means relationships frequently break down, domestic violence can be common, and many ex service men and women find it difficult to form satisfactory new relationships.

Fortunately there is now greater attention being paid to this issue. Regina Lynne over at Wired outlines a number of technological options currently available or in development for current and ex service personnel. These include online, telephone and face to face single and couples counselling, and new technologies to help disabled personnel.

Cory Silverberg also picks up on the recent conference on this issue (that Lynne also discusses). Cory has been writing about this issue for a while and the end of his blog contains a number of very useful links for current and ex service personnel – including advice about people’s sex lives post-combat.

Although these new developments are promising, the army historically has a poor record of tackling the needs of personnel post combat. There are also problems with relationships with personnel not necessarily facing active service – for example relationship problems in young soldiers, domestic violence and sexually transmitted infections. These also require attention, alongside support for those who need relationship help and support and sexual health advice post combat. Many service men and women and their spouses may not associate sex or relationships problems with previous or current combat, may be too embarrassed to ask for help, or perhaps have no idea if any support is available.

Within the UK there seems to be less of an effort to tackle this issue directly, although perhaps with a focus on the US there may be more of an emphasis on the needs of current and ex servicemen and women. Within the UK services available to current service men and women are varied and don’t seem to be as well developed as those currently being piloted/proposed by US practitioners. However, the good news for ex service personnel and their partners is if they have a sexual problem they feel is linked to past combat your GP can refer you for psychosexual therapy (in confidence). Or you can refer yourself via the British Association of Sex and Relationship Therapists (you will have to pay for this service, but most therapists offer a sliding scale of fees). If your relationship is in trouble Relate can help.

I’m sharing the information coming from the US with colleagues in the UK in the hope we can see some improvements in the lives of ex service men and women and their partners.

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