By Dana Brown Ritter, Special Contributor to The Mobility Resource
My husband and I have been married for three and a half years, thanks in-part to a sweet thing he did one Valentine's Day. We were long distance friends for years, then he sent flowers to my office one Valentine's Day. Those flowers were a game changer and led us to where we are today – happily married and more in love than ever.
My husband is a C5/6 quadriplegic because of a gymnastics accident when he was in high school. His disability is an unavoidable part of our life and marriage. We sometimes feel like it's a third person in our relationship. But, it isn't always a drag. There are plenty of romantic ways to enjoy marriage, even if you have to share it with a disability. Here are some that I see, from my perspective as a wife and caregiver.
1. Hold Hands
I still remember the first time Michael and I held hands. We were in a movie. And no, he didn't do the whole stretch-and-turn-it-into-a-smooth-move thing like guys in high school do. He picked his hand up, set it on the armrest of the movie theater seat I was sitting in, and he looked at me. I put my hand on his. That was awkward, so, for the first time, I manuvered my hand under his, and helped his hand hold mine. Now we do it all the time, and it's no longer awkward to place those paralyzed fingers between mine. I love each and every one of them, and his touch. Hold hands, even if you have to do it yourself.
2. Ride Together
When Michael and I were dating, he used to have this big, red, full-sized van with a wheelchair lift, and I just hated it! He doesn't drive, so I would obviously be driving. And he would ride in the back. I didn't like it because when I would drive, and he would be in the back, it made me feel like I was a taxi driver, or his mom. No offense to his mom, but it just wasn't romantic! We have been blessed with a van now that has wheelchair tie downs on the passenger side, so we can ride beside each other, and I don't take that for granted. It feels so together. It's nice to be able to hold hands when a nice love song comes on the radio. Ride together.
3. Dream Together
A physical disability will never be able to take your ability to dream away. Isn't that great? One New Year's Day, my husband and I spent hours at Starbucks, dreaming about our goals for the next year. We went over our budget, our fitness goals, hopes for friendships and travel, everything. We need to do that again. It's fun to dream on the same page.
4. Serve Together
One of the highlights of my life is volunteering with my husband at a Joni and Friends Wounded Warrior Getaway. For five days, we worked side by side serving wounded warriors and their wives, and it was so neat because as a guy in a wheelchair, my husband could relate to the wounded warriors who had lost their legs, and I could relate to their wives as caregivers. Look for opportunities where you can both give something back, and do it together. It's an awesome bond.
5. Serve Each Other
One of the unfortunate realities I deal with because of my life as a caregiver to my husband is back pain. Some days are worse than others. It's not an ideal situation, but thankfully, my husband is creative, and tries to help me in any way that he can. That means almost nightly massages for me! Michael rubs my lower back with his pointy elbow, and the difference it makes in easing my pain is remarkable. Look for creative ways to serve each other.
6. Protect Each Other
Let's be honest, if someone breaks into our house in the middle of the night, there is nothing my paralyzed husband is going to be able to do to protect me. I know that. If anything, in an event like that, I will either be hiding, or playing dead! Even though he isn't able to protect me in the physical sense, Michael looks out for me on other levels. He knows my emotional limits better than I do myself! He is always on guard watching so that I'm not getting burned out, and makes me slow down sometimes. His disability doesn't prevent him from being my protector. And as a woman, I'm grateful for that. Protect each other.
My favorite moment of each day is that moment shortly after I get Michael into the bed, and all situated, and I am able to lay down next to him, and snuggle up into his armpit, and lay my head on his chest. It's so warm and real to be close, without wheels or rubber or titanium or aluminum between us. I love it. Never miss an opportunity to really snuggle. There is never enough snuggles.
8. Be Thankful
Some days it just takes two words to make this difficult life bearable: “thank you.” It takes a couple of hours of work to get my husband up, to the bathroom, showered, dressed, and make breakfast. And if I go through that whole two hour routine, lifting, and pushing and pulling, and washing and wiping and cooking and cleaning and I don't hear those two words, I can turn into the worst possible version of myself. There is something about true gratefulness that is an equalizer. If you're in a marriage with a disability, gratefulness is key. Say thank you often, and mean it.
9. Make Gifts for Each Other
We have had a running Valentine's Day tradition in our marriage for the last three years of homemade Valentines only. It's so neat to see what my husband comes up with. It's wonderful to see his creativity come out. One year he made me a screensaver background that was a graphic design of hearts. Last year, he painted me a watercolor. It's so simple and sweet and the fact that he made it with his own two hands makes it worth so much more. No matter your disability, you still have your creativity, so use it to create something for each other.
10. Cook for Each Other
I work full time outside of home. My husband works part time from home. Some days I have long days with a long commute, and the last thing I want to do when I get home is cook. But, ordering food often can break the bank, so sometimes Michael cooks dinner! I never knew you could microwave chicken breasts and/or pork chops mixed with Italian salad dressing, but he's done it, and it's good! I don't like to think about this a whole lot, because the thought of a quadriplegic having anything to do with a stove does make me nervous, but I do enjoy those meals! Cooking for each other is a super sweet way to show your love.
11. Rise and Retire Together
This is another unexpected blessing of my husband's disability. Michael isn't able to get himself into and out of bed, so I have to transfer him. But the beauty of that is that it means that we go to bed together each and every night, and we wake up together each and every morning, and I just love that. Look for the unexpected blessings like this, and cherish them. Life is busy and goes by fast, and a lot of husbands and wives are going at their own pace – but our life has a rhythm. We rise and retire together.
12. Work Together
My husband's disability means that there are some things he can't do, like hang Christmas lights. I admit, I'm not the easiest to work with. I'm bossy and impatient. I like to do things my way and fast. A couple of years ago, though, we worked together on putting Christmas lights up on the porch outside of our apartment. Michael had a vision. I was just being his hands. I was standing on tree stumps, with a piece of tape and a zip tie rigged up on the end of a mop stick. It was hilarious. In the end, though, we had pretty strings of white lights hung from the top of one side of our patio to the other, and it was beautiful. All because we worked together. Trust your partner, and work together.
13. Share Experiences
The night we got engaged, Michael didn't ask me, “Will you marry me?” Nope. He actually said, “Will you spend the rest of your life making memories with me?” He wasn't kidding. In our coming up on four years, we have been making memories and it's been great. I want to encourage anyone who is in a marriage or a relationship with a disability to get out, and share experiences. Professional sporting events and concerts come to mind. It's worth making a phone call and getting those accessible seats. Because those times you spend together experiencing a live concert or a game will be fun times you can look back on, together.
Photo credits: foter.com