Relationship breakdowns following brain injury are often triggered by a lack of understanding about the condition and its effects.
Brain injury survivors often report feeling like their partner doesn’t understand some of the challenges they face, and how this impacts on their life, such as fatigue or memory loss.
In addition to this, partners are often left with little or no support, despite often having to take on caring responsibilities. These changes can typically cause feelings of isolation, longing for the past and sadness
It’s important for both parties to take time following brain injury to learn about the condition and how this might impact or change aspects of day-to-day life.
It might be helpful to read the stories of other brain injury survivors and their partners in Brain Injury and Me.
Relationships are a very important and intimate part of life. They give us a sense of security and well-being, and contribute towards our sense of self-identity. It is often our closest relationships that provide the vital emotional and practical support needed when hardships are faced, such as when a brain injury occurs.
Adjustment to changes in life following a brain injury can be difficult for both the survivor and their partner. Here are some “top tips” for maintaining a healthy relationship after brain injury.
A couple might be eager for their relationship to return to how it was prior to the brain injury. This can take time and isn’t always possible. However, this doesn’t always mean the relationship can’t survive, or even strengthen, after brain injury.
If the survivor’s personality has changed, the partner may feel that they are no longer the person they originally chose to be in a relationship with, resulting in feelings of confusion, longing, sadness and loss. The survivor themselves may no longer feel the same way about the relationship as they did prior to the injury. However, enduring challenging experiences like this can also, with support, strengthen some relationships.
Partner of a brain injury survivor, Syreeta Challinger says: "Through the process of rehabilitation and recovery, life goes on and you’ll find a new way. We are only three years in, still fighting and finding ours.
"You’ll both grow from this, as hard and as challenging as that may seem at times.
As a couple you're tested beyond belief and you will find out what you are both truly made of.
"This isn’t going to happen overnight. Like in any relationship, communication, openness and patience is key to making things work."
Following brain injury, the partner often takes on a caring role, which can lead to the boundaries between the roles of ‘carer’ and partner becoming blurred.
Practical changes can cause roles to change, for instance the non-injured partner might need to take on new responsibilities that the survivor previously did, such as managing household finances.
The stress of additional responsibilities may lead to disagreements or strain on the relationship. The non-injured partner may experience feelings of resentment and frustration as they are less able to spend time with friends or doing activities they enjoy.
Partners might feel like it is their duty to care for their loved one and this might lead to reluctance to ask others for help. Everyone needs support sometimes and it’s important to know when to ask for it.
It does make me laugh when people refer to me as his carer... That's not how we see it. I do have to do stuff for him sometimes but I'm not a carer.
- Paula Stanford
In fact, both parties may benefit from a period of time to themselves – perhaps an evening with friends, or a day to enjoy an activity or hobby that was part of life prior to brain injury.
Family and friends will often want to help out when they can. It’s important for couples to feel supported by their wider social network.
When any type of relationship is changed, this can commonly cause feelings of sadness, confusion, hurt and loneliness among everyone involved. However, change isn’t always a bad thing.
Headway figures show that more than a third of people experience a strengthening of their relationship following brain injury.
A brain injury can bring about a new appreciation of life and loved ones.
It’s likely to take time for both parties to adjust to the changes in the relationship. Acceptance for the new way of life can, however, set in over time, especially if the survivor continues to recover or learns coping strategies to regain their independence. Indeed, some relationships strengthen over time as the couple learn new ways of managing the effects of the injury and their relationship.
Some relationships break down, regardless of brain injury, and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
The end of a relationship can sometimes be a positive thing – a chance to grow your independence, take on new challenges and discover a “new you”.
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