Navigating a relationship after a spinal cord injury can be tough, so JODIE KROONE interviewed some happy couple on their experiences. Article written by Mariska Morris
Relationships are tough whether it is sharing your most vulnerable, intimate and secret moments or debating who is responsible for the dishes. Throw in a spinal cord injury and its challenges and the maze becomes a full blown labyrinth.
Should your partner take on the duties of a caregiver? How do you talk about the more sensitive aspects of incontinence?
While tough, it is not impossible to have a happy, fulfilling relationship! Three, seasoned, inter-able couples share their story and advice to help guide others out of the labyrinth.
Darren and Lauren
“After many challenges, experiences, struggles and blessings, we are more in love than when we met,” the young couple says. Darren and Lauren have been together for 15 years, married for nine with two children. They met after Darren, unknowingly, picked his wife’s names out of a list!
“I was working at a security exhibition with my company. We needed promotional girls to hand out flyers. So, I picked some girls from a list provided. Lauren was one of the girls,” he says.
Although their start was a fairy-tale meet-cute, Darren and Lauren have faced their share of obstacles with some disability-specific challenges like people asking prying questions. While Darren and Lauren haven’t faced any discrimination or judgement, there are instances of pity.
“I do notice that, sometimes, people are staring and almost have pity for us or my wife specifically,” he says.
The duo has also faced some personal questions around intimacy, but Darren welcomes it: “I am very open about it and don’t have an issue with people asking, because I would rather people ask than just assume and come to the wrong conclusion.”
Some couples are comfortable with merging the roles of partner and caregiver, while others keep a strict separation. Darren and Lauren prefer the latter with the couple taking on more traditional roles.
“My role is that of any husband: to take care of his family and protect them when needed regardless of my situation,” Darren explains. “My wife is my best friend, partner and lover. One thing that she is not is my carer.” However, this doesn’t mean that Lauren wouldn’t do anything for her husband.
“She is caring and will do anything for me just as I would do for her. She is the woman of the house and an incredible mother who puts her family first before herself. A very unselfish person,” Darren notes.
The couple offers others some valuable advice: Make sure you communicate with each other and always be open about the way you feel.
Darren adds: “Try and keep the ‘carer’ side of it aside as much as possible. The more one person is expected to play that role, the higher the risk that they feel like it is the only reason they are there. It is a very fine line, but a very important factor to consider if you want a healthy, loving relationship.”
Allison and Martin
In 2007, Allison and Martin met. Now, they have been together for 13 years and married for five. In this time, they have faced their fair share of health challenges.
“In 2014, Martin was hospitalised on and off for 12 weeks due to medical procedures; almost losing his life,” Allison explains. “I have been down this road as well. I had a near fatal accident in 2013; breaking my neck and lower back with five months of hospitalisation and rehabilitation.
“I’m very blessed to be fully mobile again. I was told that I might be a wheelchair user as well after the accident.”
The couple shares the household chores with Allison also assisting Martin with some mobility- related tasks. She notes: “One thing I do assist Martin with is getting in and out of the car as we have an SUV. The lift up to the seat from the wheelchair can sometimes be difficult. I also assist with taking the chair out of the car and then holding the chair when he gets out as he fears it might move. We’ve had our fair share of falls and misses.”
Allison cherishes her relationship with Martin even if some might find it odd. She says: “Some people don’t understand, but we have an amazing love for each other. I’ve been asked personally in the past [why we are together]; but why should it be a deal breaker? I am proud to be with Martin. I am with him because of who he is, not because of his disability.”
There have also been some personal questions regarding intimacy, which Allison tries to answer within the parameters of keeping their life private. She advises other couples on intimacy: “It is definitely an avenue that needs to be mutually explored and different things tried. I think counselling is a definite must as both people need to be comfortable without any issues as this can cause problems.”
Her further advice: “Martin has been in a wheelchair long before I met him. I didn’t know what to expect but was willing to learn when and where to assist. Martin is a very independent person and will ask for assistance when he wants it. Otherwise he does what he can on his own.
“Be open minded and patient with each other. It is hard for an able-bodied person to stand and watch when you really want to help.”
Sue and Ron
Three years before Sue sustained a spinal cord injury, she met Ron. They have been together a total of eight years and met on a dating site. She recalls: “Our love for outdoor and specifically mountain biking brought us together.”
They are fortunate to have found most people to be extremely helpful rather than judgement towards their relationship with only one question ever posed to Sue around intimacy. Their relationship has also remained mostly the same!
“I’m lucky in that I have the use of both my arms,” Sue says. “So, I can still dress myself, drive, cook, make tea, etc. But, we do have a carer/domestic helper to assist with housework and my daily physio so that Ron doesn’t have to do those tasks.”
Her advice for other couples: “If you put your mind to it, anything is possible. Maybe with a little bit more effort, but it’s achievable. I firmly believe one gets what one can handle.”