Along with the numerous life changes after a traumatic brain injury (TBI), personal relationships are affected in a number of ways as a result of:
- Modifications in responsibilities
- Changes in relationship roles
- Challenges with communicating
- Handling emotions and mood swings
Relationships after traumatic brain injury often change and can result in feelings of uneasiness, which can lead to increased stress, anxiety, and frustration.
While the traumatic brain injury survivor will have to concentrate on recovery, many everyday tasks are shifted to the person’s partner. The partner also needs to provide assistance with managing the survivor’s recovery while maintaining his or her own typical duties, which can lead to neglecting self-care and personal interests.
At the same time, the TBI survivor may be desiring more attention, which can result in feelings of frustration and distress on both sides. Recognizing that these are normal feelings following a traumatic brain injury and preserving open lines of communication with each other can help.
Oftentimes, after a traumatic brain injury, relationship roles are reversed. The partner may be making decisions that the TBI survivor used to make, such as monetary or childcare choices. The survivor may then take issue with the partner’s choices, which can produce added stress and irritability.
Develop a better knowledge of each other’s new roles through:
- Altering your point of view to see things through the other person’s eyes
- Serving as a mentor/consultant for each other in your new responsibilities, as opposed to being critical
After a TBI, relationships can be challenged from a lack of communication, due to a fear that asking questions or sharing feelings might bring on misconceptions.
A loss of communication can generate:
- Feelings of seclusion or disconnectedness
- Pent up emotions and thoughts
- Difficulties adjusting to a new normal
To foster open and truthful communication:
- Abstain from talking about difficult topics when the other person is feeling mad or irritated.
- If approaching a discussion on a sensitive subject, be sure there is ample time available for the dialogue.
- Plan a pleasurable date with each other such as watching a movie on TV, playing a game, eating at a favorite restaurant or taking a walk to lower tension.
- For especially sensitive topics, try writing a letter to your partner, explaining your position and feelings.
- Take time for simply talking, to get to know each other again.
Prevalent emotional transformations for a traumatic brain injury survivor consist of challenges with regulating anger, absence of empathy, mood swings and depression. It’s important for partners to realize that these emotional problems are a manifestation of the injury, not the relationship.
Strategies to help include:
- Having a conversation about what makes the survivor sad, worried or angry.
- Observing when mood changes manifest in order to help identify why they occur.
- Being patient, but setting firm boundaries that threatening, insulting or hurting others is not acceptable.
Realize that there may be grief and discontent involved with missing the “pre-injury” person. However, with a combination of education, encouragement and compassion, it is possible to preserve healthy, loving relationships. It’s just as important to accept care support to allow each other more time to put emphasis on the relationship aside from care needs.