Sleeping With the Enemy. {A Story of PTSD}

It’s late and I’m angry.  We’ve argued and it’s stupid and he’s been unfair and I’ve cried and I’m sure he’s wrong.  I roll away, face the wall, unwilling to acknowledge there’s a body on the other side of the bed; determine to spend the whole night without touching him.

I covet the touch of his skin. 

But I box that away.  Because I’m too mad and too frustrated and touch would insinuate reconciliation and I have no intentions of that until morning.  I will ignore him until I’ve slept off my indignation.

I lay there, steaming, stubborn when the jerking begins, small and rhythmic.  I wait, listen.  Maybe it will pass quickly, on its on.  It doesn’t.  The tiny seizings continue like little haunted hiccups, and it’s so much easier to have compassion on him now, now that he’s not fighting me, but an enemy far in the past, thousands of miles away.

I reach back with one arm, still unwilling to commit to intimacy but equally unwilling to leave him in his unconscious war.  Gently, I stroke his spine, oh so carefully, until I feel the small start, hear the faint intake of air that means he’s aware again, that’s he’s free from the demons of his past.

And then I face the wall again, still just hurt enough to resist embracing him, still just sure enough I was right.

But mere seconds pass before he’s there again, in the war.  And I don’t know what tortures him tonight, if it’s the bullet whizzing past his ear or cleaning the remains of the children off of vehicles, but he is there and he’s stuck and my heart aches for him.

So I roll over.  Even though he won’t remember this tomorrow.  Even though he’s still wrong.  Even though I’m still hurt.  And I start the oh-too-familiar ritual of timidly rubbing the nightmare out of his back.  I’m slow, calculated, careful not to wake him too suddenly.

I rub long past the gasp that means he’s escaped again.  I rub until I’m sure he’s found peace.  That he’s well past the edge of unconsciousness that haunts him, into a cycle that will afford him some rest.

Because mercy is easier when the enemy is wounded.  And not all wounds are visible in the light of day.

And because the books are right, love is not always a feeling.  Love is an action.

So I commit to it.  And settle in next to him.


image by pelt69


  1. Jess,
    I really identified with this post. Sometimes I am so upset with my husband, I can’t stand to even be in the same room with him, much less in the same bed (we have a 3 year old in between us, so not touching is easily done). But usually I start to think about the last decade we’ve gone through together, and if what I’m upset about is worth it. It never is. It’s easier to just let the fight go. And it’s a lot less painful than losing him. Kudos for doing the right thing. -Liz

  2. WONDERFULLY written. And wonderfully acted. I know exactly the feeling you describe – not the PTSD, but YOUR feelings, and it means a lot to see them laid out so clearly. Prayers for your family! :)

  3. I commented on Twitter, but I thought about this series of posts that I wrote a year or two ago. They are loosely based on Martin Lloyd Jone’s book “Spiritual Depression” and have the same theme.
    They do not address PTSD, but may be helpful.

  4. So beautifully written. This story drew me in from the start and I enjoyed the twists and turns (YOUR changing emotions) to the very end.
    Your best piece ever.

    OK….I’ve read this 3 more times and yep. Best.ever.

  5. Wow. This is just wonderfully and beautifully written. I read it multiple times and it’s just great. Love is an action.

  6. Very powerful. Thank you so much for sharing. Marriage is tough, can’t imagine being there with these struggles as well.

  7. Thank you for writing this. I have posted many a blog entry about the live that goes into committing yourself each day to someone with PTSD. They return home from fighting the “good” fight so broken. The juggling act of loving them through the pain, even while dealing with the everyday battles if marriage is not easily expressed, but you have done a beautiful job. So many times when I am angry at her, I grow angrier still that I can’t just stew like others in the middle of the night…because when the nightmares come it rips my heart out, and while the argument is not over, suddenly, we are forced to stand on the same side of the battle field and stare down an enemy she did not ask for. I cannot NOT love her in those moments. Love is a choice in any relationship. You wake up each day and choose to share your life with that person, through both the good and bad. It is that much.more valiant a decision when the one you live is broken, when the battles are that much more complex, and somehow watvhing tgeir struggles teaches us how to love them stronger-because when their lives are so difficult..when we have bore witness to what they have endured, it makes our decision to love them each day, our decision to love them tgrough the everyday struggles of.marriage seem relatively mall in comparison. Beautifully written. Thank you!

    • I’ve never really written about how ptsd has affected our family, so this was new territory for me. I’m glad that it touched others, as well.

  8. oh, this was breathtakingly beautiful. “mercy is easier when the enemy is wounded.” that summed it all up. and it changed my perspective–made me think that we’re all wounded in one way or another. reminded me to extend mercy a bit more easily, even though we don’t struggle with the same issues you have in your home.
    thank you for sharing.

  9. Wow!

  10. Thanks for this. Thank you for your honesty.

  11. So powerful, Jessica. Love the comment about mercy being easier when we recognize our enemy’s woundedness.

  12. Wow. Just wow. This spoke to me in a powerful way, probably because I too live with one badly wounded. Thank you for the reminder to show mercy.

  13. I had no idea your husband had PTSD from the war…yet another way I feel like I relate to you. My husband doesn’t deal with nightmares too often but has a lot of other issues. I loved your “night” post…going back and forth between the little one and the warrior. I almost let my son sleep in bed with my husband last night, but I worried because of the medication my husband is on…worried about what would happen if the son woke up the husband suddenly. They would both be terrified. Anyway, great posts…on both accounts!


  1. […] Jessica Bowman wrote a lovely piece about wars within (and outside of) marriage. […]

  2. […] But embracing one means turning my back on another. And so my partner is without comfort when the nightmare begins. I am torn. Still attached to the little one, I reach back with my free arm, feel around in the dark until I find the man’s spine.  Then I rub. Up. Down. I cradle one and massage the war out of the other. […]

  3. […] That feeling, it never really goes away.  Neither do the nightmares. […]