The impact of a catastrophic injury goes beyond just physical pain and an individual’s rehabilitation. It affects every aspect of a person’s life, including the relationships with the people that are most important to them… their partners.

The emotional journey, from the shock of the accident, to the coming to terms with the long-term reality of the injuries on their lives, is an area that STEPS Rehabilitation closely recognise.

In this article, shared on Valentine’s Day 2023, we look at how STEPS Rehabilitation supports couples as they start to navigate their new normal.

The importance of personal space

At STEPS, we have created a unique rehabilitation environment that’s unlike other rehabilitation facilities or hospital settings. As soon as a client arrives at STEPS, the focus is on helping both them and their family settle into to their new, temporary ‘home’. Every client has their own private bedroom with an ensuite bathroom and TV.. All the bedrooms have profiling beds, 1 of which is a double and there is a double bed in the assisted living apartment along with a sofa bed. Creating a home-from-home atmosphere is really important to us, and for those clients who have had long stints in hospital, it can feel like a massive relief.

Michell Donald, a psychosexual therapist who helps many of our clients, says, “Working at STEPS is a privilege; the facility is perfect not only for a client’s recovery, but for couples as well. By having their own room, clients are able to establish boundaries and also maintain an element of privacy. This can be vitally important to couples who wish to have space for intimate conversations or just time to be together, which is often hard to find when you’re in hospital.”

We encourage regular visits from partners and where possible, we invite them to engage in therapy sessions as this can be a positive experience for everyone. Our therapists also offer ‘Family Support Sessions’ at the weekends to encourage partners to take time for themselves and equip them with practical techniques to reduce stress and anxiety. You can read more about this in our previous article, here.

What couples tell us

"STEPS is client focused and at the same time looks after the family unit needs. It encourages the family to be part of the rehabilitation programme, and we’re also encouraged  to stay overnight   to help maintain the family bond. They ensure that the family are an integral part of the rehabilitation process by involving us in games, outings, and eating meals together, to name but a few” says the wife of a client seriously injured in a road traffic accident.

‘In hospital, me and my husband had been able to see each other every day and I had also had a period of being cared for by my husband at home before coming to STEPS - so the prospect of being apart for 8 weeks was daunting." 

"STEPS helped make this easier by including my husband in my initial assessment visit and on my first day - so that we could both meet some of the staff and see the facilities. This helped us both understand what my stay would involve and helped my husband know that I would be well looked after."

"Being away from home was difficult but Gavin was also able to book in to stay at weekends, which gave us some time together. We were able to have meals in the cafe with the friends that I had made and my husband was encouraged to join in with my tai chi session and welcomed into timetabled physio sessions on Saturday mornings. All of this helped Gavin to feel included in my recovery and all the staff were always very welcoming, which meant such a lot to us both."

Family Meals

The cafe, skills kitchens and surrounding gardens can also provide the perfect setting for couples and families who wish to share a meal together. For many of our clients, this is something that they have been unable to do since their accident or injury, and for many of our clients, STEPS is where they have their ‘first’ meal together.

I felt totally included” says Ed’s (STEPS Rehabilitation Client) fiancée Izzy. “I could have dinner with Ed; have a coffee and occasionally sleep over. They are just little things, but they are extremely important. The team at STEPS are passionate about including family members in the care of individuals and I love that about them.”

Returning home

Life changing  injuries have a tremendous impact on partners as they cope with the shock of a serious accident, support their partner through their recovery and continue to manage day-to day life at home, whilst preparing for their loved one to return home.

“After a period of intense rehabilitation, it is extremely common that a person will need a personal assistant once they return home. The PA will help the individual to maintain as much independence as possible, whilst also supporting them with specific tasks such as bathing and feeding.”

Michelle Donald, a psychosexual therapist

“Some partners struggle with the introduction of a ‘third person’ in their relationship and can feel like they have become an outsider or as though they no longer have time alone as a couple.”

Although some partners are able to adopt the role of primary care giver once back at home, there are many scenarios whereby the partner is unable to be the main carer and a PA is a necessity. For example, their loved one may have complex medical needs, they need to return to work, or they have become the sole carer to children or dependents ‘overnight’.

This can be an important part of re-establishing the clients life and helping them to regain some independence. However, for many couples, this may feel like a difficult stage of the recovery journey.”

When the time is right and the client is ready to be discharged, the STEPS Training School can support them and their new care team as they prepare to make the transition home. Through training and education, the new team and personal assistant learn about the client’s condition and what is required to maintain the high-quality and individual care regime.

Before they return home, Michelle works closely with the couple to help them establish what boundaries need to be maintained in this new ‘dynamic’ to ensure their relationship flourishes.

Valentine’s Day at STEPS Rehabilitation

For Valentine’s Day this year, the kitchen team have created a special 3 course menu for our clients, which includes a sharing starter, choice of main and sharing dessert.

Clients have been encouraged to invite their partners,  or other loved ones  to STEPS on Tuesday to share this meal with them –💖