A traumatic brain injury (TBI) can lead to intense physical, mental, and emotional trauma. Recuperation from a TBI – if full recuperation is even possible – is often a slow and arduous process for the sufferer. A TBI patient’s significant other will no doubt feel the sting of this life-altering injury too, whether the TBI came from an auto accident, sports injury, fall, or otherwise.
Here are just some of the ways your relationship could change after you or your partner suffers a traumatic brain injury:
1. New relationship roles.
While your relationship was ideally you and your partner as friends, lovers, and supporters of each other, after a TBI the weight in a relationship is no longer evenly distributed. One of you needs much more care than the other, and the default caregiver often becomes the healthier spouse who is suddenly faced with roles of nurse and even parent, doing jobs like bathing their partner, feeding him, dressing him, and helping him get around.
2. Changes in responsibilities.
If the breadwinner of the household is suddenly unable to work because of a TBI, the financial burden falls to the other spouse, particularly if worker’s compensation is meager, unemployment benefits run out, or their job is not as high-paying. The TBI sufferer can feel anger and frustration at being unable to provide, and the caregiver can feel stress attempting to maintain their family’s typical lifestyle while taking on caregiver responsibilities at the same time, as well as caring for the children solo, managing bills, yardwork, grocery shopping, cleaning, and so much more. Resentment at handling the bulk of everything can settle in quickly.
3. Difficulty communicating.
Some TBIs leave one partner unable to communicate as before, whether their speech has been impacted or whether their memory has taken a toll. They may find themselves grasping for words and unable to communicate the thoughts that once easily found their voice. Having a meaningful conversation with your spouse, reminiscing about the past, or planning for the future could all be difficult – which can be stunting to the relationship.
4. Personality shifts.
Brain injury survivors often discover that they have new personality traits after their injury – these can be positive and, more often than not, they can be negative. But their partner can quickly realize that the person they once loved is no longer the same. Dark mood shifts are a common side effect of a TBI and this can lead a person to behave and even feel differently in their relationship, leaving the healthier spouse feeling like they’re married to a stranger.
5. New relationship with the kids.
A TBI can alter a person so dramatically that they may seem unrecognizable to the people who love them most. A parent who was once loving and demonstrative with their love may suddenly be listless, angry, or distracted, leaving a child – especially small children – confused and heartbroken. This new dynamic can permanently change the relationship a child has with their parent, even if he or she recovers fully from the TBI, and their partner can feel burdened by what their children are experiencing.
6. Lack of intimacy.
Physical intimacy can take a hit after a TBI, not only because the physical aspect of intimacy can be compromised by the TBI as well as other injuries. Hormone levels could be affected. The TBI sufferer’s self-confidence in their appearance or attractiveness can be compromised. Significant changes in your typical sexual relationship, combined with the uncertainty of recovery, can affect intimacy. The exhaustion that the caregiver can experience with their new responsibilities, and the discomfort or fatigue the TBI sufferer can feel also compounds the problem.
Making a point to focus on the positives that remain in the relationship rather than focusing on the negatives can help a couple through the challenges that inevitably arise after a traumatic brain injury.
About: David Christensen is a personal injury attorney and brain injury expert at Christensen Law in Southfield, Michigan. The team at Christensen Law helps brain injury victims obtain the benefits they need for long term care after a TBI.