Uncontrollable headaches, memory loss, problems with balance and muscle control, mood swings, and difficulties with communicating are all well-recognized possible long-term effects of traumatic brain injuries. Fewer people understand, however, that a TBI can also strain and destroy even the closest of relationships.


Even a so-called mild TBI like a concussion can result from damage to the brain frontal lobe that triggers behavioral changes. A responsible, caring person can become impulsive and angry, creating conflict and confusion among those who formerly relied on them.

When a TBI does produce significant, debilitating symptoms, the victim’s spouse assumes heavy and unjust burdens as a caregiver and advocate. Roles that a husband or wife may have expected to take on after decades of marriage suddenly become, essentially, full-time jobs. The reality that all this extra physical and emotional labor is thrust upon them by some other person’s negligence or recklessness can trigger resentment that finds unhealthy outlets.

The stress of providing around-the-clock care to another adult while also doing most or all of the work required to keep a home and maintain a family—holding a job, paying bills, shopping, cooking, cleaning, taking care of the children—can become overwhelming. Spouses of TBI victim experience high levels of depression, anxiety and anger. Burnout is common.

>Brain injury experts recommend that couples seek counseling on coping with TBIs. Joining a local brain injury caregiver support group can also help a spouse understand that they are not alone and have a community they can tap into for when everything becomes too much.

The point is that the short- and long-term effects of a TBI can strain a marriage to its breaking point. Suffering is not confined to the person who took the blow to the head or had the flow of oxygen to their brain cut off. Courts have long recognized this, allowing brain injury victims to claim monetary damages for noneconomic losses of companionship and intimacy (which lawyers call “consortium.”).