How Do You Save a Marriage After a Brain Injury?

Question: 

How do you save or preserve a marriage after one person’s had a brain injury? Is it still possible to have a good marriage?

Answer: 

Often people ask how to save or preserve marriage, or how to make it a good marriage, after a brain injury. When people first come in to marital counseling, for example, the wife will say something like, "He was the breadwinner in our family, he was confident, he was a patient, understanding husband. Now he can’t balance the checkbook and he’s angry at everyone. I just really don’t like to be with him; in fact, I really prefer to be with myself and to be with my friends than to be around my husband."

And then I have the husband say something like, "You treat me like a child, you tell me what to do, you’re always criticizing me. You used to trust me all the time, now you don’t trust me anymore." And I look at those two people and I feel very sad.

And I say to them with all honesty, "This accident wasn’t your fault. It wasn’t your fault that the truck driver went through the red light and smashed into your car and made it difficult for you to work, to balance the checkbook, to be patient. It really wasn’t your fault. It would really, really make me sad if your marriage, this marriage that you’ve had for 10, 20, 30 years, was also a causality of that accident. It’s really not your fault. What happened is somebody else’s fault and we’ve got to do whatever we have to do to bring back those things that brought you together before to help you recognize those things again. Instead of your marriage being a causality of what happened, it would be wonderful if your marriage helped both of you be stronger and helped make your lives better."

Posted on BrainLine August 8, 2018.

Jeffrey Kreutzer

Jeffrey Kreutzer, PhD a Professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry at VCU. He serves as Director of Virginia's TBI Model System, a position he has held since 1987. He also coordinates VCU Health System outpatient services for families and persons with brain injury.

Comments (6)

Ever since my husband went through 7 weeks of radiation for his cancer he is a completely different person. My children and I have to tip toe on egg shells, everything makes him angry..he's so angry! I know he needs some kind of therapy but where do I take him

I already asked this,but if you are friends with a person who has a stroke , will they remember anything that happened before the incident,like remember people and things that happened? ?

What you say is true but unrealistic. The marriage is a casualty whether we want it to be or not. My husband's brain injury is in it's15th year. He has severe short term memory loss and lacks good cognitive skills. He is unable to feel deeply about things or people. It seems like his emotions are in limbo. He does not pay attention to me or his family members and only seems to care about himself. I don't know how to get back my feelings for him. Everyday I say to myself "I don't want to do this anymore". But I can't imagine not doing it anymore. Any other way would make me feel so guilty. I'm just stuck.

I had became ill within 3 months of my husbands stroke when he was developing this new personality. At least it makes sense now! That was in March of 2017. I'm very ill with PTSD, Gastroparesis and Neuropathy of the stomach. My new reality is that I need to live in constant state of "woosah". Activity and confusion cause me pain. Many times when my pain comes I want to die. I can't even try to go to think about going to counseling . He is in good shape physically and range from 10yr to 17yrs mentally. He is 50 and I am 57. He is like a child to me and I am like a grand ma to him. Its as if my husband died, I'm soooo very grateful he didn't! I don't feel guilty or stuck. It's very sad. I'm getting a divorce from the love of my life of 12 years.

After 2.5 years of trying to figure out what caused the change in my husband, it has been determined to be anoxic brain damage. In between time, our lives have been turned upside down - emotionally, financially.

We hopefully have the right resources now to help him. While I am learning to accept our lives will never be the same, I don't have an understanding of the 'new life' yet. Saying I feel trapped is an understatement. The loss and guilt are horrible to face alone.

My kids talked me into getting on a hoverboard Christmas Day and I fell. It was my eighth head injury. That was two years ago.  The doctors have not been doing anything about all the problems I am having. I pushed and pushed as my wife has always told me to do. I went to therapy to help with my memory and other things.

Today I feel that my wife still does not understand how bad my brain was injured. I am still the breadwinner of the family, but it takes everything I have every day to get up and do it all over again. I have pictures of my wife and kids in my office and I look at them every day to remind myself why I don't give up.

I just want my wife to understand that the anger I sometimes show is not my fault. It was my fault for the longest time because I didn't want her or my kids to see my weakness but it only makes things worse.

I pray that she will see me through this because my love for her is what keeps me going. I just want her to understand that I can't control my voice and sometimes my actions.

It's scary when you can't control your emotions. Sometimes what would help is a simple hug or  "it's okay" or "I know you can get through this." You need that feeling of hope and love from your partner when something like this happens.

I know the only way I am going to save my marriage and heal myself is by pushing these doctors to fix the problems and being honest with my wife when times are bad.

I'm sure it's very difficult for my wife but I would give anything to erase that day and be the man I used to be.

Keep pushing the doctors. All I can tell you is that it sucks for us as well.