What Is Post Traumatic Relationship Syndrome?

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Also called relationship PTSD, post traumatic relationship syndrome (with the acronym PTRS) is the occurrence of being impacted by the trauma of a relationship. It differs from standard PTSD in that avoidant coping is less common, and it's more common to cope through emotions. That means that it's more likely for a person to deal directly with their emotions from PTRS, versus try to ignore or suppress them with PTSD.

While it typically occurs because of an abusive relationship, any relationship that involves abuse at any time can cause PTRS; the abuse does not need to have happened through the duration of the relationship.

For example, a breakup in which a partner who has not previously behaved harmfully but acts during the breakup in a manner that is emotionally, verbally, sexually, or physically abusive, can cause PTRS. Though it is not a formal mental health diagnosis, research on the subject identifies it as a real disorder.

It's important to note that people sometimes joke about a relationship having given them PTSD. Though some relationships or partners may be toxic or unhealthy, PTRS refers to a relationship in which abuse occurred. It's not a joking matter, and joking about an unpleasant breakup or bad relationship may be harmful to those with actual PTRS.

PTRS vs PTSD: Understanding the Difference

Considered a subset of PTSD, PTRS has some fundamental similarities with PTSD. Mostly, it is the fact that a traumatic event has left you in a state of anxiety or upset.

Traumatic events naturally take time to process and move on from, and there are symptoms that occur for many people during the healing process, from intrusive thoughts to bad moods. In that respect, the two disorders are similar. However, there is one key difference between the two:

  • People with PTSD tend to use avoidance strategies to cope. That means they stay away from thoughts, feelings, and situations that remind them of the event they are traumatized by.
  • On the other hand, studies have not found that to be the case for PTRS. People with PTRS are more likely to confront the source of their trauma and deal with it, versus avoiding new relationships.

The History of PTRS

Though post traumatic stress disorder is a formal diagnosis, post traumatic relationship syndrome is not. It's considered by experts to be a very specific version of PTSD, and it has been studied for about twenty years now. When a person presents with PTRS, they are generally diagnosed by a mental health professional with PTSD, because that is the more formal diagnosis.

Mental health professionals believe that the cause of PTRS is an abusive relationship, and the abuse can have occurred at any one point in the relationship or breakup, or throughout all of it, for PTRS to occur.

A person may realize they have PTRS after their breakup, when they find themselves unable to "get over" the relationship, or have a hard time forging new romantic connections, or experience symptoms that seem like PTSD.

The word "post" in PTRS denotes that this is an experience, or disorder, that a person has after a relationship is over. If a person is experiencing PTSD symptoms while they're still in a relationship, at that time it would likely be considered PTSD.

Symptoms of Post Traumatic Relationship Syndrome

Many of the symptoms of PTRS are the same as those of PTSD, especially if a person has PTSD because of a traumatic event such as sexual assault. The main difference is the coping mechanisms that are usually used by a person, so it's normal for someone to seem like they have PTSD, as it presents similarly. These are some of the most common PTRS symptoms.

  • Sexual disfunction or lower libido
  • Insomnia
  • Blaming yourself for the abuse
  • Feeling generally unsafe
  • Anxiety and/or panic attacks
  • Feeling on edge or irritable
  • Distrust of other people
  • Sadness or depression
  • Flashbacks to traumatic events in the relationship
  • Uncontrollable anger towards the abuser
  • Fear of future abuse

How to Get Help for PTRS

As with any mental health issue, there is help available for PTRS. To deal with this problem, you can either try to work on your emotional state yourself, or utilize a therapist.


Though any type of therapy can be helpful for a person who has gone through a traumatic relationship, the best choice you can make in looking for help to recover from PTRS is to work with someone who understands trauma and relationships. This means that a trauma therapist is a good choice, especially if they also specialize in relationships.

If you can't find a trauma informed therapist, you can work with a relationship therapist. They should also be able to help you employ strategies to move past the trauma of your relationship, though they may not have as strong an understanding about the symptoms you're experiencing.

Emotion-Focused Coping

The key difference between PTSD and PTRS is that people with PTRS don't display the symptom of avoidance as a coping mechanism like those with PTSD do. Instead, they usually deal with the disorder by using emotion-focused coping strategies. Because of that, it makes the most sense to learn about and practice those.

Emotion-focused coping strategies can eliminate stress and help you feel better by lowering your emotional response to your stressors—in this case, thoughts, feelings, and reminders of a traumatic relationship. These are some strategies to help you recover from PTRS:

  • Journaling
  • Mindfulness and meditation
  • Cognitive Reframing
  • Forgiveness
  • Positive thinking
  • Sharing with others
  • Radical acceptance

Moving on

If you're in the throes of PTRS, it may seem impossible to believe that you'll ever have a healthy relationship again. Fortunately, that isn't the case at all! By dealing with your trauma, you will be better able to move on from it.

There is no specific timeline for recovery from this problem; it may be something you can easily move past, or you may have to work on it for a long time. Recovering from trauma is challenging, but it is necessary in order to have a healthy life afterward. The work may be tough, but it's worthwhile, and it will set you up to be in more positive and healthy relationships in the future.

If you are currently in an abusive relationship, help is available for you. One option is to contact the Domestic Violence Support Line, where you can communicate with an advocate via call, live chat, or text. They will help you talk through your current situation, and can work with you on creating a plan to get you out of it.

3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Vandervoort D, Rokach A. Posttraumatic relationship syndrome: a case illustration. Clinical Case Studies. 2006 Jun;5(3):231–47. doi:10.1177/1534650104264934

  3. Amnie AG. Emerging themes in coping with lifetime stress and implication for stress management educationSAGE Open Med. 2018;6:2050312118782545. doi:10.1177/2050312118782545

By Ariane Resnick, CNC
Ariane Resnick, CNC is a mental health writer, certified nutritionist, and wellness author who advocates for accessibility and inclusivity.