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Starting or Nourishing Romantic Relationships After TBI

Comments [26]

Emilie Godwin, PhD

Starting or Nourishing Romantic Relationships After TBI
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Could a person with TBI start and have a healthy romantic relationship? My friend/boyfriend (who has a TBI) can go from bringing me flowers and telling me he loves me to other times thanking me for dinner like I’m just any friend of the family.

 

The answer to this question is — yes. Following brain injury, individuals can — and do — start and maintain healthy, loving, committed relationships. In fact, in studies investigating the stability of romantic relationships after brain injury, results have shown couples have less of a likelihood of separating than do couples in the general population¹,². However, this answer also comes with an asterisk.

In order for people with a TBI to maintain healthy, loving, romantic relationships, they will need support, encouragement, and understanding from their partner. While this sounds like a recipe for the success of any romantic relationship, there are specific ways in which people with brain injury will need to be supported. There are also commitments the people with brain injury will need to make to themselves, their partner, and the relationship, in order to sustain relational happiness and security over the long term.

The partners of people who has a TBI must first educate themselves about how brain injury impacts an individual. In addition to the frequently cited TBI challenges related to thinking such as memory, attention and concentration, and problem-solving, individuals with brain injury often experience changes in behavioral, social, and emotional functioning. In a relationship, partners often read the emotional and social cues of their partner in order to gauge the stability of the relationship. However, after TBI, some disruption in emotions and challenges with communication are to be expected. People who understand brain injury can learn to interpret changes in their partner’s mood and their partner’s willingness to interact socially in new, more accurate ways. Education can also help partners not to personalize behaviors that may be more related to brain injury than a reaction to or reflection of the relationship.

In addition to building a knowledge base about common symptoms of TBI, partners can learn strategies for new ways to de-escalate an argument, identify early signs of their partner’s stress or anger, and share their own needs for emotional response or connection with their partner. Again, while these may be important skills for any romantic relationship, the way in which a partner de-escalates an argument when their spouse has a TBI will be different from the approach used by couples where brain injury is not a concern. Reading information written for caregivers, attending family member support groups, and meeting with a therapist who has familiarity with brain injury are all solid ways to build an effective skill set.

Of course, maintenance of a healthy relationship always requires the dedication of both partners. People with brain injury can improve the likelihood that their relationship will succeed by attending therapy focused on emotional regulation and compensatory strategy development. Additionally, by focusing on building communication skills, asking for help, and focusing on the positive, survivors can enhance the emotional connection they have with their partner.

Finally, when a couple enters into a relationship after one person has had a brain injury, they may want to consider taking a proactive stance by attending counseling with a couples’ therapist who is familiar with TBI. Both emotional and physical intimacy can be impacted by brain injury. Couples counseling can assist both partners in developing strategies and coping skills that can enhance the intimate connection both individuals feel with one another.

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 [26]

My son has a TBI from birth. He's the sweetest guy I know. Very calm and laid back and he just turned 21 and he loves women but wants a girlfriend so bad he often moves to fast. He doesn't understand that he needs to get to know a woman and date her before he can claim her. lol. It makes him so sad when girls don't like him. And it makes me sad too! Because I know if they knew who he really was they would love him. If only one girl would be patient with my big handsome guy...ūüėŹ

Mar 19th, 2017 9:26am

My relationship with my girlfriend at first was good. But about 6 months in, everything I say and do is scrutinized. I work too much (average 44 per week), everything I say. I am at a point that I am afraid to speak, then it is turned on me because these things hurt me. Or I try to rationalize, no baby I work, I work from home and that does not help. I am so frustrated, hurt, confused. Even though deep down I know not everything is my fault, hearing that everyday is taking a toll. Help me, I do love her. I am female also.

Mar 17th, 2017 10:28am

Hi everybody!

I am also married to a man who suffered brain injury almost 8 years ago and we are married for 3 and a half years. 

I am glad I found this group where I can learn and share with people that are living with a person with TBI.

I seriously try to be patient, to do everything for him, but sometimes I am human, and I can handle the situation, not expression me, accept everything he says. I can even feel sad or treat him different that's he feels very bad and start hurting him and saying  he wants to die. To see him doing and saying this kind of stuff, hurts me a lot. I love him so much and after I met him my life change to better, the difficulty we have is big, but our love for each other is stronger and we keep trying to make our relationship work out.

