I’ve seen a lot of sad things since becoming paralyzed, and I’m not just talking about my own personal experiences. I’m talking about what I’ve seen happen to people I’ve met along this journey: divorce, an ultimately nasty consequence of an acquired disability. And I’ll say it right now: it’s not fair. No, it’s not fair at all.
Nobody likes divorce. It costs a lot of money, it wastes a lot of people’s time and even worse, it drains your emotional reserve like an annoyingly hungry vampire. It takes a lot to bounce back from a divorce, and this is especially true when it happens because someone becomes disabled.
The whole “in sickness and in health” thing is a lot harder to follow in real life than most people could ever imagine. No one plans for something devastating to happen but it does, and the stats are not good for marriage survival when a life-altering disability occurs. Eighty-five percent of the time these couples don’t make it, and it’s sad to watch from the sidelines.
Why they fail is easy to understand: the transition can be just too hard for some people to adjust to. Some don’t have the emotional endurance required to not only help the relationship survive, but to help it thrive; something that is key for a relationship’s future. Another big reason, and this is heart-wrenching, is that it can be hard for our partners to still see us as desirable and attractive.
But what are we to do? We can’t help our disability. Is there lingerie sexy enough to camouflage my wheelchair? I don’t think so.
The other day at my adapted yoga class, a man with a spinal cord injury told his injury story and how he was hurt over 10 years ago; six years ago he and his wife were divorced. He said it with a very somber look on his face that made me cry a little inside. I knew it was a very difficult thing for him to go through, just by how he said it.
But perhaps it’s for the best if these relationships fail. I always tell people when I give disability dating advice that it’s best to start a relationship when your partner already knows you’re disabled. Maybe no relationship should even attempt to survive after a disability happens, or is that slightly too negative?
And to that gentleman in my yoga class: I won’t lie, it will be hard for you to find someone new. After all, you’re nearing 50 and you’re a quad. But that doesn’t mean it’s a lost cause – not in the least. I am a firm believer there’s someone out there for all of us. You need to put your best face forward when you leave the house because you never know who you’ll run into next.
In some ways I’m glad that I was injured at 14. No divorces and heartbreak to worry about for me. I just hate seeing my friends so lonely. Sometimes change is a good thing, though. The last thing you want or need is to live the rest of your life with someone who resents you. That, I think, is even worse than having a spinal cord injury.
Have you experienced a divorce after becoming disabled? How have you dealt?