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How to develop a new relationship path after a TBI

Image of A pair of hands clasped together. Air Force Capt. Spencer Crandall and his wife Kristen hold each other’s hands during a marriage retreat in Charlotte, North Carolina in 2012. (Photo by Human Performance Resources by CHAMP at USU.)

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Traumatic Brain Injury

When you or your partner suffer a traumatic brain injury (TBI), changes to your relationship are likely. Both of you might experience a range of emotions as you adapt to new expectations in your relationship, but you can weather the changes. TBIs can occur without warning, and the path to recovery isn’t always clear, which can add strain to your romantic relationship.

Shifting roles and changing emotions

The uninjured partner is likely to shift into a caregiving role after a TBI. This can be fulfilling and frustrating for both of you. It’s likely neither of you expected one would have to intensely depend on the other as sometimes happens after a TBI. However, it’s also an opportunity to show commitment and gratitude toward each other on a regular basis.

Still, these new roles can leave you both feeling isolated at times. That’s why it’s important to garner external support. Caregivers need a break to take care of themselves every so often. Encouragement from other family members and friends can help as you or your loved one recover from a TBI together. You both can’t make it through this process alone, or by only depending on each other. Reap the benefits of getting comfortable asking others for help because it could provide some well-needed relief.

You might feel a sense of loss or grief about your relationship as a couple, which can be similar to the grief felt after the death of a loved one. You also might grieve future plans that now have to be canceled or adjusted. And you might mourn for the couple you once were.

Your view of future goals and dreams probably needs to be modified or abandoned, and that’s hard. These feelings are normal, and talking about them with your partner, other trusted confidants, or a professional therapist can help.

The “new” us

After a TBI, work toward establishing a new understanding of what it means to be a couple in your current circumstances. Strive to answer, “Who are we now?” together. Build new rituals as a team, find novel ways to manage frustrations, and redistribute responsibilities at home.

A TBI survivor might not be able to handle detailed, more tedious jobs such as paying bills or balancing your family budget. Get creative about how you can reassign roles, so you’re both still involved and feel engaged in your partnership.

Learn more

Lastly, educate yourselves about what recovery after a TBI looks like. Understanding the typical changes in behavior, mood, and personality of someone who has experienced a TBI can help. Reach out to the Defense Centers of Excellence Outreach Center with your TBI questions. It’s still possible to build strong family and relationship ties after a TBI—it just might look different than you initially planned.

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#DYK? Family support helps TBI recovery? Learn how to support your loved one here: https://www.health.mil/News/Articles/2021/07/22/Caregiver-Guide-supports-service-members-and-veterans-with-TBI #BeTBIReady #BIAMonth

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#DYK Most TBIs don’t occur while deployed? TBIs typically result from activities like sports, falls, or car accidents. Wearing protective gear is one way you can minimize your risk of TBI. #BeTBIReady https://www.health.mil/tbi

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#DYK Symptoms of TBI aren’t just physical? Severe TBIs can increase the risk for mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression. Learn more: https://www.health.mil/Military-Health-Topics/Centers-of-Excellence/Traumatic-Brain-Injury-Center-of-Excellence/Patient-and-Family-Resources #BeTBIReady

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#PSA! Don’t forget your protective gear! Most TBIs do not occur in combat. They are usually caused by everyday activities like sports, training, or a car accident. You can minimize the risk of TBI by wearing protective gear. www.health.mil/BIAMonth #BeTBIReady #BIAMonth

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March is Brain Injury Awareness Month. Traumatic brain injuries are a key health concern for the military community. Thanks to innovations across the Military Health System, we are improving quality of life for TBI patients & their families. This month, we will share stories, tips, and resources for TBI prevention and recovery. www.health.mil/BIAMonth #BeTBIReady #BIAMonth

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March is Brain Injury Awareness Month. Traumatic brain injuries are a key health concern for the military community. Thanks to innovations across the Military Health System, we are improving quality of life for TBI patients & their families. This month, we will share stories, tips, and resources for TBI prevention and recovery. www.health.mil/BIAMonth #BeTBIReady #BIAMonth

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2000-Q32021 DOD Worldwide Numbers for TBI

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TBICoE is the Defense Department’s office of responsibility for tracking traumatic brain injury data in the U.S. military. Here you’ll find data on the number of active-duty service members—anywhere U.S. forces are located—with a first-time TBI diagnosis from calendar year 2000 through the third quarter of 2021. The data is also broken down by each branch of the armed services.

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Last Updated: December 20, 2021

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