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Do brain injuries change couples' relationships?

Victor Lewin - Friday, June 19, 2015

When people suffer traumatic brain injuries after an accident, many times the focus remains on the physical changes that are associated with TBIs. However, there are often dramatic changes in the injured parties' interpersonal relationships that affect the quality of their lives.

If the person is married or involved in an intimate relationship, the TBI is likely to change the way they are able to relate to the other person, emotionally as well as physically.

Couples have certain roles that they fulfill in their relationship. Traditionally, the man may be the breadwinner or more significant earner, while the woman is the homemaker and caretaker of the children. A TBI can alter those roles, sometimes permanently. It can thrust a homemaker mom suddenly into the workforce in order to bring in a paycheck while her husband recovers in a rehab centre or at home. A father may be forced to pull double duty as the breadwinner while also struggling to manage household tasks and care for children.

TBIs can alter the way couples communicate with one another. When speech is affected, it can be especially frustrating for the injured partner to convey ideas and feelings to the other. If the brain's memory function has been damaged, a spouse may not remember that the other person is their wife or husband, or even understand what that role is any longer.

Personality changes that often accompany TBIs can make a formerly cheerful person surly and angry, cause frequent bouts of crying or other outbursts that frighten spouses and children. Finding ways to deal with the emotional lability of a brain-injured person can be exhausting and exasperating. It can bring even the strongest relationships to the breaking point.

If you or a loved one suffered a brain injury that led to emotional and psychological consequences or difficulty with relationships, you may be able to seek compensation through the Nova Scotia civil court system.

Source: Model Systems Knowledge Translation Center, "Couples’ Relationships After Traumatic Brain Injury," Emilie Godwin, Ph.D., Jeffrey Kreutzer, Ph.D., and Stephanie Kolakowsky-Hayner, Ph.D., accessed June 19, 2015

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