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How to Strengthen Your Relationships After Traumatic Brain Injury

mid age man and disabled wife smiling about their relationship after traumatic brain injury

Brain injury can cause relationships to change in sometimes drastic ways. These changes can be hard to navigate, and present unique challenges to friends and loved ones.

To help you overcome these challenges, today’s article will explain how brain injury can impact the many types of relationships a person treasures in their life. We will look at how TBI affects:

  • Parents and children
  • Friendships
  • Couples

Then, near the end, we will offer tips on how to preserve and strengthen these relationships after traumatic brain injury.

Let’s dive in.

How Relationships Change After Traumatic Brain Injury

The physical, cognitive, and behavioral changes that occur after brain injury can be stressful to experience. They can also put a strain on relationships if left unaddressed.

A brain injury will affect different relationships in different ways. We’ll examine the many ways brain injury does this below.

Parents and Children

Father and son playing with toy blocks

©iStock/fizkes

When a parent sustains a traumatic brain injury, new responsibilities can fall on their children.

For example, older children may have to take on a parental role with their younger siblings when their parents are at the hospital.

Even when their parent returns home, their lives will still look radically different. Responsibilities that used to belong to their father or mother, such as getting everyone ready for school, will now be shared by others. And they will need to adjust to their injured parent’s new medical needs.

Some children thrive when they gain responsibility, and their relationship with their parent only grows after brain injury. But most children will feel scared, confused, and hurt by the sudden onslaught of changes to their life.

Friends

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for TBI survivors to see their friends drift away after their injury.

That doesn’t mean your friends are bad people or don’t care about you. Rather, it happens because most people have no knowledge of the effects of brain injury or how it impacts a person’s life.

This misunderstanding mostly occurs when a brain injury does not leave any physical scars. Once the survivor returns home from the hospital, many friends will assume that they are back to normal. They simply do not realize that you struggle with severe fatigue, or that you can’t handle loud music anymore.

As a result, friends can become confused when you no longer go out with them like you used to. They might feel like they have nothing in common with you anymore and drift apart.

Some friendships, on the other hand, can actually strengthen. It is hard to predict how people will react to adversity.  

Couples

girlfriend taking selfie with her boyfriend in a wheelchair

Romantic relationships are often the most important relationships in a person’s life. This means they are also the relationships most affected by traumatic brain injury.

Some of the changes that can affect a couple’s relationship include:

  • Changes in personality
  • Changes in responsibilities
  • Communication challenges

Because couples spend so much time together, they are often the first to notice the more subtle effects of brain injury, such as cognitive and emotional changes.

If the survivor’s personality changes, their significant other may feel like they have lost the person they loved. This might cause them to become emotionally distant.

Partners also will usually take on a caregiving role, on top of their other responsibilities. This can blur the line between loved one and caregiver and put a strain on their relationship.

Finally, brain injury can also make it more difficult for the survivor to communicate with their partner, which can lead to more stress and anxiety, among other problems.

Strengthening Relationships After Traumatic Brain Injury

wife hugging husband because they strengthened their relationships after traumatic brain injury

While brain injury will cause significant changes in the relationships you cherish, it does not have to be a negative change.

The following are a few tips to help you strengthen your relationships after traumatic brain injury:

  • Acknowledge grief. Many people struggle to process their grief after TBI. But until you both can come to terms with your new way of life, it will be impossible to find healthy ways to cope. If you feel like you can’t tell the other person directly, talk to a therapist. But whatever you do, do not bottle it up.
  • Say thanks. Survivors should try their best to thank their children or partner at least once a day for all the new responsibilities they have taken on. Acknowledging the work of others can help prevent frustration or bitterness. It can also promote mutual respect and gratitude.
  • Let people in. One of the main reasons friendships end after brain injury is lack of communication. To preserve your relationships, tell your friends about the problems you face and ask for their support. Most people will be thrilled that you trusted them enough to honestly talk about your difficulties.
  • Schedule fun. TBI recovery is a lot of work, and it is easy to let it consume your entire day. But relationships will decay if everything revolves around therapy and doctors. That’s why it’s critical to schedule time when you both can just be yourselves.   

Finally, even if you have to adapt, try to continue doing activities that you both used to enjoy. For example, watch one of your favorite movies once a week, or go to the beach as a family. It’s the little actions like those that help keep relationships alive.  

Navigating Relationships After Brain Injury

Traumatic brain injury impacts every single area of a person’s life, including their relationships with others.

While it is easy to get absorbed in the details of recovery, try not to let the problems that brain injury causes distract you from the people closest to you. Relationships give life meaning and make it worth living, but they are not invincible.

If you ignore the ones you love or take them for granted, you might lose them forever. So listen to what they say, and show them you appreciate them. When you disagree, think about what you will say before you say it.

By treasuring the friendships you have and taking the time to nurture them, your relationships can grow stronger after brain injury than you ever thought possible.

Featured Image: ©iStock/michaeljung

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