This article is copyright protected and is being used with permission of the TPN Magazine and TPN, Inc
No part of this article may be reproduced or retransmitted in any manner and/or for any reason without the express permission of TPN, Inc. You may contact them at: TPN@tbi.org or 770/844-6898.
The Forgotten Survivor (Part 1)
When a husband sustains a brain injury, the family's life is forever changed. In the efforts to rehabilitate the survivor, the devastating effect on the spouse is often overlooked.
The wife of a brain-injury survivor is faced with massive changes in roles. She quickly assumes singular responsibility for household management, parenting, finances, decision making, dealing with benefit programs (insurance, Social Security, etc.) and, in some instances, earning the family income. Shared decision making which was probably part of the relationship is interrupted, at least initially.
These difficult transitions occur at a time when the wife is experiencing the essential loss of her marriage partner. The cognitive and behavioral changes which typically result from a brain injury create a new spouse. In some ways, it's like being married to a stranger.
This change in one marriage partner usually produces a significant effect on the marriage relationship. Sexuality is often dramatically changed. Wives frequently report being troubled by the absence of the special caring and affection they received from their mate. No one asks "How are you doing?"
It is not uncommon for the wife to assume the role of caregiver for her injured spouse. The cognitive and behavioral changes from the brain injury frequently necessitate the wife to act as a parent figure. This "parenting" is often resented by the brain-injury survivor. When a couple says "I do," no one envisions being a parent to their partner.
The essential loss of a marriage partner without death creates awkward problems for the non-injured spouse. The need to "mourn" the lost partner is poorly understood by professionals and friends. Some wives have described themselves as "married widows." They find themselves in a social limbo - not fitting in socially with couples or singles.
There is often stress with the in-laws. The wife may feel she is expected to persist "for better or for worse, in sickness and in health" no matter how difficult the situation. Consideration of leaving the marriage, which is a legitimate choice, usually sets off lots of conflicting feelings. Commonly, the wife feels trapped in the situation because no one is available to care for the survivor.
Financial devastation is frequently the aftermath of a husband's brain injury. Wives are more likely to declare bankruptcy, sell possessions, etc. than parents of a survivor. This dramatic change in economic status multiplies the stress on the non-injured spouse.
These unique problems experienced by spouses of brain-injury survivors can be helped with peer support. Because professionals and friends have such a limited understanding of issues for spouses, it can be most helpful to talk to someone else who is travelling this long, rugged road. This linkage with other spouses is not always easy because the number of affected spouses is small compared to the number of parents of brain-injury survivors. The availability of spouses groups is limited but a national telephone/ correspondence network is available - CONNECT (804) 275-5086. Some rehabilitation and mental health professionals can assist in coping with the myriad of problems affecting a marriage after brain injury.
Although the problems experienced by wives of brain-injury survivors can be overwhelming, many women find that they are able to grow personally as they rise to the challenge. Their dogged determination enabled them to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
1. Educate yourself - Learn as much as you can about the problem you are dealing with. A great deal of reading material about brain injury has been developed in recent years and is available through the National Head Injury Foundation, rehabilitation centers, libraries, etc.
2. Avoid being SUPERWOMAN - You are only one person and you can stretch yourself just so far. It will be necessary to prioritize the demands on your time and energy. Take tasks in order of priority and do as much as you can without destroying yourself. It is essential to learn how to ask for help. Many people could help but don't know what you need or how to offer help. Enlisting the help of others may be the key to your survival.
3. Continually look for programs which can help - Wives who continually seek out new programs which might be of benefit often uncover resources which would have otherwise gone uptapped. New programs are gradually being developed and existing programs, which are not widely publicized, may provide help in a variety of areas. What you learn about helpful programs may also benefit other spouses.
4. Hook up with another spouse or spouses' group - The unique problems experienced by wives of brain-injury survivors are difficult and painful to explain. Another spouse can understand your anguish without an elaborate explanation. Very few friends, relatives or professionals really appreciate the difficulties in your life.
5. Decide what is good for you - It is important to recognize that you have legitimate needs which cannot be consistently ignored. You may have choices, however difficult, which are available to you. Not all marriages can survive the trauma of brain injury. Ending a marriage is not always a disaster - for some couples, it is the beginning of separate but more independent and fulfilling lives.
Maintained by: Webmaster