Marriage After Brain Injury: Life After "I Do"

Life After "I Do"

A friend, whose husband has a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, jokingly captured the challenges of marriage on the day she looked at me and sighed, “They really get you with that ‘till death do you part stuff, don’t they?” She was making light of the serious, of course, but her words struck a meaningful chord. I began to wonder, what was my definition of marriage and how had it changed since I first took those vows?

When TC and I got married nearly five years ago, I didn’t think too deeply about those precious words. After all, we were 26-years-old, healthy, employed, and about to embark on a promising future together. I knew to expect challenges along the way, but I also trusted we would make smart decisions and problem solve our way through any obstacles. It never occurred to me that life might so harshly intervene.

Marriage is full of uncertainty, yet many of us are all too willing to overlook this reality. We allow ourselves to be seduced by its promised loveliness: the endless stream of bridal television, the soft, dreamy glow of the glossy magazine pages, the Pinterest images, and tender romantic comedies. I’m perhaps one of the guiltiest marriage/wedding-worshippers I know. I was seduced by it all and rarely stopped to examine what aspect of marriage most sincerely compelled me.

I also got lucky. I married a truly compatible partner, one that had stuck the course with me for years before we actually took our vows. I chose someone I thought would make an excellent father and someone who challenged me to be better, stronger, and more confident than I was alone. And upon actually becoming husband and wife, it did not surprise me to find that our marriage very much resembled the one around which I had constructed my early fantasies.

Then, like a fast and furious wrecking ball, came traumatic brain injury. I refused to acknowledge it in those earliest days of TC’s injury, but I no longer felt like my husband’s wife. Overnight, I had become his mother. Any remaining mystery in our relationship was quickly suctioned out as I began the laborious task of dissecting our bank accounts, scouring old e-mails, communicating with his friends, and taking care of his many physical needs. He was now fully transparent to me and I no longer felt like his partner. I felt like his keeper.

Outwardly, I tried to remain cheery and respectful, treating the situation as if he were simply my husband on hiatus. But behind closed doors, it was a different scene. I was painfully lonely, missing the person I used to ask for constant advice. I was overcome with fear, working through the idea that the situation might be permanent and that I might never again experience the joy of being someone’s wife. I wondered how long I could carry on in this new role with a partner who could no longer interact with me, and I often felt as if I were living a “fake” marriage. With only uncertainty ahead of me, I did the only thing that felt right. I decided to wait.

I waited for months, hungrily anticipating the moments TC would put his arm around me or even simply ask how I was doing. Although I had plenty of friends and family who were willing to play the role of pseudo husband, there was no substitute for TC. He was my best friend and — for as long as hope could sustain me — I would wait for him to come back.

Months later, I got lucky again. TC started to return. In small, subtle ways, he began to show he was ready to reciprocate our relationship. He would offer to mail a letter for me on his walk with the dog or bring me a cup of tea as I stayed up late writing. He began to ask me about my day again, pushing his language as far as it could go so as to more deeply engage in conversation with me. However, moments of frustration abounded. The more TC seemed to resemble his old self, the greater my expectations grew. On a bad day, one in which he was exhausted or pushed to the max, I found myself incapable of understanding his limitations or need for quiet rest. I had experienced a taste of my former life and I wanted it all back.

Like all marriages, ours has gone through dramatic transformations. No longer do I harbor secret, guilty thoughts of feeling like TC’s mother or keeper. After a lot of hard work and patience, we have finally resurrected some of the joy, fun, and playfulness that characterized our marriage before. But I know the tough moments are never far away. There will always be times in which I don’t feel quite like the wife I used to be.

I’ve thought a lot about marriage in the nineteen months since TC’s brain injury and what I’ve come to realize is how truly limited I was in my previous views of marriage. Not all marriages look the same way. Not all partners reciprocate their love in the way it’s sold to us in the movies. Happy marriages always require patience and sometimes may even require space. Above all, I’ve learned that marriage is so much deeper and so much richer than I could have conceptualized it before. It reaches to the core of you and changes you from the inside, even when you’re confident there’s nothing left to change. Marriage is terrifying because it’s also the unknown, but when you take those lovely vows, you’re doing more than just promising to power through it. You’re promising to try out new mindsets, to adjust your expectations when needed, and to seek out happiness in revolutionary ways.

At 26, I may have been naïve in understanding the complexities of marriages, but given the chance, I’d do it all again. And if I could unload some wisdom onto my younger self, I would smile and say only this: the wedding was lovely, but the ride is fantastic.

Comments (10)

This is my life in a nutshell. I wish I could take back my husband's accident and subsequent TBI but at the same time I wouldn't change him for the world! It has been about a year and a half since his accident and the changes and improvements he has made since then, and continues to make, have been truly amazing. I want people to know that there is hope and it will get better...I wish there would have been someone that could have told me that after the accident, it would have made all the difference...
I know exactly what you mean i suffered a TBI 3 years ago and my life has never been the same. I live everyday for my kids now. No one knows how much it affects your life. Reading your story has brought a teer to my eye. I had an anyirism that burst while working as a nurse in my local hospital and was only giving 2percent chance of survival. Ive been left with medical problems but im alive. You stay strong and thankyou for sharing this story. My love Caroline.xx
I'm so impressed with your insight, being only 19 months out. I am 12 years a caregiver of my husband post TBI. I was 29 when he was struck by a semi truck's load of lumber. We had 2 very young children. I have experienced the same rollercoaster of emotions multiple times over the years. Some months seem unbearable, and others feel back to our "pre-accident" life. A strong foundation to start with, lots of hard and hope continues to improve our relationship even today.
You are so young and dealing with so much. My husband had a brain tumor and it caused his personality to change over night. He was never the same raged out of control but would"t acknowledge he needed help. I tried to do everything to hold our marriage together but sadly had to choose to provide a better emotional life for my son who was 12 at the time. It was a difficult decision but my husband was not stable enough or willing to get the meds or help he needed so a 17 yr marriage and the life we knew was over. Family and friends you thought you had were not there. It has been a lonely scary venture but my son is 23 and still in my life and grateful for a stable and non violent and verbally abusive parent in his life. He understands that he could not help how he was due yo brain surgery and his dad has never beenin his life since, we have not seen or heard from him in 10 yrs. so sad. Glad to see that you were able to re create your marriage after brain injury. Leslye

