Brain injury can – and likely will – impact every relationship held by a person who has sustained a brain injury or the family members and caretakers. When describing changes in relationships following a brain injury, both family members and survivors mention they may not hear from their friends, co-workers, and extended family members and phone calls, emails, and letters may be left unanswered. It is vital to remember that the impact of brain injury is not only felt by the person who has sustained the injury, but the entire family.
Common Thoughts and Feelings
- I can’t relate to others anymore.
- I’d rather be alone.
- People are avoiding me now.
- What happened to everyone who came to visit in the hospital?
- They just don’t want to be around me.
- Nobody returns my calls.
- They want to fire me – I just know it.
- People just don’t understand me.
If you (or your loved one) are experiencing these thoughts or others like them, try to picture the brain injury as a hurricane that has hit everything and everyone in its path. The response may be fast and overwhelming, but at some point most responders leave and you – and your family – must begin to rebuild your home and lives. Progress may seem slow, but every step makes a difference.
A brain injury can significantly change a couple’s relationship. There are different degrees of brain injury severity, and less severe injuries do not always result in significant or long-term relationship changes. However, after severe, moderate, or complicated-mild brain injury, both the person who has sustained the injury and his or her partner are often forced to change many parts of their lives. Perhaps most often, partners will experience a change in responsibilities or roles within their relationships. For example, the family’s primary breadwinner is now unemployed and recovering, or the family’s primary homemaker is now unable to care for the home and children, etc… Next, intimate relationships are likely to experience challenges with communication. With shifts in roles, focus, and even daily routine, it is difficult to maintain a level of communication that many relationships rely on to stay healthy. Those who have had a brain injury often demonstrate new personality traits, challenges, fears, and limitations. Their spouses are often surprised by how these changes impact their relationships, and these changes have lead many spouses to feel like they are “married to a stranger.”
Most couples will experience change in their sexual relationship after a brain injury. There are various emotional and physical reasons for this change, such as:
- Hormone levels due to injury
- Roles in the sexual relationship
- Appearance, self-confidence, and/or attraction
- Areas of sexual interest
Studies have shown that sexual problems can arise at any time following brain injury and, if this happens, it is important to seek the advice and treatment of a medical provider.