Hey, everyone! Last week I wrote a column that didn’t get a chance to be published. I thought I would have it for you this week, but it’s going to take some extra time. This week, instead, I’ll discuss dating and being in a relationship with a partner who has a disability. While looking through my past columns, I was actually pretty shocked that I never really touched on this topic before, because it’s discussed pretty often online.
The questions regarding dating and disabilities are what you would expect and, I think, something people with disabilities think about already:
- How can I help?
- How do I know if I’m helping too much?
- What do I need to know about dating a partner with a disability?
My first piece of advice is to remember that everyone goes through the awkward stages of a new relationship and getting to know someone, regardless of disabilities.
My second piece of advice is to remember that communication is key. I clearly have a physical disability, but I used to think that it was best just to ignore that obvious fact unless my partner or potential partner wanted to talk about it. But that makes the situation awkward for both sides of the relationship. The person with disabilities feels on guard, just waiting for the hammer to drop. And the able-bodied partner feels like the topic is off-limits for discussion because the person with disabilities didn’t bring it up themselves. Remember, they like you and have an interest in you, regardless of your disability. And they don’t want to offend you. So, talk about it.
Here’s a tip for able-bodied partners: Imagine you’re planning a night out with your partner who has disabilities. You want to see a movie and have dinner, but you aren’t sure if the venues are accessible. You could always take the initiative and call to ask, or you could visit the places, of course. But when you ask your partner out to those places, ask if they WANT to go, not if they CAN go. See the difference? If you ask if they want to go, this leaves the conversation open to the ways of making the outing work. If you ask if they can go, your partner might suddenly feel uncertain or overwhelmed about how it could work.
My next piece of advice is to stay open — both of you. I think, as someone with a disability, we can sometimes be a little cynical and assume the worst of people. It’s a bad habit that needs working on. If you need help, ask. Your partner will be more than willing to help; this will become second nature over time anyway. If you are the able-bodied partner, listen to your partner’s needs and pain points without judgment and offer a solution. The truth is that your partner wants to be treated just like everybody else — as a normal person. We are people first, before our disability. We can still do lots of things and we want to, we just may need a little extra help from time to time.
One of the best things a person with disabilities can do (not only for themselves but also for others, dating or not), is to have a response to the basic questions one hears all the time. For example, if someone asks, “What happened to you?” have something prepared. “Oh, I was born with cerebral palsy. Here’s what that means. …” I’ve found that this preparation really helps me to not be so easily offended or taken off guard. I can’t be the only one who gets a little confused for a moment when asked, “Hey, what happened to you?” But having something prepared helps lessen that surprised feeling for me while also helping to educate the person, no matter how briefly.
Above all, able-bodied partners, don’t be afraid to ask questions and seek clarity about unfamiliar concepts. Your partner with disabilities will tell you when they need help, and they will also tell you when you’re helping too much or when they don’t need help. If they don’t need help, don’t be offended, it just means that they want to do it themselves. People with disabilities are still people who want to contribute to their communities and have meaningful relationships. Let your partner guide you.
Note: Cerebral Palsy News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disorder. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cerebral Palsy News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cerebral palsy.