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How TBI affects couples' relationships

A traumatic brain injury not only changes your loved one, it also changes your relationship as a couple.

When your partner suffers a traumatic brain injury (TBI), changes to your relationship are likely. Both of you can experience a range of emotions as you adapt to new expectations in your relationship, but you can weather the changes. TBIs can occur without warning, and the path to recovery isn’t always clear, which can add strain to your romantic relationship.

Shifting roles and changing emotions

An uninjured partner is likely to shift into a caregiving role after a TBI. This can be fulfilling and frustrating for both of you. It’s likely neither of you expected one would have to intensely depend on the other as sometimes happens after a TBI. However, it’s also an opportunity to show commitment and gratitude towards each other on a regular basis.

Still, these new roles can leave you both feeling isolated at times. So it’s important to maintain support outside of your relationship. Caregivers need a break to take care of themselves every so often. Encouragement from other family members and friends can help as you recover from your loved one’s TBI together. You both can’t make it through this process alone or by only depending on each other. Reap the benefits of getting comfortable asking others for help because it could bring some relief.

You might feel a sense of loss or grief about your couple relationship, which can be similar to the grief felt after the death of a loved one. You also might grieve future plans that now have to be canceled or adjusted. And you might mourn for the couple you once were. Your view of future goals and dreams probably needs to be modified or abandoned, and that’s hard. These feelings are normal, and talking about them with your partner, other trusted confidants, or a professional therapist can help.

The “new” us

After a TBI, work towards establishing a new understanding of what it means to be a couple in your current circumstances. Strive to answer, “Who are we now?” together. Build new rituals as a team, find novel ways to manage frustrations, and redistribute responsibilities at home. Your TBI survivor might not be able to handle detailed, more tedious jobs such as paying bills or balancing your family budget. Get creative about how you can reassign roles, so you’re both still involved and feel engaged in your partnership.

Learn more

Lastly, educate yourselves about what recovery after a TBI looks like. Understanding the typical changes in behavior, mood, and personality of someone who has experienced a TBI can help. Reach out to the DCoE Outreach Center with your TBI questions. It’s still possible to build strong family and relationship ties after a TBI, but it just might look different than you initially planned.

Posted 15 May 2017