When you’re in a relationship with someone with a disability – be it a physical disability, a mental health issue or a developmental or intellectual disability, to name a few of the many types of disabilities across a broad spectrum – it’s important to note that everyone is different.
Romantic relationships are always an adventure because you never know what to expect, even when you and your partner are in perfect sync with each other. But when your partner has a disability, it’s important to understand how that disability impacts your partner and what your partner might need or want from you in your relationship.
Things To Know when Dating Someone Disabled
Most people who have grown up with a disability have adapted to their conditions, whether it’s a mobility issue, a vision or hearing challenge, or even a psychiatric disorder, and because they have learned to manage the condition the only thing they need from a partner is to be treated like anyone else.
On the other hand, some people with disabilities might have only recently started living with it. Your partner might have lost a limb in combat, or she is losing her sight thanks to an illness. In this case, they might need your help as they learn to understand how to live with their disabilities.
In either case, though, it’s important for you to communicate openly with your partner to understand his needs and his expectations of you as you build a life together.
Let’s take a look at some of the things you should be aware of when dating someone with a disability.
Everyone Is Different
One of the most important things to remember about people with disabilities is that no two situations are the same. Just because you knew someone who was visually impaired doesn’t mean that your partner will have the same challenges.
Context is king, and understanding that no two situations are alike will go a long way in making sure that your partner knows that you’re focused on her and not her experience as a disabled person.
Don’t Make Assumptions
You know the old saying about what they say about people who make assumptions. That holds very true for anyone entering a relationship with a disabled person. The reality is that since every situation is different, making assumptions about what your partner might need simply doesn’t work.
Rather than assume your partner needs your help, ask first. Would she appreciate being pushed up the ramp, or would she rather do it herself? Most people who grow up with disabilities are proud that they’re able to perform day to day functions on their own. While they might appreciate the gesture, they won’t want your help.
In this case, it’s important not to take their refusal of your help to heart. It’s not that your offer of help isn’t appreciated, it’s just that it’s not needed. Again, this plays into the notion that asking what your partner needs or expects from you is so very important for the health of your relationship.
Ask Questions, And Learn As Much As You Can From Your Partner
Learning about your partner’s condition can be very helpful in understanding your partner’s needs. If your partner suffers from a Traumatic Brain Injury, for example, understanding the side effects of a TBI can help you understand things like mood swings or erratic behavior.
However, just as we’ve emphasized that every situation is different, it’s important that you take what you learn about your partner’s condition and discuss it openly. The reason for this is simple: Your partner’s situation is unique to him or her, so you need to understand what his or her needs are rather than making blanket assumptions.
Let’s use the TBI situation as an example. Someone who suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury ten years ago will have a different experience than someone who suffered one in a car accident a year ago. In the latter situation, the side effects might not have manifested yet, whereas someone who has been dealing with the condition for a decade will have much more experience not only with the side effects, but also how to deal with them.
The same can be said of someone who recently lost his vision or mobility, as opposed to someone who grew up with limited mobility or vision. As your partner works to cope with his new life situation, he may need your help getting around the house, or driving, or reading labels. Someone who grew up with the condition will likely already have those skills in place.
In the case of someone who recently suffered an injury or who was recently diagnosed with a condition, your presence might help to keep them safe. As her partner, you’ll know if her mood shifts or she’s having a seizure. You might notice little things that a stranger wouldn’t see, and that’s why it’s a good idea to understand what you can do to help your partner.
Understanding your partner’s specific needs is key to a successful relationship when dating someone with a disability.
Patience Is A Virtue
People with disabilities can go almost anywhere people without disabilities can go. The only difference is that they might need an alternate way of getting there, or they might need help. Knowing that you might need to wait a little longer for your partner is something to keep in mind, and above all you need to be patient in these situations.
For example, people with disabilities are able to go on almost any theme park ride, but while some rides can accommodate a wheelchair there are some rides that require a person to transfer from a wheelchair to the ride vehicle. You might need to help make that transfer, and so people with disabilities generally board in a separate line.
You might have to board a plane separately, and getting up and down the walkway to the plane might pose a challenge for your partner with limited mobility.
Most people who have been living with their conditions long enough know how to navigate these situations, so it’s important that you understand that you might need to allow for more time as your partner gets situated.
The Bottom Line
Dating someone with a disability shouldn’t be very different than dating someone without one, and most people with disabilities will tell you that they can do everything that everyone else can do but in their own way.
The most important thing to know is that you need to understand her situation and how she lives with her disability, and whether or not she needs to rely on someone else as a result of her disability. By not making assumptions, and knowing what your partner needs, you should have no trouble when it comes to dating someone with a disability.
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