What Happens to Relationships After Brain Injury?

From the National Resource Center for Traumatic Brain Injury
What Happens to Relationships After Brain Injury?

Many survivors and family members describe changes in their relationships after the injury. They may not hear much from friends, co-workers, and extended family members. Others notice that their phone calls, emails, and letters are left unanswered. Some survivors find themselves feeling alone even when they spend much of their time with family members or friends. Here are some of the things people say about their relationships after brain injury. Do any of these statements sound like things you have said?

  • I can't relate to other people. It's easier to be by myself.
  • What happened to all the friends who came to visit me in the hospital?
  • Other people don't want to be around me.
  • People seem to avoid me.
  • My wife threatens to leave me at least twice a week.
  • I wonder why no one returns my calls.
  • It seems like everyone at work has lost my phone number.
  • I haven't talked to anyone in weeks.
  • Nobody cares about me.
  • I don't have any friends.
  • Seems like nobody wants to talk to me.
  • Nobody has any idea what I am going through. They don't understand me.

Why people feel lonely even when around family members or friends?

After injury, many survivors describe feeling lonely — even when they are surrounded by other people. This loneliness may arise for many different reasons.

  • Difficulty talking to other people or understanding what others are saying are common problems survivors face after injury. Communication problems can make relating to other people and explaining your thoughts and feelings very difficult. These problems can lead to feeling misunderstood and isolated.
  • Many survivors feel self-conscious after their injuries. They may worry about being different or less capable than other people. Self-consciousness can make it harder to spend time with other people or seek out new relationships.
  • After injury, many survivors worry about what others will think of them and may feel nervous about being around other people. They may be afraid of being hurt or rejected by other people.
  • Many survivors notice they are more irritable after their injuries. When irritated, they may say or do things they regret later on. Some survivors try to stay away from those they care about for fear of behaving poorly. Family and friends may also avoid you if they are worried about what you might say or do.
  • Fatigue and low energy are common problems after brain injury. Survivors may not have the energy to do things they used to enjoy or to spend time with friends and family. Family and friends may also worry about tiring you out when they invite you to do something.
  • Pain and other physical problems often make it harder for survivors to do things they used to enjoy. You may also have trouble leaving the house, traveling, or visiting other people. Injury-related limitations make it harder to nurture and build relationships.
  • Many survivors are not able to drive or work after their injury. Lack of transportation and money may make it hard to visit others or do things you enjoy.
  • People generally make friends through work or being involved in social or recreational activities. After injury, survivors often stop working and may not be involved in sports, church, and other activities. You may lose contact with friends and co-workers because you don't see them as much.
  • Friends and family may feel uncomfortable because they don't know what to say, how to act, or how to help. Discomfort may make it harder for them to relate to you or spend time with you. Help them out by letting them know about your positive and negative feelings and what they can do to help you.
Posted on BrainLine November 4, 2008. Reviewed July 25, 2018.

From the National Resource Center for Traumatic Brain Injury, Virginia Commonwealth Model Systems of Care. Chapter reprinted with permission from the NRC TBI publication, Recovering Relationships After Brain Injury: The Essential Guide for Survivors and Family Members.

Comments (221)

