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How to Deal with a New, Angrier Version of a Beloved Husband and Father?

Comments [11]

Emilie Godwin, PhD, BrainLine

How to Deal with a New, Angrier Version of a Beloved Husband and Father?

What about the rages after a traumatic brain injury? What does a family do when the husband/father comes back from the war with this anger that is similar to “The Hulk”? How do they stay together? How do the children know it's not okay to “do what dad does” when they are feeling mad?

Anger is the fear in our home. The rages that last all day, the moods that make me out to be the one that has ruined anything and everything in life. What do you do?

My husband was such a wonderful, caring man. I fell for him because of the sweet and caring things he did for me. We were best friends for years before we got together, but now, I have no idea who he is. I miss him terribly, and just want him back ....

I am so in love with him, yet am so very afraid.


Quick and rapid changes in emotion — often referred to by psychologists as “emotional lability” — are common after a person has experienced a traumatic brain injury. Changes in brain functioning can result in difficulty with controlling the frequency or intensity of negative emotions such as anger or rage. Often, this consequence of brain injury is equally disturbing for the TBI survivor and their family members.

Many parts of emotional healing after TBI involve making changes toward acceptance of new ways of life for the whole family. While managing intense emotions may continue to be a long-term challenge for your husband, there are behavioral strategies he can use to put a tighter reign on his outbursts. Likewise, there are strategies that you and your children can use when your husband’s new post-brain injury temper flares up. Because every family, survivor, and brain injury is different, the best way to learn which strategies will work for you and your family is for the whole family to begin participation in family counseling.

The most important part of selecting a counselor or counseling program is finding someone who is familiar with traumatic brain injury specifically. Some of the approaches suggested in typical “anger management” programs may not work after brain injury and, in fact, may have the potential to make things worse. Through counseling, a therapist will help your family to:

  • identify what everyone is doing now that may be contributing to the problem behaviors;
  • learn new strategies that can be used when your husband experiences volatile emotions; and,
  • practice those strategies over and over again until they become a part of your family’s daily life.

Also, a family therapist may either work with your children separately or suggest a child therapist to work with them. Your children can work in counseling to learn how to handle anger appropriately, despite what “dad does.” They can also learn from a therapist that it is brain injury and not their behavior that causes their father’s mood swings.

Finally, your family needs to have a safety plan in place. Your husband handles anger in a very different way now than he did before his injury. Relying on his love for you and your children or on his good sense and judgment when it comes to managing his anger outbursts is no longer a sufficient plan. A safety plan will give everyone an option if his behaviors were to get ‘out of control.’ Identify a place where you and your children could go temporarily if your husband’s behavior became dangerous. Additionally, during a non-crisis time and at a non-accessible location (library computer, friend’s home, etc.), look up information on how to construct a comprehensive plan for the safety of your family. Finally, you must be willing and able to call 911 for help if your husband’s anger becomes dangerously explosive. Hopefully, you will never need to use these safety resources. However, it is much better to have the information and not need it than to need the information and not know what to do!

Click here to go to About Ask the Expert.

Emilie Godwin, PhD Emilie Godwin, PhD, LPC, MFT is a faculty member and licensed clinician at Virginia Commonwealth University, with a specialty focus on couples and family counseling after brain injury. Currently, she serves as the Family Support Program Coordinator for the VCU TBI Model System projects.

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Comments [11]

Thank you so much for that post. I have been dealing with my husband's TBI for 26 years and I'm exhausted and feel emotionally beaten. I have helped him through so much and know he appreciates it deep down but other times he is so horrible and says awful things and blames me for everything going wrong. We are separated but live in the same house with our children. I feel trapped and would feel bad leaving. Everything would be up to me to organize and I have run out of energy. Sometimes it's easier to stay but to the detriment of my own mental health.

Dec 23rd, 2016 3:52am

Reading all of these posts breaks my heart, because I too am the wife of man who suffered a TBI in 1999.  For us the road has been a slow decline since 1999.  A little over a year ago I had to kick him out of the house because of his behavior towards me, and not seeking help for it.  I had been trying for several years to get him help, because I too was the source of all our marital problems(per him) but it clearly was his change in personality that changed the course of our marriage.  I  have done an exhausting amount of research to get him help, but the most frustrating thing by far is his lack of insight into his problems.  As I read all these posts, it is clear to me that a fair amount of people who suffer from TBI don't see their own issues.  That is what I have read in alot of research as well.  I feel so grateful that we have been in the position to be able to get scans, see doctors, have treatment options.  But when the person doesn't see that they have issues, despite ALL the evidence proving otherwise, they won't follow through with any treatments.  We are separated, and I don't want to divorce my husband because I feel I am bailing on him.  But I cannot live with his scary behavior towards me and he won't follow through with anything.  For those of you looking for answers, check out SPECT scans for functional brain imaging(different than MRI, which just shows structure, not function).  Also check out Dr Daniel Amen.  He has lots of books and resources for recovery.  But it all boils down to the person with the TBI and whether or not they will seek help.  I'm just so sad because my husband has all these resources at his fingertips, and a wife who has exhausted herself emotionally, but still willing to hang in there for him.  But he doesn't see it.  He blames everyone else for his problems too.  For the supporters of victims of TBI, make sure you are taking care of yourself in healthy ways too.  God bless you all.  

