Surviving Separation and Divorce after TBI by William C. Jarvis, Ed.D.

Divorce is personal

Divorce can feel like a broken heart.

Divorce can feel like a broken heart.

It has long been known that the divorce rate in the general population is approximately half of all marriages. A recent review of published studies after 1980 reveals that the divorce rate after a traumatic brain injury ranges from 48% to 78%. This has more significance when it affects you.

While teaching at TaylorUniversity in Fort Wayne, Indiana I was in a car collision resulting in a traumatic brain injury. After a year and a half in hospitals, I returned to my log cabin home in New Jersey with wife. I had physical therapy to relearn many things at the hospital, but negotiating a home was different. The initial walking was so bad, I often felt like the old Bill Jarvis was not there anymore. I could not do anything. The floors often made me lose my balance and everything was in my way because I did not have the ability to move things. My wife had to pull me out of bed in the morning because I could not get up alone. Taking showers was very difficult and baths were not possible. My injuries caused cognitive difficulties, extreme fatigue, and psychological problems dealing with my new life. My care took its toll on my wife!

Back to teaching – with a brain injury

Eventually, I returned to my teaching in Indiana and they allowed me to teach without salary for rehabilitation. I taught one course for three years and was slowly getting stronger. But being apart from my wife added stress to our relationship. During the seven or eight years I lived alone in Fort Wayne, I saw my wife during holidays, summers, and whenever we could travel to be with one another. I knew she was eventually coming to live with me in Fort Wayne as we bought a home together and that was the plan.

My relationship with my wife changed – I was different now

However, after seven years of this, my wife had doubts about moving. Our time together caused friction. I was not the same person with the same ability to do things. My energy levels were poor and I was unable to help like I use to. Everything was difficult for me. The many things I could do before, like cleaning, repairing house items, etc. were not there. I became easily irritated by my inability to be the handyman I always was and my inability to participate in life as I once did, e.g., socializing, shopping, dancing, etc. All this caused tension in our relationship and affected our physical intimacy.

It seemed that there were no answers. We grew further and further apart. I think because of my injury, my wife felt the distance more than I did. I was focused on getting better and spent every moment thinking about all I had lost and working hard to get it back, while she was caretaking a disabled husband and being the only bread-winner.

Finally, it became apparent that my wife was very unhappy. She indicated that she was thinking about a divorce. I was devastated. I was trying so hard to get better and now she was thinking of leaving me. Our separation was not the only problem. TaylorUniversity closed so now I had a home in Fort Wayne, living by myself, no part-time job opportunities, and a pending divorce.

Grieving the pain of loneliness and loss

My wife filed for divorce and I felt abandoned. Living alone was so very difficult. I made the best of it and tried to make my life easier by hiring help for housework and outside landscaping.  Most communication with her stopped. I could not understand why she divorced me. I had been faithful and loyal; the accident that caused the TBI and the separation we felt was neither of our faults. I was deeply hurt that she broke our wedding vows. I cried for three months.

By the end of that year I had gone through all the stages of grief. Now in the acceptance stage of both my TBI and divorce I tried to make sense of my life. I continued to work on my own improvement but the road has been long and difficult.

Surviving through my faith

My faith sustained me during this time. I knew God would never leave or forsake me and believe it was my Christian faith that held me together. I found purpose in the Support Group and started an online Facebook Support Group. I offer my ideas and my program to TBI Survivors who wish to improve. I offer to speak at conferences and churches. This gives me many opportunities for continued healing.

Today, I am divorced and live alone. My life is difficult, but I have found hope by helping others. I continue my hobbies of performing magic and oil painting. I often rethink the past thirteen years and still do not know what will happen. I do know that God has blessed me and will continue to care for me. God has brought good from bad events in my life. I know that God will provide good things for me in the future. I can trust God!

What I have learned about how to head off a divorce after TBI?

All interpersonal relationships are a challenge after a TBI. There are some important lessons I have learned through my experience:

  1. Nothing can prepare you for the potential difficulties you will face.
  2. Be patient with people, especially your spouse who is caring for you.
  3. Be aware that others have problems too and it is not all about you! (even though at the moment, your world is you!)
  4. Control your reaction to interpersonal conflicts.
  5. Ultimately, the only person who has the ability to diffuse conflict is you!
  6. Your caregiver as spouse needs relief or counseling to be effective and successful!
  7. Often physical intimacy is compromised because of your injury. Replace physical intimacy with intimate conversations and/or experiences together.
  8. Be aware that physical energy will limit what you can do; fatigue will slowly get better, but may take years or never be what it once was.
  9. Psychological issues will always be there; never give up! Seek help from a doctor or counselor if you need to.
  10. The most important thing in healing the spouse relationship will be your improvement and complete understanding of the demands on your partner. Do everything to lessen those demands.
  11. Make your spouse feel understood, loved, and appreciated while you are trying to improve and get well.
  12. The only way to have peace after divorce is time and developing a purpose and productivity for your life. Move forward with life!

Bill Jarvis is a popular blogger for Lash and Associates – read more of his blogs…

Brain and Healing

Sharing Improvement with Others after Brain Injury

Four Ways to Insure TBI Improvement


6 responses to “Surviving Separation and Divorce after TBI by William C. Jarvis, Ed.D.”

  1. sue says:

    You make it sound so easy! I know it wasn’t but it gives me hope, there is light at the end of the tunnel. … I am so glad it all worked out for you.

  2. Word press is quite easy to use and any novice bloggers start there. Good luck!

  3. Fantastic blog! Do you have any tips for aspiring writers? I’m hoping to start my own blog soon but I’m a little lost on everything. Would you suggest starting with a free platform like WordPress or go for a paid option? There are so many options out there that I’m completely confused .. Any suggestions? Cheers!

  4. Thank you for sharing such a difficult episode or period in your life. You have had so much to contend with but I am glad that your faith has kept you positive about life despite the difficulties you explain so well.

  5. Bill Jarvis says:


    I know what you are going through. Please read Psalm 23 ALOUD and listen to the words. Blessings through this difficult time. There are better days ahead! Believe it!!!

  6. Chris Coleman says:

    Wow as I read this. I was shaking. It’s my life in print! I am going through this and my wife doesn’t understand the frustrations of what I am dealing with quite frankly I’m giving up. It’s that bad!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.