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Healing Your Marriage After Brain Injury

Comments [17]

Jeff Kreutzer and Emilie Godwin, Virginia Commonwealth University

Healing Your Marriage After Brain Injury
Multimedia

Couples often report big changes in their marriage after injury. Professionals who work with them often find that people face common challenges in rebuilding their lives and relationships as they try to find a new normal. By understanding common post-injury challenges and learning to use effective coping strategies, you can improve your marriage and build a healthy, satisfying relationship.

The following three stories illustrate some of the typical situations couples face after brain injury:

Stephen and Jenna

Stephen and Jenna had just two months to go until their dream wedding when their lives were changed forever. Driving home after choosing their wedding cake, a tractor trailer crashed into their car. While Jenna suffered minor physical injuries, Stephen sustained a severe TBI. Now, one year post-injury, the couple is married, but life is not the fairy tale they had hoped for before the crash.

Jenna: Before the injury, we planned everything together, but now I have to do it all. When I try to talk to him about important things — the bills, our future — he gets irritated with me. I don’t know how to talk to him anymore and I don’t know how long this marriage will last.

Stephen: Jenna and I used to be partners; now it’s her show. She doesn’t trust me to make any decisions. She acts like I’m a bother if I need her to repeat or explain something. I feel worthless in our marriage. In her eyes, I can’t do anything right.

* * *

Lamont and Deandria

Lamont and Deandria had come to a conclusion that their marriagewasn’t working. They had begun to live theirlives separately, maintaining different homeswhile sharing responsibility for their threechildren. Then, Deandria fell off of a ladderand sustained a mild TBI. Although she wasonly briefly hospitalized, it soon became clear that she could not return to her same job orcare for the children on her own. The coupledecided to move back in together and rebuildtheir marriage.

Deandria: I was happy to be on my own, working onmy career and taking care of our kids. Noweverything I thought I wanted is different. Ican’t make him understand that there arethings I just can’t do, no matter how much Iwant to. My focus is on getting better and allLamont talks about is how I used to be. Whycan’t he understand that my priorities aredifferent now?

Lamont: Sometimes I feel so guilty. We both wantedout, but now she needs me and I don’t havethat choice anymore. Plus, she’s not thewoman I married. She used to love beinga mom and helping others in her job. Nowall she thinks about is herself. The kids andI know that she’s hurt, but it’s like that isall that matters to her. If we’re going to betogether again, I need a partner. I want mywife back.

* * *

Sarah and Carlos

Sarah and Carlos had been happily married for 18 years. Carlos worked in a job he loved and Sarah stayed home with their four children. After Carlos suffered a stroke, the couple spent the first six months just focusing on his rehab. However, two years later, their lives are not back to normal. With Carlos unable to return to work, Sarah has taken a part-time job while Carlos stays home with the children. The family now has one-fourth of their former income and everyone is struggling to make sense of this new life.

Sarah: He’s just angry all the time now and I don’tknow what to expect when I walk in the door.I don’t want this life either, but somehow itseems to be all my fault. I can’t stand to bearound him for more than a few minutesand the kids are scared of him all of the time.

Carlos: I loved being able to provide for my family. Now, I feel like I’m nobody. Sarah rubs it in my face that she’s the one working and when I try to work around the home it seems like I never do anything the way she thinks it should be done. I still love her so much, but I’m pretty sure she will leave me soon. She goes out at least two nights a week and says it’s with her new co-workers, but I know better than that.

* * *

The “Healthy Marriage” Quiz

To help you understand more about your marriage, read the statements in each section below and circle True or False.

1. Communication Challenges:

My spouse has no idea how I am feeling.

  • True
  • False

Talking about our problems only makes things worse.

  • True
  • False

We are always arguing about something.

  • True
  • False

He/she doesn’t hear anything I say.

  • True
  • False

2. Changing Responsibilities:

I have to do everything myself.

  • True
  • False

We don’t know who should do what in our house anymore.

  • True
  • False

My spouse acts more like a child than our children.