Let's never give up on who we love, on who that's needs care, trust, and help.

Feb 19th, 2017 9:20pm

I'm 2 months into a relationship with my new partner who suffered a TBI 5 years ago! Hes' a lovely man and both myself and my kids love him dearly! My previous relationship before was very abusive so to meet someone like him is a dream! He can be so kind and funny! However it's not always easy! Things are very black and white with him at times. He's very rarely wrong and when he is he will never say! He always tells me to talk to him if things aren't ok but when I do he becomes defensive and it's easier just to never bring it up! He's very straight to the point and because of my past I'm quite sensitive so that's sometimes not a good combination! He can be very loving some days, like he's missed you and it feels great! Other times we hang out and he's never off his phone! He's constantly tired, lacks motivation and very rarely gets a full nights sleep which can make him really grumpy! Before reading this page I just thought he was lazy so it's been helpful reading these comments and I will try to be more understanding! My worry is that this is how it's always going to be and that because he's unable to change then I will have to "toughen up." I would never leave him though. I think I will just have to learn to adapt to the bad days and enjoy the good ones.

Feb 13th, 2017 7:25am

I am one year married to a man that I dated over 20 years ago. We reconnected, dated for 5 months, were engaged and married a couple months later. I knew that he had a TBI about 8 years prior but didn't really understand the effects. It's been a wonderful, yet challenging year. My husband can be very sweet and compassionate with me yet say horrible things about other people. His mood can sometimes turn negative and he is difficult to be around, almost irrational in his views. I am trying to learn more about TBIs and their long term effects. So far finding this site very helpful.

Dec 23rd, 2016 11:16pm

About 2 months ago I got into a relationship with a man who suffered a tbi and ptsd from the military. I am so in love with him and he says he loves me and i am the best thing that has ever happened to him. He has even asked me to move in with him already. Before we even entered into a relationship he tried to explain to me how these conditions have effected his past relationships. He was divorced after 6 years of marriage as a direct result of the impact these conditions had on him mentally and emotionally. I promised I would not give up on him or us, but now only 2 months in he has already cheated on me. He constantly contacts his ex and other women as if he is in desperate need of female attention at all times. It makes me feel like I'm never going to be enough for him. Emotionally he flips like a switch. We will have a great day together then as soon as we part ways everything seems to fall apart. I'm trying to hang in there and realize that none of this is either of our faults, but are symptoms of his condition. I'm not the type of person to give up on someone and none of my friends seem to understand why I feel the need to continue to be with him. It's frustrating that we argue and "break up" every few days. I want so badly to be a constant in his life that he needs so badly, but sometimes its hard to discern what issues are results of his brain injury, and which ones are actual character flaws or intentional (if any).

Nov 23rd, 2016 11:13am

I, nor my husband, knew he had brain damage. Though we had discussed how he had gotten hurt, I never and he never made the connection. Flat affect and retreat were two major symptoms I took personally. After a decade of marriage and children we divorced. I'm unsure how TBI can effect fidelity and gambling issues but we certainly had a lot of that in our marriage. He even hut me physically on a couple of occasions. I finally had jade enough and divorced him. We have children together and he walked out on his responsibilities stating he was happy and we should all be happy for him. He has placed our family in so much despair. I can't wrap my mind around what's happened

Nov 13th, 2016 2:35am

I married a man that has a TBI and I did not know it at the time.  If I had known what I was getting into, I would not have made that move.  We have been married almost four years now.  His short term memory drives me crazy.  His emotional outburst are extreme and violent. He has little or no emotions, like laughter.  Just flat. He does not want to participate in outside activities that I and others enjoy.  All he wants to do is watch ball games, police movies or WWII on tv.  It is really frustrating. I feel very alone.  We don't talk.  We don't even go to bed at the same time.  He sits up with tv until wee hours every night.  He won't consider going to counseling.  And, he has a gambling addiction.  I don't know what to do.  And, by the way, ours was an arranged married by a minister.  I only knew him for two weeks before I married him.  I feel stupid.

