Measuring the Immeasurable Toll of Brain Injuries on Relationships

"No man is an island," the poet John Donne famously wrote over 400 years ago.

In the context of brain injuries, one might also add a corollary. No one's brain injury injures only him or herself. To the contrary: brain injuries profoundly affect the relationships of the people who suffer them.

A brain injury lawyer who takes on a case involving head injuries sooner or later has to confront this challenging reality. In all likelihood, the injured person's case will also have a major impact on the person's family.

Gabby Giffords Case

The most high-profile example of rebuilding a life after a traumatic brain injury is probably former U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona. She was shot at point-black range by a would-be assassin in January 2011. Amazingly, she survived the attack, in which six people were killed.

Giffords suffered severe brain injuries in the attack, however, and continues to try to rebuild her life. After months of therapy, she was able to make several public appearances. But the toll the injury took on her ability to perform daily tasks eventually led her to resign her seat in Congress.

Giffords and her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, have been forthcoming with the press about the challenges the injuries have brought - not only for Giffords herself, but for the marriage relationship.

"For the past year, we've had new realities to live with," Kelly said at a vigil in Tucson a year after the shooting. "The reality and pain of letting go of the past."

Resetting the Expectations

The conventional wisdom used to be that the risk of divorce increased in couples in which one spouse suffered a brain injury. Recent research has shown that this is not necessarily the case.

Couples who stay together after a brain injury, however, may need to reset their expectations about the relationship. The marriage may still be technically intact, but the quality of the marital relationship may be greatly diminished.

In other words, it takes a lot of love and self-denial to deal with the "letting go" process Mark Kelly alluded to. The process of doing this can be wrenching and is attracting increasing interest from marriage counselors.

Ultimately, it doesn't matter whether a brain injury was caused by a vehicle accident, by medical malpractice, or in some other way. The effects are far-ranging, and they most certainly include big impacts on the injured person's spouse and other close family members. The toll of brain damage damages them as well.