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My true friends stuck by me. Most of my relationships from that period faded away. It's been three years.
My friends of 14 years more or less disowned me after I was physically assaulted which resulted in a brain injury, said they 'liked me the way I was before'. Yeah, so did I. We didn't meet up as much, it was mostly down to me to contact them and they were often busy, though somehow I knew that wasn't always the case. Our friendship was never really the same after that. However, a few months ago it started to improve a bit. We'd meet up, they'd invite me round for a meal, just like old times, except it wasn't. They'd question me as to how I was feeling but just said, 'well you look alright to us'. Still, I went round to see them two or three more times and then I was working away for two weeks. They said to contact them when I got back. Two days after, I gave them a call. They invited me over for a meal. Again, they questioned how I was feeling and added that I had to come back because of my appointment with the 'doolally doctor'. I was shocked by their attitude, 'I see a Neuro Psychologist not a Psychiatrist who's really helping with ways to remember and to cope with my brain injury'. They said 'it's all the same to me...doolally doctors'. 'No it's not, Psychiatrists administer medication, Psychologists don't'. They asked me something else and when I was having difficulty remembering something they said 'Get over it, it's just your age, we're all getting older' . I said no it wasn't that, but my Neuro Psychologist is helping me with ways to remember. 'so what IS wrong with you?' 'nothing much' - meaning the way I looked, I guess. 'EXACTLY, there's nothing wrong with you... (in a vehement manner) it ****** me off to think that somebody else could have those services when they need them more than you do... you know that very well, don't you?... you're having somebody else's appointment...there's nothing wrong with you, you're just getting older.' I was shocked, open mouthed. No amount of me trying to explain was going to change things so I went home not long afterwards. I was SO upset, SO hurt. The next morning was my appointment and my N. Psychologist said - 'there are some people who will NEVER understand...you look alright on the outside but a person with a brain injury has put in so much effort that some people never really understands how that person feels on the inside...it's not like you CHOSE to be assaulted...' 'If you were pretending, which you're not, you or anybody that pretends would have given up a long time ago.. you cannot pretend to have these emotions, they are the result of a brain injury...something that can't be put away like a coat on a hanger, we need to find ways for you to live with it.' I said, 'I don't really think I want friends like that'. My N.Psychlologist said 'you have lots of other friends who support you'. That was a week ago and I'm still getiing upset by it.
Thank you for this. I suffer many of these feelings and symptoms. I can not wait for my state, IL, to complete the process of legalizing. Nothing, and I mean nothing, keeps me from getting overloaded and/or mean better than the Herb. What's more, it's safer than ANY pharmaceutical behavior control.
I just wanted to let all of you guys know how inspiring you all are. It amazes me to see such strong people. Please all of you stay strong, it will work out. You can't have a rainbow without rain.
I suffered a TBI as a result of a car accident in February of 2013. I was in a traffic jam at a stand still, the person that hit me ignored the traffic and hit me going 98mph! Having a TBI is so strange. I'm not who I was. My partner of 5 years is struggling with my TBI and my anger,sadness lack of libido. I found out last week he's cheating on me. I'm devastated.
Relationships become Rocky when your Spouse refuses to read about TBI and Brain Injuries.Mine seeks any excuse to belittle and embarass me,yet I am the Breadwinner and ask for nothing in return.I can deal with my TBI and work at it constantly,I just don't understand the Lies from the ones NOT with TBI,I have an excuse for my behavior and don't Judge others.There's not much more I can do now 6 years later.
I lost the love of my life due to a head injury.....He became confrontational and violent....been over 20 years and I still live with the memory of the changes. I left the situation but it still is fresh in my mind. The person I knew and loved died but the new person was an unlovable person....didn't like himself. I was living with Dr. Jeykll and Mr. Hyde.....never knew when he was going to snap and start yelling and hitting.
I recently found out that an old friend from high school has been suffering with TBI, it has broken my heart. This man was our star jock, went on to being a star college athlete and a Superbowl winner...now he has nothing. I wish there was a way I could help my friend but there is not. I pray that each day brings him something to smile about. Written in the memory of Steve Hendrickson.
11 years ago I suffered a tbi, but had to battle my own insurance company just to get proper help, and my family to talk with the doctors to know what to expect. Instead, 11 years later I am still on disability and not enjoying work I used to be able to do, and my family is still making the comments to me that I need to "get over it"...they are impatient, unwilling to hear and understand, and misunderstand what I try to convey to them because I still find it difficult to understand conversations and can only understand bits and pieces..Now to top this off I have been babysitting my first granddaughter for 19 months 8-12 hrs a day 5 days a week (although I told my daughter previous to birth I wouldn't be able to because I don't trust myself enough)..Needless to say I'm exhausted when she leaves and I am unable to do anything else ea. day...She has developed allergies to food etc...to point of anaphylactic shock symptoms after her dad fed her shellfish and her mom gave her a peanutbutter cup...While she's ok but being tested, they are putting the blame on me because I have cats and have not been able to really clean my house in the last 11 yrs, so my daughter is "threatening" to put her in daycare. While this is a break for me, I am constantly worried about my granddaughter when she's not here because I don't know what is causing her allergies yet. The pediatrician refused to refer to allergist until she recently had to go to er. It's hard not to have her here after I raised her so much while they work, and they can't afford daycare either, and no other family members ever came forth to help even just 1 day a week. Not having her is starting up anxiety symptoms...I don't want her sick, but I didn't put her into shock either, and to top this off my husband (who has been treating me like a 5th wheel the last 11 yrs. since I'm not able to do all the motherly things he was so used to before & has had to learn to put