The length of time you choose as a couple to work these specific date ideas will need to be based on how each partner can self-manage & tolerate the stimulation the chosen activity offers. It will vary from person to person, as well as day to day, hour to hour, just like everything else in recovery. Be patient with yourselves and your partner. Allot only a few minutes as per comfort zones, and remember, the effort is what really marks your loved one, more than the intended outcome. Tiny steps. Adapt and modify these as best suits your circumstances.
- During recovery, touch that has nothing to do with medical treatment or therapy can be a real gift. Allow yourselves to place your hands on self-determined parts of your partner’s body. If necessary, be available to your partner to guide their hands, no matter what position the hands are able to attain, as far as open versus clenched. Help them to offer a more stable touch if that’s what’s needed. Even stroking by the side of a hand or outside of the fingers is skin-to-skin contact, and it transfers messages to the brain, even if neuro-wiring has been altered. If hands are not available, use your cheeks, nose, feet, or lower arm. Yes, positioning may need to be figured out, but it’s a date, so use it the way it works best for you. Touch reconnects you. It doesn’t have to entail genital contact on any level. Arms, chest, face, hands, thighs, the back, or nape of the neck... ALL of those are prime candidates for some familiar mental and emotional exchanges. Give yourself permission to experience it just as it will be TODAY, in THIS MOMENT. It’s not meant to compare to any other time or moment.
- “Watch” a movie or TV show with both partners wearing a blindfold, no matter what the sight level of either partner. (No shout-outs here to our team if your details include extreme visual impairment to where you don’t need the blindfold; we’re doing our best here, okay? ;)). Have either some type of noise-dampening headphones available, or audio amplifiers, depending on which may be needed if noise is an obstacle. Experience the show with as little light and then as minimal sound as is required. Hold hands, or connect with some other body part if at all possible, link arms, rest against your sides, etc. Feeling your partner breathe here is a GREAT addition to the date, if attainable. Lie side by side, if you can, for that extra perk. No theater. No overwhelming stimulation input. No headache afterwards… Equal footing does make this activity more enjoyable. Feel free to substitute an audio book. Again, it’s about the touch contact, time alone bonding, and focusing on something non-medically related.
- Give each other a memory, even if it’s totally fabricated. Pull out some photos, or use magazine pictures. Fill in the blanks for one another depending on what each of you can surmise from whatever you’re looking at. If either CAN’T pull a memory up, their part of the date is to interject some fantasy. Its frankly part of the fun to have BOTH of you offer a fantasy about the image. There’s enough work typically happening on REAL memories in therapy. Though it can help to stimulate those sometimes, that’s not the objective for right now. Copy? Don’t let it trigger anything other than some good times right here and now sharing a date, and don’t use this as a time to TRY to test one another’s memory. Its only for fun. Fun, fun, fun. Period.
- Invite some of your partner’s closest friends & family, coworkers, etc., to read excerpts from a past familiar book or magazine. If they have a specific faith background, the Bible, Torah, Tao or similar offering can be comforting. Video-record them reading it. Then during your one-on-one time, get close and listen to it together. If there’s no visual reason not to, actually watch in order to better ground the face and voice.
- Playdough has self-soothing qualities when being handled. The colors are cheerful, and it's an easy stimulation that actually does set the brain moving, just not on overwhelm. Neither partner needs to feel like there’s a goal or agenda, just relaxation and shared company, while allowing room for creativity plus small motor-skill strengthening. Cookie-cutters are an option. Cut out some hearts and let them dry, which can be written on later. Push a handprint, fist print, or finger print in, and again, keep it for forever. *NOTE: The partner bringing the playdough might want to work the dough first for a while in order for it to be the most pliable, should small motor skills be an issue. ALSO, if the smell of store-bought playdough is too strong for either party, there’s no small number of homemade playdough recipes on the web, all of which are pretty easy to make and will come with less industry odors. Clay can also be used as long as it’s really worked over first for pliability. It lasts longer when hardened for keepsake purposes.
