My husband found this website today, and he is very excited. He has had night terrors for most of his life, and is happy (you know what I mean) to see that others have similar experiences.
I don't have night terrors. I very very rarely even have nightmares. But I wanted to speak about what it's like for me as a wife to a night terror sufferer.
I am fortunate that my husband is almost never violent. However, for those rare occasions, I recommend highly that you do not keep anything that could be used as a weapon near the bed. Our bedside lamp is on my half of the bed. I also recommend a large bed. My husband is very tall, so we had one anyway, but I think this would help avoid a lot of unintentional touching. If your significant other scares you or grabs you fairly regularly, I also recommend getting martial arts training. It's always good to know, and can help you control a situation that may otherwise get out of hand. I recommend hapkido or judo, or any style that teaches joint manipulation, pressure point fighting, and grappling.
With that out of the way, I want to talk about what to do when your SO is having a night terror. The first thing is - learn your SO's symptoms! If you spend enough time together in the bed, you will start to learn what symptoms they show. These are not always big symptoms - it can be something as small as a change in breathing. This is particularly true when the terrors are accompanied by paralysis. Symptoms my husband has are whimpering, jerking or thrashing, and significant changes in breathing. Don't be afraid to wake up your SO if you think they are having a terror!!! They will thank you. They will thank you even if you were wrong, because it's a lot easier to go back to sleep than to wake up from a terror. My husband has often asked me what he was doing when I realized he needed waking, so that he could try and do whatever it was again next time. I also have found that if I'm not sure, making small noises can be enough to soothe him if it's not a bad one. I have a sort of purring "mmm" noise I make when we cuddle that I find works well when it seems like things are just starting to go south for him. I also prefer to remind him "hey, that's the wife" before touching him.
When waking up someone having a night terror, make sure to keep talking. "Wake up, you're dreaming, you're having a nightmare, it's okay," are all good things to say. Keep saying them until you're sure your SO is awake. Never shake someone by the chest to wake them. If you are really worried about a violent reaction, stand on the floor or kneel on the bed by their feet and shake them there. Then even if they react violently you should have time to get out of the way. If you are comfortable with your SO's waking reactions, shake them gently by the arm or shoulder, or rub them on the arm or shoulder. Use soft hands - never grab someone in a way that might make them transfer their dream to you. Always talk or make sounds so they can identify you.
Once they are awake, proceed to cuddle, hug, and comfort your SO until you fall back asleep. If your SO needs to get up and have a dose of the real world, let them. Don't feel like you absolutely have to get up too - you need sleep, and your SO should understand this. But if you want to get up, and your SO needs space, respect that too. It can take awhile for reality to sink back in. Respect your SO's coping mechanisms.
There will come times when you wake up, and are pretty sure that your SO is having a terror, and you will feel annoyed, maybe even angry because you are tired of this. It's ok. it doesn't make you a bad person. But a relationship is work - it's just not always work the way you think it will be. Wake them up anyway. I always remind myself that if he can go through them (and he tells me about them, and they can be really awful!), the least I can do is wake him up! The worst I get is a little lost sleep - he has dead babies and worse in his head.
If your SO needs to talk afterwards, let them. Don't feel bad if you fall back asleep before they are done - your SO should be as understanding about that as you are about the night terrors. If you truly can't stand to hear about it and your SO has problems getting back to sleep, I would suggest your SO keep a dream journal. I myself find that getting the stuff out of your head (verbally or on paper) helps distance it.
Above all things, be supportive! Let your SO know you love them, and you don't think they are a freak or that they must have a guilty conscience or that they are insane. While you might wish your SO did not have night terrors, trust me, your SO wishes it even more. If you both can be willing to take the bad with the good, you can get through a lot together.
Have hope. There will hopefully come a day for you when, like me, you don't even have to wake up all the way to wake up your SO. You reach over, half asleep, and shake them, mumbling something incoherent but soothing, and drop back off the moment they are awake. Eventually the human body can adapt to almost anything.