his own dishes from table to dishwasher and his own laundry, etc.) jumped all over me and blaming me for baby being sick, and said since I can't clean the house or do anything else we should split the assets, sell the house and move separate ways. With my sense of smell, and feelings of anxiety, breathing problems and sleeping problems heightening to a point where I had to start sleeping down on the couch these last 11 yrs. too! Needless to say, I haven't slept through the night and gotten a full night's sleep these last 11 yrs. He's never been a patient person, more selfish than anything I guess, cause he never cared enough to see what the doctors wanted him to do to help me. Instead what he told me days after the accident was "I could sue the girl that caused the accident and he would support me as long as it didn't take up any of his time or cost him any money!" It took a while before I felt comfortable to drive to a dr myself only 10 min. from our house ..6 months..very high anxiety to do, and this dr. couldn't be bothered, she asked how she would be paid before she even cared enough to see what was wrong! And I had noone to advocate on my behalf..I couldn't convey to her the problems properly even though I told her I hit the windshield in an accident...Oh , and the day my husband took me to the courthouse to file..hour away from our house...I heard about his wasted time all the way there and back and his wasted filing fee..real supportive! So you can see why I was reluctant to ask anyone for help or to even see anyone, I don't have any friends to talk things over with and my kids were teenagers or younger and had their own agendas..This is probably my first anxiety attack starting in about 8 years...I guess it's high stress, I miss my granddaughter, and don't know how to sell everything I own because I'll have nowhere to go and no way of moving anything or money for help or anyone to count on to ask for help...My whole family would have been better off if I died in the accident since I'm nothing that I was before and they constantly let me know that all the time.
My son is in jail right now because he violated his probation. He is almost 22. He was on probation because he attempted to rob our next door neighbors. He wanted to steal their marijuana they grow in their basement. This single act which was so out of his character, landed him in jail when he was only 20. At 18 he was in a roll over car accident. I was recovering from back surgery. He was treated and released the same night. Nothing showed up on tests. He had head aches, sweating, sleepless nights, mood swings, bad temper, confusion etc. We received little help from two neurologists, 2 MRI's and really getting no help from his doctor. Life went on and despite feeling bad, he still graduated high school, and finished one and a half years of college while still living at home. But seemingly out of nowhere, his behavior changed dramatically. We found out he had quit school 3 weeks prior, and had decided to join the marines! He seemed like a totally different person. We learned he was smoking pot, and abusing pain killers. A kid who never got in trouble in school, played baseball, and was on the JV team. Earned good grades etc. Anyway, our whole family has been through hell. Seeing my son go through all of this, and experiencing the whole jail thing, has been traumatic for my husband and me and our three other children. My husband and the kids are pretty much done with him for now. They are all very angry, mostly because of how he has treated all of us while using. Lying, manipulating, and all the addict behavior. Sadly, now he is an addict. But I've done tons of research on brain injuries. Drugs is one of the things they often turn to. He had to live in an apartment, not allowed to return home because of his crime. He did very well for a long period. almost 2 years! But he did not contact his PO for two months, we did not know until we received a scarry letter from the PO on Christmas Eve! Merry Christmas! He doesn't know why he did not call his PO. We had stopped reminding him because he got so offended like we were treating him like a child. He was doing so well. Sorry for rambling. This has been by far the most painful thing I have ever been through. And I have been through a lot. It is very lonely, and the doctors don't know much still. He may end up in treatment when he gets out. We are scared that this will be happening for the rest of his life. Our insurance will not pay for a psych eval. If anyone has anything they can share with me, even if its just, that you are in the same boat, I would greatly appreciate it. Yes, your life can change in an instant.Oh I have to share a little justification about the neighbors. FINALLY, they have been found out. Indeed they were selling their "medical marijuana". I new it!!Any comments about marijuana laws? thank you for letting me vent.
I have brain injury and still have symptoms years later. I get a lot of pain in my head. I wish I never got hurt.
ive been dating a woman for over 3 yrs who has severe brain injury ....i love her to death ... our relationship has been rocky .. she has lied ..cheated .. we lived together for 3months last yr and without notice moved out..her parents came to pick her up and when i went outside to meet them they did not want to hear anything from me..they baby her to death..we got back together a month later...aug 1 i left for 7days left my cell fone with her wrote her a love letter to read everyday til i returned(i went to rehab due to the stress of caring for her)i had txt messages and emails from her asking me to come back and that she was sorry for breaking up with me..she threw away the engagement ring i bought her and started dating someone else in that little time...i dont know what i should do my family says thier is no future with her... she fabricates stories that we broke up which is not true ... now she tells me that she never was seeing someone else.. she had a episode over the fone and told me she hated me and hoped that i died ...10minutes later she called back and told me how she loves me and would kill herself if i did not go back to her .... i know their is different types of brain injuries she was in a coma for almost 7 months ... i dont know what to do ..she left me homeless and penniless... some people tell me to give her leeway due to her brain injury and others say i should let her go because she will never fully recover(its been 10yrs since her wreck)im sorry to say she is taking me into her insanity..i once told her i would care for her forever but now i have to worry about my mental health...
I had a major stroke in 2006. My wife left 4 years later but I think she just lost love for me and left because she knew that I improved enough to take care of myself. I am 60 now and I am in the best shape mentally, physically, socially,spiritually and soon to be financially. :) I am the creator of Strokes Suck.com You can find me on facebook from there