Oct 24th, 2016 10:59am

All relationships have valleys but they also have beautiful mountains. I am married to a man who has suffered a TBI after our marriage. I can say this, it isn't always easy, there are days that I question things, and learning to love and be intimate is a struggle. I took vows. Serious vows. For sickness and in health. I didn't just vow to love my husband at his best but also at his worst. People are so quick to validate leaving or abandoning people when things are no longer pretty. That isn't a marriage or a relationship. If you love someone, you love them. I have to ask myself, how would I want my husband to handle things if our roles were reversed. The answer is: Never give up hope. I do understand there are certain situations that you need to protect yourself and your kids. I agree with that. A person is worth so much more than the things they can do or provide. Their life matters whether it be to you or someone else. They matter!

Sep 19th, 2016 3:49pm

My son was born with a developmental disability. At the age of 20 he was in a crash that resulted with a TBI. He is on his 3rd relationship since the accident 3 years ago. His girlfriend manipulates him into spending enormous amounts of money on her ($800/weekend ). He is unable to recognize that she is using him. As the parent of this 22 year old child, what can I do?

Sep 16th, 2016 1:09am

I am in a newer relationship with a tbi.... it feels like a daily struggle lately. Because of his injury he gets depressed. ...then he drinks. Of course because of his injury he has no filter or shut off to stop. He claims he's not an alcoholic.... just drinks to numb the hatred for himself. ...I love him. But I have young boys to think about

Jun 23rd, 2016 12:38am

I am having a hard time finding any information dealing with overprotective relatives "ie" sisters. They meddle into every crevice of our relationship. The are constantly making up and spreading bad rumors about me. They have set my fiance up with an astronomical amount of money. Then accuse me of being with her to take it from her. In reality when I met her I didn't even know she was set up with money I just fell in love with her. They are completely narcissistic in their accusations against me. I have spent every bit of my money to take care of my girl. I love her dearly and want to be hers forever but feel such an impact on my nerves I don't know how to handle these interfering relatives. Does anyone have any advice?

Jun 20th, 2016 3:47pm

You love them...but how do you keep going?...when you love them and they cause is heartache...

Jun 5th, 2016 7:53am

My husband and I have been married for 13 years.  We are now separated.  He sustained a TBI in 1991 and I met him in 2001.  We married in 2002 because we were pregnant, and he really wanted to try and make it work because he said he had never loved anyone as much as he loved me.  During our 13 years, he frequently reminded me that we were in this for our child and that we were working toward our relationship becoming more complete.  This affected me over the years, but I chose to let it go.  At the end we were in counseling, but it was too late, he was no longer in love with me.  For the last 1.5 years, we have been pretty much platonic (a lot because I wasn't into the sexual side of things) which I blame myself for and being on Zoloft didn't help.  When I speak on the phone with him, it's as if he is a stranger.  He is now focused on only himself and doesn't have to answer to anyone and this is how he wants to be.

May 26th, 2016 7:27pm

Great article, I have TBI and am in a relationship. I love everything in my relationship but sometimes it can get hard with my effects. Its hard to control my anger, emotions and thoughts. But its all about having an understanding partner who can try to put their feet in your shoes and realize you aren't the person you act out to be in situations and can't control it sometimes. I love reading the comments of others because it helps me too.

May 22nd, 2016 8:20am

I just got into an argument with a woman I was dating who has a TBI. I knew nothing about TBI before I met her. I wish I had known more about it before we started dating. I've learned that what they are thinking isn't always easy for them to communicate. Be patient with them...it's nearly impossible for me not to try to put myself in her shoes when she's at her worst. The depression of my own life and the emotion I directed towards trying to help her...it wasn't healthy. I'm realizing for me it was more about trying to make her life better trying to make her happy taking on all these feelings that I shouldn't. It's not healthy to think that you're the reason why someone else is happy. My advice to anyone with a TBI or dating someone who has one is to spend the first part of your relationship learning about how a TBI affects someone. Without that I think it's nearly impossible. It's very hard for some of them to communicate what they are actually thinking and that can cause lots of problems. It's going to take me a little while to get over this

May 20th, 2016 11:04am

As someone with a TBI, i want to say thank you to those that understand and stick by their partners. I also want to apologize on their behalf and my own. We aren't trying to be difficult, and we hate that you suffer with our trauma. But thank you so much for being the support we so desperately need!