  • True
  • False

I can’t trust my spouse to do things right.

  • True
  • False

3. Changing Priorities:

We’re so busy going to doctor’s appointments, who has time to work on a marriage?

  • True
  • False

We don’t have an intimate relationship anymore.

  • True
  • False

He/she used to care about our family, now I’m not so sure.

  • True
  • False

4. Emotional & Personality Changes:

My spouse gets upset at anything I say or do.

  • True
  • False

I’m married to a stranger.

  • True
  • False

I’m worried all the time about what he/she will do next?

  • True
  • False

Look at the pattern of Trues and Falses in each of the four categories. The more items you answered True, the more likely you are having trouble in that area.

Tips to Heal Your Marriage

Read, think about, and try the suggestions below to improve your marriage:

Communication:

  • Patiently listen to your partner and show a positive attitude. Are there parts of what he/she is saying that you can agree with?
  • When your partner makes a statement be cautious about disagreeing. Edit your thoughts to avoid saying only negative things that come to mind.
  • Be willing to compromise.

Changing Responsibilities:

  • To avoid misunderstandings, have an honest discussion and make a list of who is in charge of what.
  • Once the list is agreed upon, expect that your partner will attend to his/her jobs perhaps in a different way or in a different time frame than you would like. Even when you think something could be done differently, avoid being critical.
  • Always express real appreciation for the things that your spouse does, even small things. People who feel appreciated are more likely to contribute their time and energy to help each other.

A Change in Priorities:

  • Make a commitment to having a good relationship, something you did well when you first met one another. Plan times when you and your partner can enjoy something fun — a movie on television, a board game, a walk — and make this an activity that can’t be pushed aside for something else.
  • Focus on the positives in your new life. Couples that are happiest make five positive statements about their relationship or their partner for every one negative statement. So, even if you are having a bad day, make sure to point out one or two good things about your spouse or your relationship and say them — out loud.

Emotional & Personality Changes:

  • Look for opportunities to laugh with your spouse. Sometimes at first laughter can feel forced. The more you try to have a good time with your partner, the more natural having fun together will feel. Couples who laugh together are lots happier.
  • When your spouse does something you don’t expect, see if there is a different way to look at it. Rather than feeling embarrassed, hurt, or angry, see if you can find a reason to smile.
  • It is o.k. to expect and demand that your partner treats you with respect. Please do not tolerate hurtful behavior, even if it seems to make things easier for a short time. If your spouse says something or does something hurtful, calmly state “I will not allow you to treat me this way” and then leave the situation.
  • Remember, brain injury or not, many couples do not agree on everything.

Remaining married and happy is a challenge for many couples with or without brain injury. Whatever your situation, you can have a positive and healthy relationship by understanding the challenges in your marriage and making a commitment to treat your partner well. If your problems seem more difficult than you can handle, seek help from a local marriage counselor who knows about brain injury.

This article was written by the staff of the Virginia Commonwealth Traumatic Brain Injury Model System. For more information about our programs (www.nrc.pmr.vcu.edu) and conferences (www.tbiconferences.org), please vist our websites or email Jenny Marwitz at  jhmarwit@vcu.edu. Article used with permission.

Comments [17]

My big strong husband, top of his career, we had a wonderful loving marriage.  Age 54 he had a hemmoraghic stroke.  We lost him several times and each time I prayed to the Virgin Mary that I would love and take care of him the rest of our lives if he would only be spared.  Every time the Doctors wanted to unplug him, I begged to let him live.  I slept in his room for several months in the hospital.  I have driven over a 100 miles a day to therapsts and doctors for 2 years, and now just once a week.  I will do everything in the world for this man.  How do I cope with the loss of my best friend, my husband.  How do I cope with this child like, control freak who gets into more trouble than I could ever tell anyone.  He cannot be trusted alone or to complete a task.  There is no family locally to help.  Maybe some one has an idea.

