“I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health.” Millions of couples repeat these words to each other on their wedding day, but when one half of a couple suffers a traumatic brain injury, these vows are severely tested. In the worst cases, a TBI is life-changing, and many couples find themselves forced to adapt to a new normal – and, in many situations, their marriage does not survive.
Life in a Marriage After a TBI
Severe TBIs can be not only physically but mentally incapacitating. A TBI can lead to job loss or unpaid time off, which means a change in income. Financial strain is one of the biggest causes of marital strife and, ultimately, divorce.
A TBI can cause mood swings, irritable behavior, memory loss, and difficulty processing information. This can make it tough to discuss important issues with your spouse, reminisce about happy times, or plan for the future.
The behavioral and emotional shifts caused by a TBI can make it arduous for the sufferer to connect with their children in the same way or care for them adequately. The bulk of childcare falls to the other spouse, which is incredibly challenging. And there is a new need to support the kids who feel like the parent they once knew is not the same or doesn’t love them the way he or she once did.
Altering Your Perspective After a TBI
Whether your loved one suffered a concussion or TBI because of an auto accident, fall, or other encounter, the aftermath affects everyone differently.
See it from the TBI sufferer’s perspective: He no longer feels like himself. He cannot do the things he once did. He may feel as though he is inadequate in all ways, failing to provide as a husband or father, and incapable of offering the same kind of focus, support, and attention he once did. He is frustrated that he is unable to be the person he once was, and his irritability with himself and his limitations can make his spouse feel ganged up on, weighed down, and overlooked.
See it from the spouse’s perspective: After rallying initially and giving all of her energy to her spouse’s rehabilitation, a slow recovery can lead her to feel overwhelmed. She begins to feel obligated to help her spouse rather than wanting to help, and she is burdened with the need to bring in enough money to support the family, take care of the family, and take care of him. A give-and-take relationship has become a permanent giving one, and that isn’t easy for anyone to shoulder all of the time.
Consider this: It’s trying enough for one-half of a couple to care for the house, children, bills, groceries, cleaning, and more when it’s just the stomach flu that’s got their spouse down. The thought of managing with a permanent disability can be terrifying, and it’s enough to make some people want to call it quits. The dynamics of a relationship shift as well, and what was once a loving, intimate union has become one of nurse and patient.
What to Expect When Your Spouse Suffers a TBI
If a TBI invades your lives, your existence as you know it will change. There are likely to be communication issues – arguments, misunderstandings, an inability to connect or understand how the other person is feeling. Responsibilities will shift – what your spouse once did, you are now responsible for, and perhaps you can no longer trust your spouse to complete tasks as needed. Intimacy may fall by the wayside. Prioritizing doctor’s appointments can eliminate all other fun or relaxing aspects of your family life. And the spouse of a TBI-sufferer may often utter, “I feel like I’m married to a stranger.”
What are the real chances of your marriage surviving your spouse’s traumatic brain injury? An Iowa State University study found that when it’s the wife who is sick, the marriage is 6 percent more likely to end in divorce. And, alas, it’s the quality of care that’s the issue. The lead author of the study explains that wives are, in general, less satisfied with the kind of care their husbands provide and states that it is because men are not socialized to serve as caregivers and feel uncomfortable in that role.
When it comes to serious health problems, people reevaluate their lives, and this new perspective can impact the future of a marriage. For couples that are already on shaky ground, the stress that accompanies a TBI can be the thing that permanently ends their union. But there are others who thrive when a tragedy strikes, coming closer together and realizing that, no matter what happens, they really do want to be with each other.
About: David Christensen is a personal injury attorney and brain injury expert at Christensen Law, which has offices in Southfield and Ann Arbor, Michigan. He is dedicated to helping victims of car accidents collect from insurance companies and get the benefits they deserve.