R5: Exploring Intimacy following TBI
Principal Investigator: Carol Gill, Ph.D.
Co-Principal Investigator: Sunil Kothari, M.D.
- Intimate relationships are an important aspect of quality of life, and little has been studied about intimacy following TBI.
- This study explored how the experience of TBI affects feelings of intimacy and self-identity as a sexual or intimate partner for both persons with injury and their intimate partners. The study was conducted at both The University of Illinois-Chicago and TIRR (The Institute for Rehabilitation and Research) in Houston.
- The meaning of intimacy to participants was all-encompassing, including physical, spiritual, emotional, and intellectual aspects. Intimacy is perceived as related to a sexual relationship, but not synonymous with it.
- Factors affecting relationship strength after injury included: social support, strength of family bonds; good communication (especially regarding the injury); shared spirituality and religion; a common sense of humor; acceptance of life changes; the partner's understanding of disability; past experience with hardship and losses; quality of pre-injury relationship; and the extent to which the partners value and appreciate each other and the relationship.
- Factors contributing to conflict and threat in relationships after injury included: low self-confidence/feelings of self-worth in the person with injury; feelings of decreased masculinity or femininity in the person with injury; uncertainty about partner's feelings/love; sexual difficulties; role changes and conflict; lack of family support; lack of understanding about cognitive and emotional changes; role strain; and poor communication.
- For some couples, the injury resulted in an improved relationship. For some, this was the result of a change in personality or temperament for the better in the person with injury. For others, the improvement was related to a new appreciation for the relationship and an active decision or choice to continue with the relationship and move forward, in spite of difficulties.
- Over half of the relationships terminated from baseline to 6-month follow-up. Deterioration was related to: instability of pre-injury relationship; difficulty coping with cognitive and emotional changes in the person with injury; financial stress; difficulty coping with role changes; decreased intimacy; and poor communication.