Relationships: dating a physically disabled person
"Should I date someone with a physical disability? He’s a wonderful man and I like him a lot, but I have serious fears of dating someone in a wheelchair. I don’t want to be insensitive but I’m really concerned about our sex life, and how my social life broadly will be affected."
This is a summary of one of about 20 relationship advice questions we receive every week from consumers of our various platforms, including this column.
And we thought since we seldom offer our views on this subject, and the question is by a reader of this column, we’ll take the opportunity.
In the age of interracial, transgender, and trans-generational dating, why is it still so easy to get a little freaked when you find yourself attracted to someone with a physical disability?
Indeed, dating any individual isn’t easy. Dating someone with a physical disability comes with its own set of issues. Our country, and certainly the world over, is still conservative in openly talking about entering into a romantic relationship with a person with a physical disability.
Understandably, this is could be due to people not wanting to be seen or come across as politically incorrect and insensitive.
Indeed, it is totally justifiable to have anxieties around entering into such a relationship because issues do get real. You’ll have to have the necessary mental fortitude, maturity and wisdom to handle such a relationship as it is dissimilar from one with an able-bodied individual.
In the course of our daily work as relationship coaches, we come across numerous relationships like these.
Moreover, we ourselves have a family member living with a physical disability.
There are a couple of things our physically disabled cousin taught us when it comes to dating.
Treat him or her normally
Why do you often assume he or she can’t navigate through life in that condition?
They will welcome genuine interest and you respecting their agency to share their own feelings, experiences and dreams.
You’ll be surprised to learn that he or she will teach you a thing or two about their world.
Just because you’re not exposed to their world, don’t assume there is abnormality in how they live their life.
Trust him or her to tell you what they need
One of the biggest frustrations we hear able-bodied partners express to people living with disabilities is that they did what they thought was something considerate and compassionate, only to have their disabled partner respond with bewilderment, sadness or even anger.
A good bit of relationship for everyone, no matter who or where, is to just ask what someone needs instead of assuming you already know.
Don’t tell him or her what they should or shouldn’t be doing, eating or drinking
Thiis person already knows. They do need to let their hair down every now and then, and even eat dairy or gluten. He or she needs to go “walking” alone sometimes, without you worried they may be run over by a car. They are as independent and stubborn as you are. If he or she needs your help, it will be asked of you.
Stop trying to think for, and pity them as though you know what it is like to walk in their shoes.
The dance floor is not the whole party
Just because he or she can’t be on the dance-floor, it doesn’t mean they don’t want to go to the party
If you get this one point, you would have averted half your frustration and potential conflicts. Many of the times we deal with a case like this, we often find that the able-bodied partner is in fact more concerned about their own image and peer perceptions.
The question is, are you comfortable being seen in social spaces like parties with your physically disabled partner?
Like any partner, he or she wants to be incorporated as part of your life on all levels. And you need to learn to do things as a couple.
If he or she is physically or mentally up to it, they will be there. But if he or she doesn’t want to be there, that’s fine too.
It’s not an end-all if they don’t want to see your friend who makes wheelchair jokes or the aunt who squats down to talk to them at eye level like they’re a child.
Your sex life will be just fine
Your sex life will be just fine – perhaps even greater
Why wouldn’t it be great anyway? Are you planning to stop communicating what you need and want? Are you going to not reciprocate, shut down, or gloss over your partner’s needs and wants?
Those are deal-breakers and intimacy-killers even between abled-bodied individuals.
Chances are, if you’re attracted enough to someone to have sex with them, it’s going to bring down the mood if you’re not both enjoying it.
Yes, some people with disabilities have special considerations that they’ll want – or not want – to let you in on. But that’s part of the communication process we’re referring to.
In conclusion, the fears and anxieties of entering into a relationship with a person who has a physical disability by able-bodied individuals can be quite disempowering.
We sometimes forget that we may begin a relationship as able-bodied partners, but later one of us is confined to a wheel-chair due to a possible accident. What will you do then?
All you need to do is stop assuming that individuals with disabilities are unable, and begin to strategise the best way to use individual strengths for the benefit of your relationship.
Don’t deny yourself a potentially awesome relationship because of a wheelchair.