A spinal cord injury can make the daunting task of dating seem even more overwhelming. Fortunately, DANIE BREEDT has some advice on how best to approach a romantic relationship
Dating is hard enough at the best of times. After a spinal cord injury, insecurities about body image and doubts about one’s desirability as a romantic partner can become a major concern. Following the injury, it is quite common to be worried about what people see when they look at you and what assumptions they might be making about you: Do they see me or did they see a person with a disability?
The first step to getting comfortable with dating is getting comfortable with yourself. Coming to terms with the emotional and physical changes of a spinal cord injury is like getting to know a whole new person. Making time to really find out what you enjoy physically and what you are looking for in a partner can make the process much less daunting.
Be brave and open
A willingness to talk about all the different implications of a spinal cord injury will make the initial stages of a relationship much easier. We tend to fear or avoid anything that we don’t know.
By introducing the elephant in the room, you are taking away any awkwardness that either of you might be experiencing. Some people have found it helpful to give a new or potential partner some information about spinal cord injuries to read and allow them to ask any questions that they might have.
Keep it light
As with any relationship, a strategy that works wonderfully is to use humor as a method for overcoming uncomfortable situations. We sometimes imagine everything that can go wrong and feel paralysed even before anything has happened yet.
By not taking it too seriously when something doesn’t go according to plan reminds us that our expectation of situations are usually worse than when we are actually going through it. There are very few situations that you cannot recover from even if it feels embarrassing in the moment.
Avoid pushing others away
A common pitfall is that a person with a spinal cord injury can easily become the victim of the stereotypes associated with his or her situation.
Especially after a new injury, it sometimes happens that people push others away as they feel they are unworthy of being loved. Knowing and accepting oneself is an important first step toward relating openly and honestly to others.
Everyone has a bad date
Another trap that we can easily fall into is to blame our disability for everything that is not going the way we want it to.
Most people don’t get through life without experiencing a bad date or rejection at some point, and people with disabilities are no different, except they can be left wondering: “Was it me or the disability?
“Most people don’t get through life without experiencing a bad date.”
Sometimes, you will never know for sure if it was the cause, but focussing on the disability is an immobilising strategy as it is something that you cannot change.
A more effective way of thinking about it is to remind yourself that every person you meet isn’t going to be your perfect partner and just because this didn’t work out, it doesn’t mean that the next will be the same. It’s not a failure if it didn’t work out, it’s only a failure if you give up.
Dr Danie Breedt is a passionate scholar-practitioner in the field of psychology. He divides his time between training, research and clinical practice. Danie works from an integrative interactional approach in psychotherapy, dealing with a wide range of emotional difficulties and sexual rehabilitation for patients with disabilities. He is the co-owner of Charis Psychological Services, a psychology practice that specialises in physical rehabilitation across South Africa.