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Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Marriage
One coupleís incredible journey from near death to picking up the pieces and finding solace in their marriage.


Courtesy David Charles Stieler
David Charles Stieler wrote a book chronicling the crash and recovery of his marriage.


Simply put, following TBI the person you married most likely will no longer think or act the same, so youíll probably have to learn how to love each other all over again.”
There was an accident.

My wife and I, on our way home after a dayís ride on the Harley, had been left lying unconscious in the middle of the highway by a hit-and-run driver. We never knew what hit us and neither of us was expected to survive that crash. Due to a traumatic brain injury (TBI) my wife nearly died at the scene of the accident.

Our daughter was an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) at the time and had been dispatched to the crash site only to discover upon arrival that her parents were the victims she had been sent to rescue. Meanwhile, headlines across television screens and newspapers all over Southeast Michigan told the story as it unfolded and the hunt for the driver who had fled the scene continued until he had finally been tracked down and taken into custody three days later.

How TBI Affected Our Marriage

Several weeks following the accident I came across a statistic stating that fewer than one in 10 marriages survives the aftermath of TBI. That was not an encouraging bit of information.

Studies have revealed that TBI radically alters an individualís personality and clouds the way the injured person is perceived by the outside world. The trauma can also change the way a person treats and is treated by their partner because individual likes, dislikes, and even life goals become exasperatingly obscured. Simply put, following TBI the person you married most likely will no longer think or act the same, so youíll probably have to learn how to love each other all over again.

Coveting a marriage relationship in a culture determined to rewrite the definition of marriage is an ever-increasing challenge, but we quickly learned that staying married following TBI, even after 38 years, was going to require the sort of commitment only those who want to stay married are able to make.

We needed to agree with mutual conviction that ending our marriage was not an option. There was no room for doubt. Thatís not easy becauseóletís face itóthe list of excuses for quitting is endless:

"Heís changed. He is no longer the guy I married."

"She doesnít laugh any more. Nothing I say or do seems to interest her."

"We still love each other. We just donít enjoy each otherís company the way we used to."

Deciding To Stay in the Marriage

Sometimes running away to almost anyplace felt as though it would have been an improvement, but when the smoke cleared and the silence crept in, reason soon followed. Imagining myself waking up alone, stripped of everything I owned, and living in a place I would never have voluntarily chosen was all it took for me to realize that as bad as things may have been, it couldóand probably wouldóhave been worse had I walked away.

After watching so many people jump ship only to find themselves facing a whole new set of irreconcilable differences, I concluded that the ambiance of any marriage was probably a direct reflection of the effort the couple was willing to put forth. There may have been other candidates willing to leap out of the starting gate with either of us, but after 38 years of marriage it made no sense to start all over from scratch, learning how to get along with someone new, developing those terms of endearment every couple must define to survive in a relationship. In other words, you donít go looking for a new house simply because the one you live in needs a fresh coat of paint.

“ ÖI concluded that the ambiance of any marriage was probably a direct reflection of the effort the couple was willing to put forth.”

How We Did It

There is nothing automatic about maintaining even a healthy relationship, so salvaging a strained marriage was definitely something we needed help to accomplish. Counseling was a good place to start, but we quickly learned there needed to be some thought put into the type of counseling we chose before we would both put our hearts and souls into it. Understanding that counselors are not all the same and may never fully appreciate the dynamics of our relationship helped keep us centered. We also discovered that a neutral opinion offered by a trained observer, even someone unaware of our private lives, could still make a positive difference.

Key components of saving a marriage are forgiveness and unconditional love. Forgiving does not mean forgetting, but you will need to learn to leave the past behind. Unconditional love means loving one another without expectations. Being willing to express selfless, unreciprocated love will also serve to disable the otherís control over your emotions.

While all of that may make perfect sense, following through was a tall order and would probably qualify as the most difficult phase of our recovery because of the total surrender required to carry it out.

Eliminating stubborn pride and lowering the shields is risky business. Nevertheless, we called a truce. Frustration over forcibly adapting to circumstances never bargained for accelerated my anger and pushed my wife further into her hiding place. Tempers flared and in the heat of the battle things were said that threatened to permanently damage our relationship. Throwing those subtle complexities that accompany TBI into the mix caused explosions that nearly ended our marriage. Thatís when we both wanted to quit, but we didnít.

We became peacemakers. Most people do and say foolish, hurtful things without intending any harm. We both had to learn how not to get hung up on each otherís attitude or behavior. We each had to learn how to focus on the otherís intent.

It took some serious reflecting but we endeavored to remember why we had married each other in the first place. Something had brought us to the altar and encouraged us to take the vow. Whatever it was, once rediscovered, the healing could begin.

Date nights and exploring each other like we had just met helped rejuvenate an emotional connection. The only rule for reconciliation was that neither of us could change the other to meet our expectations. We could only change ourselves. Thatís when forgiveness, offered in selfless love to the one we once dreamed we could never live without, liberated the broken spirit and turned helplessness into hope.

David Charles Stieler is the author of "The Ride, The Rose, and The Resurrection" available through Amazon.com, iUniverse.com, and any major bookseller. Contact the author on Facebook at David Charles Stieler or email at: carco@centurytel.net.


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