- Offer your partner a chance to practice redevelopment of social and verbal skills by using a date time to role play with them. Help them recall or relearn some of your own personal lines that perhaps you shared. Pet names. Show them gentle sensual touches, such as rubbing your hand, or neck, and give them the words of, “Oh, Thank you.” OR “That feels good.” Don’t hesitate to learn some sign language to help use as their speech patterns reformulate. Those gestures are useful for them on many, many, levels. Connections are probably still there, as severed as they may seem to be—not all the time, but sometimes. It's not a matter of pushing them to respond a certain way, or pushing them to remember; it's allowing them to practice one more commonplace, which will add to their confidence.
- Most of us played one form or another of the kid game MEMORY growing up. You place a bunch of cards upside down, turning them over two at a time trying to make a match, while also having to remember where each picture was before when you didn’t make a correct pair. Now might be a good time to make your own personal version of that game for you two to play. Start slow. Find four pictures of the two of you doing something that holds a genuinely pleasant memory for you as a couple, then photocopy TWO of each picture. You’ll need to gauge which version of this game you opt to play on your date. VERSION #1: Place two different pictures in front of your partner face-up, while you hold up one in front of you facing them. Tell them a SHORT recap of what was happening in the picture and/or why it is special for YOU. This is not about asking them to recall their memory, which may be completely gone. But it is giving them YOUR heart, more so than a memory. Ask them to point to, or touch, the matching picture in front of them, however they are able. Repeat the game several times, trying to use the same words to describe the scene. When appropriate, don’t show them your picture, but see if they can pick out the picture just by using the words you use to describe what’s going on in that scene. As they improve, add in the other pictures one at a time. VERSION #2: If their memory allows, play the game more along the lines of the original game, and place between two and all four pictures upside down in a couple of rows, and as each of you try to make a match (OR, keep them all showing if that’s needed for them to make a match), talk about what was happening in those pictures. Again, it’s key to try and use repetitive lines when describing them in order to help ground the memory. They may not have that memory on their own anymore, but your giving a new memory built on the old will give them confidence and reassurance as time moves forward. VERSION #3: Feel free to make more memory cards as they improve, not only to help provide history for them, but also to improve their personal memory, cognitive skills-wise.
- This one is a little harder to do if you’re in a hospital setting, but once you're home, it’s a great bonding and reconnecting tool. Spend as much of an entire day as possible (so ditch the kids if you can, as that’ll be a factor here.) with both of you as in the nude as is possible, and in bed. This isn’t a sexual exercise as much as it is a way to remind your bodies of the connection you’ve shared prior to the point of impact. We recognize, as many of you will, that the partner who’s had the neuro impact may show just as many signs in their physical as they do in their processing. Allow yourselves to absorb those with these minutes slowly, and be patient and gracious with yourselves. Think of it as parents do with skin-to-skin time with their newborns. The mind never forgets the power of this level of touch and connection. There aren’t a lot of words needed here, as much as just being in this moment and time. We’ve found a simple sentence while touching multiple parts of your partner, or helping them to touch you, is to remind them that each of those parts is still loved very much and happy to be loved back by them in return.
- Give them a goodnight dream. Nightmares are a frequent battle in this area for those healing from a brain injury. Whereas there are no studies on this we can locate, those folks in our circles, as well as on our immediate team, suggest this does help on occasion. (We can live with that.) Before you do whatever your night-time ritual is before parting company for the night (or morning/afternoon --- as often as you’re there for them drifting in an out) offer them a short suggestion for them to dream about. Make it about the two of you, and in keeping with this section, make it a “Date.” Something simple. Voice the dreams to reflect easily accomplished dates. Bear in mind their current struggles, so if they’re agitated by noise right now, don’t suggest watching a sunset at the beach, so their minds don’t reflect the sound of the ocean, just say, “In your dreams tonight, we’ll sit and watch a sunset.”