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Traumatic Brain Injury - Couples/Relationships

Robert Karns

Following traumatic brain injury, it is not uncommon for couples to have their relationship strained and changed dramatically because of the injury. The traumatic brain injury victim undergoes many significant changes including cognitive, emotionally, and physically. In addition, the significant other is affected by these changes in the victim.

The traumatic brain injury changes a couple's relationship in the following areas:

  • Responsibility
  • Relationship roles
  • Communication

Responsibilities - The injured victim concentrates on getting better and therefore gives up many responsibilities in the home including household chores, and often times work. The partner of the injured victim must take on many new responsibilities previously handled by the victim. This can include yard work and home maintenance, household chores, planning and organizing activities for the family and sometimes work. The change in responsibilities causes tremendous stress between the partners.

Relationship roles - The partners will also realize changes in the roles within the family. Although partners take on different roles as relationships continue over the course of a lifetime, the relationship roles that change because of the traumatic brain injury occur instantly and without preparation and may become permanent. The uninjured partner will take on more leadership roles in the relationship and within the family which will mean drastic changes.

Communication - Communication is the foundation of a relationship. This includes not only words but gestures, facial expressions, emotional reactions and all physical interactions including intimacy. Changes in responsibilities and role relationships can cause both partners to feel overwhelmed which will greatly affect communication between them.  This can develop in both partners feeling alone and isolated resulting in a lack of understanding between the parties.

Tips on improving:

  • Responsibilities - Be understanding about each partners responsibilities and changes. Say thank you to each other and make a commitment to thank your partner at least once a day for these changes. Schedule opportunities to take breaks from responsibilities and schedule actual times for the partners in the relationship to be together.
  • Relationships - Each partner has to be sensitive to the feelings of the other. Each partner can mentor and consult with the other and discuss the best way to handle any issue. Couples can not criticize the partner that takes over new roles in the relationship. The uninjured partner must be careful to learn about the effects of the brain injury.
  • Communication - Both partners to the relationship have to make a commitment to improve communication. They must listen patiently to each other. Remember that the injured partner needs more time to think about what the uninjured partner is saying.  In terms of physical intimacy and sexual relationships, if it is physical a physician can be consulted, if it is emotional then a therapist can be consulted.

There are support groups in each state sponsored by the state brain injury association that can help both partners in the relationship.

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