"/ I need advice. I met a wonderful man that had a brain injury due to being shot in the head 40 yrs ago when he was 19yrs old. We are falling in love, which I had not planned to do. I give him a note every day, and he has a good amount of pictures of me. I believe he is in his sisters care. I hav.... Just can he and I have a serious relationship?\"....

My sibling has a TBI and I hope that she will meet someone and have a normal happy life that she wants; marriage, kids etc. I understand you may be concerned this person is a vulnerable adult in which case it is best to address your concerns directly, and with his family. All marriages are unique. There is no reason not to initiate a relationship with a brain injury survivor as long as their mental capacity is intact. Some people may have experienced TBI and only experience physical symptoms others may have lost ability to understand, so just be open and honest about your concerns, best of luck x

I really need advice. I met a wonderful man that had a brain injury due to being shot in the head 40 yrs ago, when he was 19yrs old. We are falling in love, which I had not planned to do. I give him a note everyday, and he has a good amount of pictures of me. I believe he is in his sisters care. I have met 2 his sisters, 3 neices, his brother-in-law. Everyone is nice and likes me. My concern is, if we decided we wanted to get married, would it be possible? I know I'd be caring for him...but I am not worried about that. Just can he and I have a serious relationship?
I was 43 when I got a tbi.I was planning to get married to a lady but,she couldn\'t deal with my tbi
hi i am a survivor off a really bad wreck that happened 7 years ago they told me after i woke up from the coma i was in for a week i am only 23 years old now and im still haveing relationship problems i am a homosexual guy and all my relationships dont last i dont understand why they dont they seem to run cause im not the person i used to be i feel so alone all the time even if there a family around or even the new guy i am dateing show me affection and i sometimes feel like im alone even with all the attention he gives me how do i get help or be able to get the courage to talk to a perfessional to help me please help me
Even with the knowledge we have now it's thing's missed. I've recovering for 4 years. With my feeling being felt alone. We lose our support. I was really lost. Didn't know how to adjust to it. Always wakeing up going on. After 36 year getting up 6 in the a.m. This was totally new. I had to over come a lot. I'm cooping trying to focus on today. Working on me so I my be able to give back. Excuse any errors. Keep the faith stay strong. Know matter what if u have a family member are friend. Just remember it a new life for them. They enjoy things also. Just company is a blessing.
I'm on the other side of the wall~being a Mom & Caregiver to my son who suffered from a brain injury in 2004. Judah was only 12 at the time~very independent,social,happy,fearless kid. Nothing or noone held him back from living life to the fullest(not even his deafness he received at a early age of 6 mo. from Meningitis). After a go~cart accident our life "stopped" for awhile.....he wasn't expected to live. I quit my job that moment and eversince our world has taken many detours and hit alot of obstacles!! With brain damage comes so many emotions it is just overwhelming and words could never express! Every moment is a moment of uncertainty~we never know what to expect. LIFE after brain damage is not and never will be the same. There are so many friends, co-workers, preachers, family etc. present when the person is in a COMA~STATE; but, afterwards when they "WAKE~UP" if they wake~up. Where is the support? At first yeah a few folks come around and ask "how are you doing?"....as time goes by fewer people come by and noone ask or cares anymore. "OUT OF SIGHT~OUT OF MIND"....and you're left alone picking through the pieces of your life and trying to rebuild. My heart goes out to "all" the people who are touched by this life~changing tragedy. A grieving process has to take place....the old person is no longer there; but a new "different" person invades their body and takes over their life. I love the boy I gave birth to; but, sometimes if I was brutally honest "I HATE WHAT THIS BRAIN DAMAGE" has taken from all of us. My son has missed out on his life~while others his age are having the time of their lives....he has to be stuck with his Mom taking care of all his needs. I hurt so much for him!!! I love that kid more than anyone could imagine and would take his place in an instant! GOD BLESS EVERYONE OF YOU TOUCHED BY T.B.I.!!!
My younger sister( she is 44 and I am 54 ) and I have not gotten along well for over 30 years. My injury happened at when I was 18 and she was 8.She could not understand why I had changed and I didn't have the capacity to tell her. She doesn't like me very much any more. Perhaps understandably. Every time I try to talk about it with her she puts on her lawyer face and the conversation stops. I feel perplexed to say the least. I wish this information had been available to me at that time. But even the doctors were not very aware of TBI in 1973. Please forgive my rambling. Its nice to be able to verbalize all my frustration. My experience will hopefully provide insight to someone so that they might avoid the discord I went through.

I just wanna go.