As part of our Dating & Disabilities Series, I got to interview Alison and PK about the different stages in their lives. We talked about what their lives were like before they met each other, and what it has been like being in a relationship while living with a disability. A variety of subjects were discussed. Here is what they had to say.
Can you tell us a little about the difficulties in your life before meeting your partner?
A: I definitely struggled with my own self-worth and didn’t think anyone would ever want to be with me. PK came along when I least expected it!
Were you completely happy about your health, living situation and financial situation?
A: Not really, I felt somewhat isolated, depressed and anxious but my finances were in order. Obviously living with my wife has decreased my tendency to self-isolate.
Did you feel like you are a person with a big circle of friends, family, and social circle? Has this (non-romantic) group helped you to cope with difficult situations?
A: I have always had a very supportive family and a small circle of great friends but I often find myself pushing them away because I have anxiety about living up to perceived expectations.
Were you in a serious relationship before acquiring a disability? How was your disability affecting relationships/friendships that you were already a part of?
A: No, both of us were born with medical conditions so we have never experienced relationships outside the context of disability.
How did you meet your partner and how long have you been together?
A/PK: We have been together for 3 years and 8 months. We met at the 519 Community Centre during a Queer women’s discussion group.
Did you wait before revealing your disability, and what reaction did your partner have to it?
A: My disability is rather apparent given that I am a wheelchair user, but I definitely waited before discussing the details of how my condition affects my life. I also waited before discussing my mental health challenges and how they affect me. PK: I don’t remember when I officially revealed my Aspergers to Alison but it was shortly after we met. We never had an official conversation about how my condition affects me. I feel that I am still discovering how my condition affects my life, so I allowed Alison to experience me living with my Aspergers rather than just talking about it.
Are the major difficulties in your relationship, problems that are common to most couples in general? Or are there disagreements that are mainly centred on disability?
PK: Many of the disagreements between us are universal. We argue over money, personality differences, and household chores. Occasionally we argue about health matters.
What are some relationship tools or strategies that you use to overcome disputes or disagreements?
PK: we often take a “stop and think” approach to settling arguments. This means we take a time out to breathe before discussing any heated issues. We also avoid accusations by saying, “I feel this” instead of saying “you did this.” We each try to take responsibility for our own actions and mistakes. We’re not perfect but we forgive quickly.
Sex is an important part of human relationships. How have you managed your intimacy with your partner considering that they may be limitations or maybe you have to create your own routines? Communication between partners is very important – any tips to share?
A: it takes some creative thinking combined with clear communication, but we enjoy that aspect of our relationship. Sometimes we struggle with being honest about our individual needs because we don’t want to hurt the other person’s feelings. It’s a work in progress.
We may assume that a couple with a disabled partner would have a reduced earning ability. Does the financial strain create problems for your children or partner because you are limited by the places you can go or ways you can give gifts to your loved ones?
A: I’m not sure it’s fair to assume that a disabled partner would have reduced earning ability, but we definitely have less access to fair wages and equal opportunity hiring. Sometimes financial strain does create a struggle for us. We have to work much harder to save the money to go places and to have disposable income.
Has your participation in religious activities helped you in managing life with a disability and increased your circle of friends? Has it caused any new issues that you didn’t expect to face?
A/PK: Neither of us is part of any organized religion but if we were, I’m sure it would come with its own set of benefits (i.e. belonging, faith and hope) and challenges (i.e. community acceptance, judgment from congregation, feeling different, being seen as cursed by God or pitied)
Do you feel that there is any social stigma around a parent with a disability having a baby? Do you plan on having any children yourself? What challenges have you faced or think you will face if you were to have a newborn?
A/PK: We definitely would love to have one child but we tend not to worry or think about social stigma or the opinions of others. We plan to focus on being the best parents and not on how others judge our ability. The opinions of others are irrelevant. Perhaps our view of stigma may change once we have a child. As for bringing home a newborn, we think it’s going to be the hardest challenge we’ve ever faced. Physically not being able to meet a child’s needs immediately will be hard for Alison to grapple with. Also living with our own mental health issues and then being sleep deprived is a difficult prospect to imagine. Naturally, much of the physical care of a baby would fall to PK. Meeting the emotional and bonding needs of a baby would likely be Alison’s responsibility.