Communication is an important part of a relationship with your significant other. Brain injury can challenge many aspects of your relationship with your loved one and if aphasia is in the mix, it represents an additional challenge when engaging in conversations. For those less familiar with aphasia, aphasia is a speech disorder that can impact communication in various ways.
Depending on the type of aphasia that a person has, they may struggle to find the right words, their speech delivery may be impaired or they may struggle to understand what is being related to them. This can put a strain on a relationship and can also affect the role that a person held in the relationship.
Ways in which aphasia challenges a relationship
To help put things into context, the following are a few examples of how aphasia can affect a relationship.
I’m never sure whether my partner/spouse understood me correctly.
The use of incorrect words can lead to confusion, frustration and at times conflicts.
We have a young family and at times, timing is if the essence. Allowing for extra time or planning to address a situation at a later time isn’t always efficient.
I try my best to figure out what my significant other wants to communicate, but I’m not a mind reader. This can lead to frustrations on both sides.
My significant other struggles with reading and comprehension, that has greatly affected our roles. For example, I’m now the person in charge of cooking as they struggle with recipes and we can’t share homework duties with the kids anymore.
My partner who has aphasia finds socialising too hard, so we often stay home. This consequently impacts both our social lives.
I can see how much of an impact aphasia has had on my loved one’s confidence, this saddens me a lot to see that and I feel quite powerless in this situation.
Tips to maintain a healthy relationship when living with aphasia
Learning to live with aphasia requires time. If your significant other has aphasia, the same can be said as a partner/spouse. There will be an important learning curve to be had on both parts and a period of trial and error, but with kindness and patience, there are small things you can do to maintain a healthy communication and relationship. Following are a few examples of things you might find helpful:
Fatigue impacts aphasia so plan important discussions for a time when you know your partner is well rested.
If a decision needs to be made, allow for enough time to go through things. Providing additional information ahead of time (written or verbally) can also be helpful.
Double check that the understanding of a discussion is the same before moving on to a different topic. You can ask them to sum it up in their words, send a follow up text or perhaps breakdown a certain course of action on paper to avoid misunderstandings and provide clear directions.
For those situations where time is of the essence, you may have to be the person in charge. Always make sure to relay back the content of a conversation or decision to your loved so they have an opportunity to have their say at a later time and/or to keep them informed with what’s going on.
Remember that communication also includes facial expressions and hand gestures. Paying attention to this can provide additional information regarding your loved ones state of mind or provide cues in terms of what they are trying to communicate itself.
Get in the habit or carrying a pen and paper or using the "Notes" application on your phone. This may be helpful in certain situations when communicating verbally becomes challenging.
Aphasia is very isolating. Try not to close yourself up to any social interactions. Instead, learn to manage social interactions differently. E.g.: Chose a quiet restaurant instead of a busy café. Plan to attend smaller gatherings which may be better suited to smaller group conversations. Arrive early to a busy event or before the level of noise gets too loud. Arriving early will allow your loved one to follow conversations more easily or to sneak in a few meaningful conversations before things get too hectic. You can also invite people over to your house for lunch or dinner. This way you still remain social but have more control over variants such as number of people, background music, etc.
Try a new activity that doesn’t rely so much on verbal communication. You may consider taking an art class together or perhaps a dancing lesson. This will also be supportive of social interactions and may help lift their confidence up if that’s been affected.
Stress often impacts aphasia. Learning to manage stressful situations together can be greatly beneficial.
When attending an event, come up with a key word or sign that alerts you that it will soon be time to make an exit. This will allow you as a significant other to manage your expectations or the goals you had in mind in attending an event.
Some people don’t mind having their significant other complete sentences or fill in the words for them, others do. It’s important to have this discussion so you are on the same page.
In my blog "Communication tips for someone with aphasia and their loved ones", I provide more tips on how you can support people with aphasia. I’d encourage you to have a look as it might provided additional tips to support communication as a loved one.
As separate individuals within a relationship, remember that you don’t have to do this alone. Seek the support of friends, family or a local aphasia organisation. They often have aphasia or carer groups which you can both benefit from. Engaging the help of a counsellor or psychologist can also be beneficial.
Final words on aphasia and loving relationships
The important thing to remember is that aphasia affects every member of a relationship. Be patient and kind with one another. Many find that learning to communicate differently and to look at communication as more than simple verbal communication will, in time, strengthen communication skills in spite of the added challenges. You may become a better listener, pick up on non verbal cues more easily and accurately, discover new ways to communicate and so much more.
I am not trying to imply that it is easy or that it doesn’t come with hurdles and frustrations, but leaning into a positive and solution focused mindset maximises your chances of maintaining a healthy, equal relationship with your significant other and to become a strong team.
I hope this blog provided useful tips. As always, I’d love to hear some of your personal tips on this topic so I can provide more value to future readers.