How Do You Save a Marriage After a Brain Injury?

How Do You Save a Marriage After a Brain Injury?

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?


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.

About the author: Jeffrey Kreutzer, PhD

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.

Dr. Jeffrey Kreutzer

Comments (17)

Please remember, we are not able to give medical or legal advice. If you have medical concerns, please consult your doctor. All posted comments are the views and opinions of the poster only.

I rode bmx for years. One day i fell 9 ft to my face. Messed me up bad. The scars healed but i cant say the same for my brain. Ive never been diagnosed by a doctor but i have the memory loss, the anger, lack of empathy, all of it. Im fine, really. I can live with all that, but my wife is intolerant of my problems. Blames me for my memory loss. Thinks im just ignoring her and thats why i dont remember. Treats me like a child who throws tantrums when i cant control my anger. Calls me a sociopath when i cant grieve. Im not a bad husband. Things are just different for me. Im still the breadwinner in the house. I currently have 2 jobs in commercial and industrial construction. I can totally handle this "new life" but my wife seems to have no sympathy for my accident and the way i have to live. She expects me to just remember everything and to just be normal.

Thank you for all your honesty in your comments. My husband suffered a TBI during a professional boxing match in late 2017.
He was fortunate to pull through from a coma and we had a long road to recovery. We married 6 months later in 2018 and the wedding and moving house allowed us to keep a focus. It is this year particularly in last 6 months I have found myself struggle. After initially returning to work, he has had the last 6 months off sick due to stress.
We were only together 18 months before it happened and I find myself constantly asking is it me - I’m at fault, have I changed. We want to start a family but I get so worried for our future. I just feel like
I can’t do right for doing wrong.

I'd advise not doing anything for a couple of years except getting to know each other. Rushing into things will probably only make them worse.

It's been a couple years since that terrible accident. Poor medical treatment and I just had a major surgery which has set me back. I can't seem to stop from wishing I would have died that day. The day my soul was taken. I live as a shell inside this body. There is no adjusting to "this new life" or whatever the statement is - my memory is once again failing me. I live with this TBI, the PTSD and the shame... the shame from the inability to control my emotions that flip within seconds. What has become of me???!!

It has been two months since my husband's TBI. I am just now coming to terms that life as we knew it will be different. Until last week I was just in a paralyzed state of waiting. The doctors and nurses keep saying, "It just takes time." I know it is meant well, but I get so sick of hearing this! It isn't an answer. It's what someone says when they don't know what else to say. A more honest answer would be, "We have no idea if your husband will improve or not - only time will tell." And so we wait.

On Sunday a dear friend who has a husband with TBI finally told me that I needed to accept this new life (and baseline). She said it was okay to grieve the past life we have lost. This was the best advice I could have been given. I'm sure others have told me this, but I wasn't ready earlier.

I have finally allowed myself to grieve the past life we had - over three decades of it. Now I look forward in faith that my husband and I have a future together. It will be different than we had anticipated, but we are committed to each other and our faith in God. I'm hoping that people will be encouraged by seeing that there can be a happy future, if we stop comparing it to our past. We have to stop looking at the losses. Some days are better than others for this.

My wife has TBI from a simple fall that happened 16 months ago.

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.

My husband received his TBI in 1998. The man I had dated for 9 years and had been married to for 18 years went to work one day and never returned. This other guy who looked just like him came home from the hospital. Physically he's fine mentally he has numerous deficits that stops him from working, loving, emotionally connecting, having empathy, the list goes on and on. The hardest thing I've ever done is live up to my wedding vows. But I did choose to honor our wedding vows because I know he did.. that guy who went to work that day that never returned. 21 years later and he's still in therapy mentally just so our marriage can be held together. I think perhaps one day when I retire I'm going to write the one thing I wished I had when I came home from the hospital with him that book on "how to survive being a TBI family member"
I find most people don't understand what it is to live with your spouse having a TBI because they look fine and they smile. I know how you feel and I enjoy the days that I get up and the day goes not so bad, and I've learned how to survive the bad days. God bless you for what you do. I made the decision to set a good example to our sons because that's what my husband would wanted me to have done.....

Did you write the book yet? I feel so alone with this new life. My husband's TBI is 2 years old, the hospitals all tell you about support groups and other people just like you, but there's no one! All the TBI survivors talk about themselves and say encouraging things. Positive doings. My husband doesn't think anything is wrong with him. I tell him to exercise his brain by doing a word search book, or play a game on his phone. he doesn't want to do any of that. He doesn't like to. Instead, he comes home from work and falls asleep watching documentaries on TV. Something he's never watched. When our boys were growing up, he would tell them the TV is a brain sucker! I really need some info on where to find the help for the other side. Please, anything would be better than what I have now.

I feel your pain. 10 years ago we started this TBI and PTSD journey with no end in sight. Every day he draws further away. I would give anything for him to pull me close. His actions, emotions, and even his likes and dislikes are all completely different. I am just a roommate. I am holding steadfast to my vows buts each day is harder.

Tears were rolling down my face reading your story. I have been married for 30 yrs. But my Husband Gradually tuned off our Love and closeness. He slowly and Painfully changed. He was Diagnosed with 5 BrainTumors, largest was 11x7 cm on Frontal lobe.I went from 1 Hell to Another. I connect with ALL your Heat aches. Thank you for you Strength and example to carry on. I dont know how much time we have together, I CANT GIVE UP. God Bless you and your Family.

One thing I believe you could do is to STOP telling youself every day'I can't do this anymore' try for something positive as yor training your brain to believe that. Try a new thought... one step at a time. I know it's hard but you have the ability to change things around. I too suffered a stroke and understand 'fighting negative thoughts' and the need to battle your brain or retrain it.

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.