Marriage after a brain injury

There has been much talk lately about the devastating and lifelong impact of brain injuries. New research continues to bring to light the dangers of concussions and we hear about personality changes and symptoms similar to mental illness that can result when a person’s brain is damaged by trauma.

Brain injuries change lives – and not just for the injured. In particular, life also changes dramatically for the spouses of those living with the permanent effects of brain injury.

Until recently, there wasn’t much research into the best way to preserve the marriage relationship after a brain injury. Often, couples go into survival mode for the first while and once the true effects of the injury become clear they are left to struggle through on their own.

Even for those who can still function with daily activities and live relatively independently, brain trauma often brings personality changes. A once lively, cheerful person could become cold and morose. An even-tempered spouse could begin to have frequent angry outbursts or near-manic behaviour.

Suddenly, your spouse is no longer the person you know better than anyone else and the spark that drew you together may indeed be gone. In these cases, doctors often warn spouses that the meaningful part of their marriage may be over as personality changes can do irreparable harm to relationships.

Although the relationship has undoubtedly changed and may not be happy, the statistics show that many marriages do survive after a spouse experiences a brain trauma. A 2007 study found the divorce rate in this group to be lower than the national average at just 17 percent.

Today, therapists are beginning to understand the obstacles faced by couples dealing with brain injury and are working on new counselling tools to help re-build relationships.

While traditional counselling techniques encourage couples to restore past happiness in their relationship or to look back to find what brought them together in the first place, this may not be possible for those dealing with a new reality after a brain injury.

Newer techniques center on teaching couples to go forward and create new connections with one another while accepting that the injured spouses have changed.

Some conventional tips such as communication, focusing on positives and being intentional about injecting fun and romance into the relationship can still be useful. Looking forward together may be the best way to re-build a relationship changed forever by a brain injury.


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