Some of the people we spoke to said that their relationships were the most important thing to them, even more so than their recovery. In some cases, people felt their relationships had been strengthened through their experiences. Other relationships ended, sometimes through the challenges created by the injury, or because people’s priorities changed. The importance of working at relationships was emphasised by some.
Relationships between people who had life-changing injuries and their partners were often described as mutually supportive. They said they did everything together and helped each other. Some people said their partners were instrumental in their recovery, which, they acknowledged, could be difficult. People often depended on partners for emotional support and sometimes for physical care, and some needed them to be supportive and to give them hope throughout their recovery.
Partners becoming carers could have implications for relationships. Rob said his wife became more like a mother to him. Simon A said that he was demanding after his injury and caring for him put a great strain on his relationship with his wife. Dealing with some of the symptoms of injury, such as angry outbursts, unreasonable demands or witnessing epileptic fits, could be difficult for partners. It could also be hard for people to see their partners struggle. Younger people sometimes felt it was better for their partners to look after them rather than their parents or strangers. Sam said he preferred to be looked after by his girlfriend rather than his parents because that would have felt like he regressed to being a child again. Sometimes people and their partners decided to employ paid carers because they wanted to retain the relationship they had.
Having a life-changing injury could create problems in relationships. Some said they had arguments with partners and one man with brain injury felt his colleagues at work were more understanding than his wife. The wife (Interview 24) of a man who had a brain injury said it was important for partners to be tolerant and understanding.
Sometimes relationships with partners ended after injury, as they wanted different things, or it was difficult to adapt to the changes that serious injuries cause. A man with brain injury (Interview 7) said he was relieved when his relationship ended as he was ‘the number one priority now’. His ex wanted children, but he felt it was important for him to focus on his recovery. People sometimes felt their partners needed to grieve for the person they’d lost and accept that things were different now. They often said they wanted their ex-partners to be happy.
People whose relationships ended after injury, or were single at the time of injury, could worry about finding a new partner. This was often unfounded as people went on to establish new long and short-term relationships, and sometimes they got back together with ex-partners. In some ways, relationships that began after injury avoided the tension between the change in the person before and after injury. New partners could be more accepting. As a woman (Interview 24) who met her husband after his brain injury said, ‘I know him as he is now’.
People met new partners in different ways. Jane used internet dating, but stopped when she realised the effects of her brain injury made it difficult for her to keep up with the messages she was sent. She thought that by living in London she was likely to meet lots of people anyway. Bridget also met her current partner online.
When starting new relationships, people varied in how much they said they wanted to discuss their injuries. Those who discussed them said they were such an important part of their lives they couldn’t ignore or hide them. But people could be less keen to ‘share a whole medical background with a new person straightaway’ in case it was off-putting. Bridget did not disclose her brain injury to her partner until they had met six times. She said ‘I want to be liked for who I am’.
Sometimes people didn’t know what they wanted out of a relationship and they thought it was important to wait until they were ready to start new relationships. For Wesley this meant getting his own place. He lives with his mum and thought this would be a turn off for most women.
People’s self-confidence was often affected by injury and they felt unready to start dating again. Self-confidence and being able to communicate well with your partner were seen as important in relationships.
For more see ‘Support after aquired disability from carers and helpers and helpers‘.