Everyone in the family is affected by TBI. As the primary caregiver, your role within the family has changed. The role of your family member with TBI may also have changed. Role changes can be emotionally demanding.
Other challenges include learning how to balance work, family, and your own needs, in addition to caring for someone else. Changes in finances, social life, and relationships also add stress to the family.
Conflict among family members regarding the care and treatment of the injured family member may also occur.
Addressing family needs means paying attention to family members’ emotional needs and addressing them.
How Can I Build on My Family’s Strengths?
You can learn to cope with the stress of TBI by finding and building on your family’s strengths. No family is perfect.
Think about your family’s strengths. Then think about areas that you would like to be stronger. Discuss these with family members and choose one area that you can work on together.
Family strengths include:
- Caring and appreciation
- Commitment: One way to build commitment is to create and maintain family traditions.
- Communication: It’s important to keep lines of communication open. Active listening is important. When the other person is telling you how he/she feels, try re-stating what he/she just said to see if you understand his/her position correctly.
- Community and family ties: Keeping close ties with relatives, neighbors, and the larger community can provide useful sources of strength and help in trying times.
- Working together: Sharing tasks and decision-making will help your home run smoothly. When important decisions need to be made, all family members should share their points of view.
- Flexibility and openness to change: A TBI in the family means that everyone’s roles and responsibilities will shift. Learning to manage change can be a challenge, but it can be done.
Use “I” statements to share your feelings, rather than “You” statements. For example, if you’re upset because your brother didn’t show up to drive you to the hospital on time, you might say: “I feel upset when you are late to pick me up. I am anxious to get to this important medical appointment on time so that I have the doctor’s full attention” instead of, “You are always late.”
The former states your feelings; no one can argue about your own feelings. The latter attacks the other person, making him or her feel defensive and more inclined to argue with you.
How Can I Preserve My Marriage or Relationship?
TBI can affect the dating or marital relationship, just as it affects other areas of family life.
In addition to the stress that caregiving may bring, the spouses of people with TBI may lose the intimacy with their partner that they once enjoyed.
Following a TBI, your service member/veteran may experience effects of the injury that may affect your relationship. There are possible physical, cognitive, emotional, and behavioral effects of TBI. Most of these changes improve over time.
People with TBI may lose interest in sex, become impotent, or may not be able to have an orgasm. This is often due to biological changes or the medications that they may be taking. This is a common effect of TBI so do not hesitate to talk with your provider about this.
Some people with TBI may show their sexual interest in ways that are not socially acceptable. They may misinterpret social or vocal cues and therefore behave inappropriately.
Seek professional counseling, if you need it. All marriages go through ups and downs; there is no stigma in seeking help. Military family advocacy programs and other on-base support programs provide a resource for counseling and help.