Jun 13th, 2014 12:25am

Six years ago I caught my husband cheating online. We were trying to work through it but I could never feel the same as before and then he had multiple strokes 2 years ago. Now, mentally he is like a child. He gets frustrated easily, often can't remember things and has inappropriate outbursts where he curses. He is a grouch most of the time and I am simply miserable after 25 years of marriage. I can barely stand being around him but feel compelled to stay. I'm 51 and he is 57. I cannot imagine living this way for another 10, 15, or 20 years. Hope God cuts my life short because this is not living.

Jun 6th, 2014 10:29am

I just don't know if i can do it. Been married 37 years. So painful. Have 6 adult children. Would not want to hurt them, but I am so, so tired,and so so very sad. Nobody knows, and no one can help. There is no answer. I try to be strong and positive but inside I am dying. I grieve the loss of the love of my life. He is not the same person.

May 31st, 2014 8:44pm

I can identify with many of the comments made here.  My husband had a lacunar stroke in 2011.  It left him with dementia and the inability to communicate.  His communication is better now but not back where it was.  He has trouble understanding some things and will say I don't know or because I did.  We went through a rough fall and winter and found out that three of the medications he was on was actually causing him to become feeble and have behavioral problems.  Once we removed those he has made great strides in his improvement.  However, with that said I can identify with having the responsibility of taking care of everything and the loneliness of not have an intimate partner to share my feelings with. Like many of you have said he is withdrawn and does not really know how to express his feelings.  The one thing that makes it better for me than most of you is that we have been married 44 years soon to be 45 in October.  I am not as young as many of you so some of this is not as important but still causes many nights of loneliness.  It is hard to see the man I married so many years ago but I can still love the silly man that God left here with me.  I cannot imagine being here without him.  I pray that some day soon you will fill the same way about your loved one.  Hang in there, I know it is tough but what does not kill you will make you stronger in the in. And for those of you with small children they can learn so much from your undying devotion to their mom or dad.  My children say all the time to people I hope that I can be like my mom if something happens to my spouse.  They all live out of state so I know how it feels to be alone in all of this.  Take help where you can get it.  There are several friends at church that connect with him and I have a younger brother that is a big help.  He is like a child in so many ways and, I am constantly trying to keep up with new ways to keep him safe and healthy.  It is something new every day and I still work full time.  I am working on a Masters degree so I can try to find work to do from home.  Maybe teach information technology some day.  I am halfway through.  God bless each of you and I am like someone said I would love to be able to get in a room with all of you so we could talk and maybe even cry together.  By the way sometimes crying and calling out to God in despair can relieve the soul in ways that nothing else can.  If I may suggest the song, "It's in the Savior's Hands" by Squire Parsons says it all for me and my husband's situation.  God Bless Everyone

May 6th, 2014 10:52am

My husband was deployed in 2010, three weeks before they were to come home he went on a special mission. He was the gunner in the lead truck, a humvee, there was a VBIED (suicide bomber) that was targeting the truck behind his in the convoy. The insurgent blew up early, right next to my husband about 8 to 10 feet from his left side with approx. 400 lbs of explosives. My husband was knocked unconscious and when he came to he thought he had lost his left eye and told me he had to accept this fact before he left the truck. He looks fine to others, he is not the same man I married 17 years ago, but he is in constant pain. He is irritable, he blacked out this past winter and scared me, he is now having nose bleeds at night. He will wake up with blood on his pillow, or in the middle of the day he will have them. They are random and unexpected. He started distancing himself when he came back because he was stationed at Fort Drum and I did not see him on a regular basis. This interfered in our life and I spoke to him about it, he has been working on it and so have I for the past two years. The first year he was back, I was advised to "give him space" but that was for regular returning soldiers, NOT someone with TBI. We are working on this marriage every day. It is getting better, he is getting better about the little things, and quite frankly I am getting better at communicating to him how I feel but in a way that helps us continue healing.  

