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Traumatic Brain Injury and Intimate Relationships: What You Need to Know

Graphic: DoDlive-Rotator-Template_600x350Story by Erin Wittkop, Defense Media Activity

There has been a lot of news coverage in recent years about traumatic brain injury and how it impacts the lives of those who experience it. With each new story and study, a bigger picture is painted revealing that a bump on the head isn’t as simple as it once seemed.

TBI can happen to anyone, but it’s a very real concern for service members who put their safety on the line day in and day out in defense of our country. From training exercises to combat operations, the opportunity for injury is ever present.

I’ve been fortunate to make it to adulthood without experiencing such an injury but have watched as acquaintances, friends and loved ones have recovered from head injuries of their own. Recovering from them isn’t exactly a walk in the park.

So, what happens when you or your partner or spouse sustains a traumatic brain injury? What should you look for? What should you expect? How will it impact your life and your relationship?

I recently took part in a webinar hosted by the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center that focused on the effects of TBI on intimate relationships and how couples can cope during the healing process.

First and foremost, play it safe and encourage your partner to seek medical attention if you’re worried they’re at risk for TBI. If you’re the one who sustained an injury, get thee to a doctor. Medical professionals are the best people to consult if a head injury occurs no matter how minor or severe it may seem.

If you suspect TBI is afoot or you or your loved one have received an affirmative diagnosis, here’s a list of TBI symptoms (compliments of the DVBIC webinar’s keynote speaker) to look for after the initial injury occurs:


  • Balance Problems
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Light Sensitivity
  • Nausea/Vomiting
  • Ringing in the Ears
  • Sleep Disturbances
  • Visual Disturbances


  • Difficulty Finding Words
  • Disinhibition/Hypersexuality
  • Memory Problems
  • Poor Concentration
  • Slowed Thinking


  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Mood Swings
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Reaction

Remember also that TBI symptoms may not present themselves right away; every injury is as unique as the person that sustains it and the healing process takes time. Working with a qualified medical professional to manage symptoms and rehabilitate the injury is crucial to making a successful recovery. Also, the earlier an injury is treated, the sooner you or your loved one will be back on your feet.

Managing TBI is no easy task if you’re dealing with it firsthand or love someone who is. Lingering symptoms and side effects can leave partners and spouses wondering why their loved one is acting differently while the TBI sufferer grows frustrated that his or her partner can’t empathize.

Sally P. Cummings, Ed. D., FNP, keynote speaker of the DVBIC webinar, says that time and education are the keys to getting through this tough time. Personally, I think patience is pretty important, too; a whole lot of it.

Communication is crucial to working through the healing process with loved ones, though keep in mind that the injury may have impacted communication skills (this is where patience is extra important). Ms. Cummings offered a few tips to mitigate issues and alleviate stress when communication abilities have been impacted:

  • Ask open-ended questions
  • Allow time for word finding
  • Be clear and concise
  • Have a sense of humor
  • Keep your conversations brief
  • Make sure you have the listener’s attention
  • Reduce distractions
  • Remain patient and calm
  • Speak slowly and simply
  • Stick to the K.I.S.S. method (Keep It Simple, Straightforward)

Make sure that you and your partner continue to take care of yourselves and your relationship while the injury heals. Work to keep your stress levels low and take time to focus on each other.

  • Plan dates
  • Be appreciative of one another
  • Make time for each other every day
  • Do things together
  • Find the silver lining and stay positive
  • Offer positive reinforcement

Also, be sure to talk to your doctor if you and your partner encounter relationship struggles that are difficult to overcome. He or she might be able to help. Always remember that you’re not alone in this process and that things will improve with time.

If you’d like to learn more about coping with TBI, the following website have resources that can help:


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