Who Ever Said Marriage Would be Easy after Brain Injury?
By Beverly Bryant in Maine
Building and maintaining relationships after brain injury
I often wonder, “Who has those perfect relationships before a brain injury?” You know the ones we always miss so much after our brain is scrambled. The ones we look back on and say, “God! We had such a good thing going. We understood each other, had patience, couldn’t wait to share the day’s adventures with each other, had oodles of friends and understanding colleagues.”
It is a universal problem after brain injury to find communication is suddenly very different and difficult. Family becomes a source of frustration and misunderstanding. Therapists and counselors don’t feel that we have the ability to demonstrate sane judgment. Friends suddenly disappear like cockroaches in the light.
We don’t act like we used to. We don’t react like we used to.
Our behavior is described as inconsistent and unpredictable. We lose the ability to trust others. In the process, we lose the ability to trust ourselves. Dreams, once shared of a future together, are lost in some vague fog of hopelessness and despair. It sounds like the end of the world, as we know it. But it can be the beginning of reality for many persons who have endured a brain injury.
My relationships before my brain injury
My husband and I had worked for most of our adult lives to build a secure and loving environment for our children and ourselves. It involved working in financially secure jobs, retraining and reeducating ourselves as times changed, and being sure that we stayed abreast of changing times and circumstances.
We shared a relationship that was loving, functional and productive. Most cherished were our children. We spent much time trying to offer them the best opportunities in education, life and hopes for their own future.
After my brain injury, our priorities suddenly changed drastically
My husband and I no longer shared a 50-50 marriage relationship. He became the caregiver and I took on the submissive role of the patient. It took years to retrieve our former relationship, (if in fact we really ever did). For once you are forced to give up your independence and control over your life, it is very, very difficult to reclaim it.
Reclaiming or regaining relationships involves accepting yourself for who you have become. It also involves developing your new strengths. For if we cannot accept what we are left with, then it is impossible to move on with living.
Moving on involves the process of grieving
Grieving is a cyclical process. It comes and goes with time. But we must grieve to get over our losses so that we can learn to let go…so that our family and friends can also learn to let go. It is the letting go that lets us start on the road to becoming. That road involves risk-taking and sometimes, it is very hard to let go.
I know one thing for certain in my recovery. If my husband had not been willing to let go, and allow me to take risks – allow me to stumble and fail and then decide on my own, whether to use those failures as stumbling blocks or stepping stones – I would still be relegated to 24 hour supervision, instead of being totally in control of my life five years later.
It has not been easy
Marriages do not naturally grow stronger after brain injury. But I have learned that if you had a good marriage foundation before the injury, then you have a better chance of “making it” after brain injury.
Gordon and I had been married for 28 years and he was my best friend. Yet we still had to relearn how to communicate. Many times it was not what we said to each other, but how we said it.
I had to develop faith that he was interested in my welfare and not just trying to take control of my life. He had to have faith that I could make decisions that were safe and logical. Both were hard. We had to realize that there would be times when neither of us would be satisfied with the results.
We also had to come to grips with the fact that there would be friends who would choose to end relationships…and that was OK. Maybe it was because they could not understand the changes taking place, didn’t like who I had become, did not have the time to deal with the challenge, or just could not accept what happened. Any way you look at it, we lost friends…and that always hurts.
We also found that we made many new friends. They tended to be ones who also were involved in the brain injury community and who had a basic knowledge of what we were dealing with and offered validation, support, education and referral.
In a book I wrote on brain injury, my husband shared a part of himself by writing about our relationship.
“Relationships are meant to change. We grow and are challenged by change. The kind of change we experience may not always be what we planned…. We are fortunate enough to have a good foundation on which to build. I hope I have shown Bev that there is strength in having someone who cares for her and loves her through the good times and the bad. She has taught me that whatever I want for myself is worth fighting for. That’s what makes our relationship so strong. I am looking forward to the person she is becoming rather than who she was. I am happier thinking about the future rather than the past. Losing that still hurts a little.”
Finding and maintaining relationships after brain injury is hard. But let’s be truthful. Building meaningful relationships is always hard. We spent a lifetime developing them before our brain injury. Spouses and family members need to get used to changed personalities, changed behaviors, and changed dreams. It takes time…and a lot of help on our part.
Note from the Survivor Forum…
Bev has written two books on her experience. For a preview and ordering information, visit her website at www.bbryant.com.