This is where I’m at. I married someone that already had a TBI. Being only 21 and a very sheltered child I had no idea what I was getting into. 21 years later and 4 kids later I’m done. He doesn’t want to try to do anything there’s only so much as a human myself with three autoimmune diseases that I can do. The anger and fits are slowly killing me and the kids. Everyone suffers from anxiety and stomach pain because of the stress. My 17 yr old even moved out with a friend because he could not handle it anymore. Sometimes you just have to walk and today I told him I’m done.

Today was one of those tough days being married to a victim of TBI. The feelings of overwhelming anger hit him while I was having a jam packed day at work. Being the primary breadwinner since the accident 3 years ago, I have positioned myself in a stressful job that provides for our household. I wasn't able to "talk him off the ledge" as I am most times. He called later and said he had a severe panic attack and was a couple hours from home.Overwhelming. I am ever so grateful I happened upon this today. It is comforting to know I am not alone. Than you for sharing.
Hey everyone there is hope! I am a 33yr survivor,not a victim, of a TBI, eleven months post BS degree in FORENSIC CHEMISTRY. I no longer have that education or the cognition to relearn. But I did meet and marry a fantastic woman who has fulfilled the role of provider, confidant, sexual partner . We have 2 sons 26 & 24, the oldest has married and just blessed us with our first grandson. Successful marriage is possible and attainable for those of us who survive with a TBI. It takes a loving spouse who is prepared and willing to live with a TBI as well. April 23rd will be the 33rd anniversary of my(our) injury, May 9th will be the 27th anniversary of our marriage. Remember "FOR BETTER OR WORSE" and "TILL DEATH DO US PART" are VOWS, not idle words to fill a marriage ceremony.

Thank you for sharing, Abby! I'm anxiously awaiting your book. Any updates on it? Whenever I see the actress Anna Kendrick I think of you and predict she'll be playing you in a movie based on your life one day. That's my prediction anyway (-:

Again, thank you for sharing. Your openness and honesty will help others for years to come.

i dont even no what to say i stumbled on this website and im looking for some sort of support group...i need help and i have no one else but me and him .He hit his head the night before hurricane sandy...it will be 2 yrs in a week...i have spent the last yr since he retired from a 27 yr job.....screaming at him...about how messed up he is...he is unreachable...im dying...died and still grappling with the changes in him....im trying to hold it all together...but ive issues of my own....today i am trying to get someone in my life that is going thru what im living now.....i love him and want to stay married to him we fast are approaching 20 yrs this february...everyone else married we were close to has since divorced....wow its so sad....but again i had no idea..he even was suppose to get therapy or that there was any such thing..i dont no why the neuro we visited 2 x...did not steer me in that direction..he fights me on everything...and wen he drinks he is angry....or even more what i call more dopey....i have abused him terribly in my frustration and hopelessness ...but im trying with everything i got...some days he is child like....just lost in the tv...other days he is off to the bar...and i cant breathe till he is safely at home....god help me he dropped a huge industrial fan on his head in our garage in june and i jus found him sitting there in a daze with dried blood all over his face..and he was stunned i guess i quickly got him into the house and butter flied his wound afraid or incapable of taking him to the emergency rm...so here we are and im feeling like i should of taken him....when he screams at me in the car....he is frustrated and cant handle my intensity...blames it on me ..that he passes an exit or cant shift the gears of the car or at least the right gear at the right time...what i cry to myself..this man drove a cement truck all over the 5 boro's and he cant find an address....omg help ...wheres my husband...im scared...someone come help me ...but no one comes...so drinking does 2 things gets him talking and feeling good...but if he drinks liqour he wobbles and i fear he will fall again...he has his pride sometimes and insists nothing is wrong but most days he stares at me and dont understand what it is...im complaining about....he doesnt hear my words or cannot understand or process that i need anything from him i had no idea that was part of it....i keep thinking he will come back...but he isnt ...he has collapsed so to speak and im lost....this is a horrible twist of fate...and i did not sign on for this....god help us....

My wife and I had been in high school together. I suffered my first stroke in the womb and my 15th in between classes, in 10th grade.

I spent 30 days in the ICU at Johns Hopkins University Hospital, then was driven to the University of Western Ontario's University Hospital and had a life-saving surgery.

I was mainstreamed back into High School, the following year and was no longer in the same classes as my wife; then, we both graduated and went our separate ways. Until, shemale ordered me.

I had only been home from the West Coast for a few days and I had locked myself out. In the mailbox, was a postcard trying to drum up business for a house portrait drawing service.

After having finished an undergraduate degree, I eventually made my way out to the West Coast because I was very unable to establish myself professionally, on the East Coast. The West Coast had been about the same as the East Coast.

Anyway, the portrait drawer was my soon-to-be girlfriend (and wife), whom I had dated once, after high school. We are coming up on 15 years of marriage, now.