Nov 27th, 2016 11:49am

I suffered a brain injury from an automobile accident. After reading these comments, I know I am not alone and I would like to speak for everyone suffering from a brain injury. I was once a loving caring funny joyful person which my loving wife lavina fell in. love with. Now I have changed. I'll be normal and all of a sudden l like a flip of a switch..i will turn into some one different..an "A" hole my wife would say. A sudden burst of anger and rage would hit me for no apparent reason. A specific word or action would set me off. I would try as hard as I can to control it. It would make me tense up and shut myself off from reality but eventually it would just over power me. My wife and I worked out an emergency method to handle this situation..jump on me and just pour your love out on me by rubbing my chest and telling me its gonna be ok. That works. But sometimes she would get tired or annoyed of it and say u control out yourself. But I can't. If I just let it go..all hell breaks loose. I start yelling at her blaming her for I don't know what, getting mad bout little things. People don't know that people with brain injuries are current from people with broken bones, cuts,etc. They'll see the injuries on the outside. But brain injuries are on the inside. We may look fine but our brains are not. They are scarred. My family doesn't know that.its frustrating when they think theres nothing wrong with me and I'm just trying to get attention. Its even more frustrating for my wife. I feel so angry at my self that it makes me think unthinkable thoughts of myself. i love her so much as well as our kids. But I hate putting them thru this all the time. She should be attending to the kids but she always attending to me. This is just one problem that has risen from tbi. Its devastating my family. I know this is the reason why I will end up losing my family and ending up alone one day. So what im trying to say is...find a way to let each other know that the switch in the brain is about to flip and a quick solution to calm it down. Rubbing the chest and talking about triggers are a good example. So dont lose your family over this frustration. Communicate with each other and just always be there to...for better or worse. I love u lavina. Im sorry for being a burden. but thank u for my care of me for this long. Your husband...shawn. Ps...i love u.

Nov 28th, 2015 1:46am

Some of these comments sound like my husband. He had a brain injury back in November and over time his temper got worse. I was the punching bag for all his emotions and later I actually became the physical punching bag. I had to kick him out of the house and that only has made him even more angry and hateful towards me. But I have 2 young kids to protect and I don't want them to have to endure this version of their father. I read all these articles that explain to you why your partner is angry but they never tell you how to handle these intense rages. There is no step by step guide and as partners we are doing our best to deal with everything. We don't always do or say the right thing and when that happens our brain injured person brings down the hammer on us. Now he's talking to his family, telling them wild stories about me to get their sympathy. Some of them are things he's made up in his head, some are private matters that are embarrassing to have other people know about. To them all he's the victim and I'm the heartless wife. They are here to see his rages, they don't see the how scary he get, his chest bumping and screaming in your face. I don't know if things will ever be the same again.  

Aug 5th, 2015 10:05pm

My daughter was hit by a truck in 2012. She has TBI. She likes to argue and cause havoc in the home. She blames her husband for starting the arguments and tries to make him look bad. He does everything for her and the 2 young daughters. I help out with babysitting or watching my daughter or clean house etc. I give my son in law breaks from the stress. But it never fails every night there is arguing. She seems to like drama. She doesn't eat much and I figured out she has nothing in her life she can control but the food she puts in her mouth. I'm at the end of my rope trying to deal with her issues. She seems to be better in the morning talking being happy, trying to do things etc. but at night time there is always a ruckus. She also doesn't sleep well and is up half the night. Can anyone offer suggestions whether on how to react to her or what to say. Ty in advance

Apr 20th, 2015 11:33pm

So glad I found this my husband has a TBI from several years ago. We have 5 children ages 15-6 who will no longer speak to him because of his awful personality and mood swings. So difficult to know what to do. I desperately miss who he used to be!

Mar 5th, 2015 1:11pm

I also feel the frustration of the effects of the severe TBI my husband suffered 4 + years ago. It has wreaked havoc on our family even though our daughters were 22,25 and 29 at the time. 4 years later.... my husband refuses to comply with his drs orders... his neurologist is frustrated with him and his PCP doesn't know what to do with him. HE won't listen to anyone as he does not see he has any problems... it is everyone else... he maintains he is back and it couldn't be further from the truth. He has distorted thinking and has our oldest daughters believing or confused about the things he says about me.... our youngest daughter who has been living here has witnessed rageful behaviors that are frightful and in December a rage required her to call the police becasue he was out of control. We have since had to get a restraining order on him because he is so out of control and abusive to both myself and daughter. His blaming and gross exaggerations of "perceived incidents" often appear as delusions...it is so frightening, scary and what has happened to our family is nothing short of heart wrenching. I don't know how our family can heal especially with his constant blaming of me and my youngest daughter...

Feb 16th, 2015 2:04pm

I too have felt the pang of pain left when a loved one's personality changes. My brother has had violent outbursts now for over twenty years. I am blamed for everything and he is constantly angry with me for reasons I do not understand. We used to be so close and I miss the closeness and what we have. I long for this to return but instead I feel the imminent cold shoulder closing in on my whenever I visit home. He lives with my family who compound the issue and make excuses for him all the time due to his head injury. I am pushed away, I feel isolated and alone. It has been so long where I have tried to make bridges and some sort of relationship only to be hurt time and time again. It can be very hard living with a loved one with TBI.

Jan 30th, 2015 5:03am

I was in a auto accident a yr plus 8 months ago .I am a woman . I just have a rage in. me , it comes fast and i yell and some swearing . I quit as soon as i get away from area . Or go play music . It is so not fair my husband has to put up with this monster . I feel terrible being a brat .

Oct 13th, 2014 8:11am

My partner suffered a mild TBI of the frontal lobe 10 months ago and he too has become the incredible hulk and blames me for everything.  Will he ever stop blaming me and be able to talk to me again or is this aggression and blame he afflicts on me going to continue for the rest of our life.

Jul 3rd, 2014 4:35am

hi i too can understand the anger and rage that i too have since having a brain hammorage my life is in tatters.i have lost everything my employment,confidence, hearing,my marriage.i too am angery.my life will never be the same again.

Jul 16th, 2012 6:53pm

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