May 12th, 2016 4:03am

I recently started dating a man who was born a "forceps baby" and suffered a skull fracture from the doctor who delivered him. He is a decent man and I very much enjoy being with him, but I definitely want to learn more about his disability so I can be the partner he deserves. He told me about his last relationship which didn't end well. He got severely depressed and was suicidal. I'm definitely concerned that he will have difficulty should we argue or things don't work out. Any suggestions are welcome. Thank you!

May 4th, 2016 3:17am

I've been in a relationship with my bf for 16 years and last year he suffered a TBI. We were engaged before this and it is difficult. There are days when he is the man I fell in love with and others he is a cruel stranger. I read the comments and feel relief to know I am not alone. We have two kids and they are dealing with the loss of their father as well. He is constantly depressed due to the TBI and physical complications that came with his injury. It is a daily struggle and I have thought many times about walking out and giving up. But I love him so I stick by his side as I vowed to do when I said yes to marrying him. Although I must also say that the comments from people in "long distance" relationships with TBI ppl are appalling. To truly understand the daily struggle, you have to be there. I am with my guy from morning meds at 6am to bedtime meds at 11pm. The only time we are apart is when I go to work. My bf requires 24 care and there are two ppl who provide this...me and his brother. A person with a TBI needs constant contact, support and love daily.

May 1st, 2016 11:28pm

Dating someone with TBI can be hard. My boyfriend's emotions are up and down and each day I'm not sure what sort of mood he will be in. Some days he's really good and he's funny and really shines. Other days it's hard to identify causes but he will be cross and easily frustrated. Feel like I'm continually on egg shells with him. Don't always voice my own opinion as it can often lead to conflict. It's a confusing situation for both of us, but I won't walk away. It's his TBI, not him. I'm hoping as time goes on the angry/frustrated days will become less frequent...

Apr 18th, 2016 4:33pm

Interesting article and thread. I struggle with a new relationship with someone with a TBI. I feel like I am on an emotional roller coaster having questioned numerous times what is our relationship, friend, boy friend and girlfriend or something else. I too get from time to time a thank you for spending the day with him?? Odd behavior, rigid thinking.

Mar 1st, 2016 7:50pm

I'm dating someone with TBI and where long distance as well and its been very tough because I feel like I have to watch everything I say without him feeling disrespected which causes a lot of fights . I'm very new to this and in trying to understand but is it normal for them to constantly crave attention ?

Feb 29th, 2016 10:34pm

I am so glad to have found the comments. I am dating TBI fellow. Not only that, we are on long distance relationship. It is really tough. I feel the same way with all of you. My patience has been tested many times. I hope I can be more understanding after I read this article. And I hope many other people will comment so I can learn from them as well. 

Feb 1st, 2016 4:42pm

I agree with the previous poster's question "how can I know if the behavior is due to the brain injury or just negative personality traits?" I really struggle with this with my husband. He suffered a TBI 12 years ago at age 15 and I knew about from the first day we met 6 years ago, but I feel like I really didn't know the full extent of it until after we were married. I really do love him and we have 2 children together, but I can't tell if some of his behavior is from the TBI or it's just who he is. I've tried coaching him over the years on proper social norms and encouraged him in different areas, but he is usually resistant. I feel like his short-term memory is getting worse and I am starting to lose my patience.

Dec 17th, 2015 1:02pm

In terms of the difficulty people with a brain injury can have in fostering romantic relationships and the lack of consideration, how can I know if the behavior is due to the brain injury or just negative personality traits?

Dec 2nd, 2015 10:36am

This is good advice. Wish I'd adhered to it some hours previously, prior to entertaining/ blindly walking into an argument with my TBI fiance! I've learned so much patience through loving him but sometimes it's just not quite enough. And the debates are always so unreasonable and one sided. The majority of the time I concede and allow him to get his own way (not wanting to upset him). Tonight I'm absolutely at my wits end and I feel so sad and guilty , like I've let him down. Fingers crossed tomorrow will be better

Oct 22nd, 2015 8:10pm


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