May 6th, 2014 8:31am

My husband was injured 1 year ago February 1st. Every day is a struggle it seems we have moved past the physical portion and now I am left with the lack of emotions and caring. Some days it seems like he gets it and others it is like we never had a discussion. His short term memory is pretty shot and it makes it hard at times. He is very irritable and just has a hard time showing he cares. It makes it so hard mourning the loss of your old life and the man you married. I try to find those parts of him in the man I am married to now but every day is a struggle. Before the injury we were talking about having another baby and now he does not want one and is stern about it. I really don't have anyone to talk about it because our family and friends are split on their way of thinking. I have two groups those who are pissed because his behavior led to the accident or those who are just so over joyed by he lived through that they see nothing is wrong.

Apr 8th, 2014 9:02am

My husband fell 25 feet from a scaffold at work in 2012 (without a hard hat) & was in the hospital for a month.  Amongst back injury & other things he suffered from TBI.  Just last week he blacked out & fell face first to the ground, hitting the top of his head on a tree.  The doctor said it wouldn't effect his TBI but I beg to differ.  I feel like we have gone back in time.  I see a lot of the symptoms from when he fell in 2012.  It saddens me but one thing I can say is my hubby is a trooper & God is our provider---so I am hopeful & will try my best to remain positive through it all!

Feb 28th, 2014 2:14am

i know where you are all coming from and glad found this site.

Im 32 years of age and have a 14 year old Daughter. I was involved in a Hit and run Car accident back in 2011 i suffered a TBI to my head. I was hospitalised or 6-9 weeks and though i was gona die. I was released from car and went 30ft into a tree head on so blessed to be still here ... As i know lots of individuals would of died instantly ...

i had to have 98 stitches and 122 staples to repair the damage caused to my head.

had to stay strong and let the hospital repair me dont get me wrong it been hard for family members where my ex use to call me names on a daily basis because of the way i looked after the acident.

Did not care what he said to me but could of easily made me want to put an end to everything but couldnt do it because of daughter.. Had to bear the pain and come out of this as a better person. 

was hard at first coming out of coma and remebring family faces etc. i got through it hosital done damage that could not be fixed in the process of 11 operations.

really wish this never happened to me but it has and can not turn the lock back i take everything one day at a time...and bless god he saved me. It has changed me i know that as a person and don't think i will ever be the same. After the accident.  

When you go through a TBI the only people that you need is for your family and the ones that loved you before the TBI should be the same but seems they have given up all faith because of damage done. this is ashame for some people as the only thing that is required deeply from a person with TBI is love Its hard enough to cope with the TBI than with people against you and the ones that meant to really love you this hurts even more.

The best thing i done was get rid of my partner and for good.

I have tried to overcome the TBI but will always be with me till i die.

Been nice reading some of your posts and stay strong for those that recently suffered TBI.

Jan 1st, 2014 6:13pm

24 years ago, my husband of 2 1/2 years had near electrocution from high voltage/amps, and sustained a TBI. 2 years after that, he was a victim in a bad auto accident, which made TBI even worse. We have 4 sons, the youngest, twins, were 6 mo old with first injury. As soon as sons were in school, I went to work, and we reversed roles. Only thing is he was not capable of doing much, so I ended up trying to do it all. Husband has terrible anger issues, doesn't respect me, resents me, agitates easily, lies, depressed, etc. He has nothing positive or good to say to me or about me. Can't appreciate what I have done or what I do now. I worked so hard, and long hours, to support my family that now I am disabled. I have given my all to my husband and children. 2 of our 4 sons treat me horribly. None of our sons have girlfriends. 3 live out of town, other 1 wants nothing to do with us. I fear none will be happily married, as they haven't seen how to treat a female well and appreciate her. 8 mo. ago, when 3 sons were here visiting, in anger he told me he wished I'd fxxx off and die. He has no friends. I made my family such a priority that I have few friends. I feel I have failed miserably and he wishes he had never survived. Hope? He went to a psychologist for 18 years. She wasn't worth her salt, but I'm not so sure she knew anything about brain injuries. Recently tried to find someone who knows about or works with TBI. Don't take workers' comp or medicare.

