Preserving Marriage or Relationship

When someone in your family – a spouse, a parent, or a sibling – gets a TBI, everyone in the family is affected by it in some way. As the primary caregiver, your role within the family has changed. The role of your family member with TBI may have also changed. These role changes can be emotionally and physically demanding.

Other challenges for you as a caregiver include learning how to balance work, family, and your own needs, in addition to caring for someone else. Changes in finances, social life, and relationships can also add stress to the family. Conflict among family members regarding the care and treatment of the injured family member may also occur.

Your needs as a caregiver, as well as the physical and emotional needs of your entire family, must be addressed.

How Can I Build on My Family’s Strengths?
You can learn to cope with the stress of TBI by finding and building on your family’s strengths. No family is perfect.

Think about your family’s strengths.

Family strengths may include:

  • Caring and appreciation
  • Commitment: One way to build commitment is to create and maintain family traditions.
  • Communication: It’s important to keep lines of communication open. Active listening is important. When the other person is telling you how they feel, try re-stating what they said to see if you understand their position correctly.
  • Community and family ties: Keeping close ties with relatives, neighbors, and the larger community can provide useful sources of strength and help in trying times.
  • Working together: Sharing tasks and decision-making will help your home run smoothly. When important decisions need to be made, all family members should share their points of view.
  • Flexibility and openness to change: A TBI in the family means that everyone’s roles and responsibilities will shift. Learning to manage change can be a challenge, but it can be done.

Next, think about areas that you would like to be stronger. Discuss these with family members and choose one area that you can work on together. When discussing, use “I” statements to share your feelings, rather than "You" statements. For example, if you’re upset because your brother didn’t show up to drive you to the hospital on time, you might say: "I feel upset when you are late to pick me up. I am anxious to get to this important medical appointment on time so that I have the doctor’s full attention," instead of, "You are always late."

The former statement indicates your feelings; no one can argue about your own feelings. The latter statement, however, attacks the other person, making them feel defensive and more inclined to argue with you.

How Can I Preserve My Marriage or Relationship?
When a family member experiences a TBI, it can affect the dating or marital relationship, just as it can affect other areas of family life. Following a TBI, your loved one may experience effects of the injury that may affect your relationship. There are possible physical, cognitive, emotional, and behavioral effects of TBI. Most of these changes will improve over time.

In addition to the stress that caregiving may bring, the spouses of people with TBI may lose the intimacy with their partner that they once enjoyed.

People with TBI may lose interest in sex, become impotent, or may not be able to have an orgasm. This is often due to biological changes from the brain injury or due to the medications that they may be taking. This is a common effect of TBI, so do not hesitate to talk with your provider about this if you have any questions.

Some people with TBI may show their sexual interest in ways that are not socially acceptable. They may misinterpret social, visual, or vocal cues and therefore behave inappropriately.

You should consider seeking professional counseling, if you need it or a friend or co-worker recommends it. Seeking help is a sign of maturity and strength, and by no means indicates weakness. Recognize that all marriages go through ups and downs – even in the best of circumstances – and having a family member with TBI can put a strain on family relationships. Military family advocacy programs and other on-base support programs provide resources for counseling and help.