Oct 8th, 2013 10:17am

I feel your pain. My husband has a brain injury from a virus that attacked his brain. It been six years and a year ago we found out that all that damaged brain tissue is turning to fluid. Its progressive and one day it will kill him or the least wipe out all together who my husband is. To this day I cannot communicate with him. His perception of reality is false. He gets angry easily and his recall is wrong. I don't know what to do or how to help. I fear that soon he will see me as the threat because what I say doesn't match what he feels and thinks. My children and I are so tired and we have nothing to hold onto because it changes daily.

Sep 29th, 2013 2:48am

It's all so familiar. My husband of 25 years is not the man I spent the first 22 years with and I feel so alone. I don't know how to communicate with him and he reacts differently and I have no trust where he is concerned. I am trying to get him to go to therapy with me, but he refuses. I wish I could get in a room with all of you and talk about this. I don't know anyone else who understands.

Jul 7th, 2013 9:20pm

I have been married 14 years & my husbands accident happened a year ago. He wants nothing more than to leave me & my kids but he cant take care of himself. The insurance just stopped paying. He was my best friend before. Now he says I am only his caregiver, & is trying to move into a TBI appt. I still love the person I married but this new person wants nothing to do with me. He resents me and has said so many mean hurtful things that I dont know how much longer to even try getting him to stay when he clearly just wants to take off. He stays in his room and will not help with anything. I still cry every day. I keep hoping someone will have a new idea to try.

Jun 7th, 2013 6:17am

Just reading the comments by someone in the world who understands the same agony impossible to sort through is helpful. My husband of 27 years was injured 7 years ago in a serious motor cycle accident and suffered a severe TBI. Every day is a struggle to scratch out some quality of life. I still can not accept the loss of the life we enjoyed. We just keep trying to get through a better day. My husband is angry, impatient, diappointed, frustrated, depressed but trys to be less angry and more tolerant every day. I still feel like we have so much to be thankful for but I will always be sorry that the person I loved so much is hurt so badly.

Apr 29th, 2013 8:59pm

We had a lovely marriagee of 16 years when my husband met this accident. Its been an year and he is still not well. He seems to have lost capability to love , specially towards me. I am trying to make this marriage work . lets see what future unfolds.

Sep 11th, 2012 5:11am

My husband, 27, has brain cancer (since 2006) and the recent tumor and surgeries have left him both different and unable to communicate on a meaningful/higher thinking level. I wish we could talk about things the way we used to and laugh. I try talking to him about my feelings and our marriage or the cancer, but he doesn\'t really seem to understand. He has lost all independence and his family and I have created a daily care schedule. The worst part is that he was never able to bond with our son--an affect of the tumor which grew right when our son was born. Our son is now 9 months old and my husband\'s judgement is impaired, as he tries to give him things he could choke on and runs little experiments which are dangerous. I now live with my mom because we are so worried that my husband will accidentally harm the baby. I miss my husband as he was before--he was my best friend in the world and we were so happy. I hope things will be looking up because the loneliness truly is unbearable. In going through all this, the only person I desperately need to talk to, can\'t talk to me. I\'m all alone. I don\'t know how to heal a marriage where there is no marriage left. But at least I\'m trying.

Feb 13th, 2012 1:05am

My spouse had a TBI as a child. The older he gets, the less he listens to reason or is able to negotiate or compromise. How do I get past the "stuck"? Where can I look for assistance? Am I alone in this?

Jan 10th, 2012 3:35pm

my husband joe has tbi/stroke is paralyzed on the right side and is in a wheelchair..his short term memory is virtually gone..his accident happened in 2005..now i have the responsiblity of doing everything..from household repairs, bills to be paid..and everything else in between..the lonliness is almost unbearable..we have been married for 36 years..even though he isnt the man i married ..i cant imagine having him not in my life..i miss him very much..our supposed friends have left us..but he is my joy, and my life..because i know if things were opposite he would be there for me

Jan 10th, 2012 2:50pm


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