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Be a Spouse First

Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News October 2013

The person who treats his spouse purely as a caregiver will eventually end up with just a caregiver for a wife and exist in an emotionless marriage.

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I’ve been with my wife both as an able-bodied individual and as a paraplegic. To say there has been no change in the relationship would be an exercise in denial.

Our first few years were definitely a time of adjustment. There were times when we both wondered if we were going to make it through this change with the marriage intact.  Although we both agreed to be together through thick and thin, we weren’t prepared for just how thin times would become.

For example, with the accident came a year in the hospital. I could no longer make the house payment, thus we lost the home. I couldn’t keep working and lost my job. I became so depressed because of the injury that my wife almost lost me.

When I look in her eyes today, I can say we’re closer than we’ve ever been, and our marriage is stronger than ever. But, it didn’t just turn out that way, and I’ve seen many marriages succumb to the pressure.


The good news is more marriages survive the trauma than don’t. I’m compelled to share how my wife and I are still going strong in spite of all that we’ve been through. There may be other couples who are experiencing the same questions we did.

When I was initially injured, my wife and I were so occupied trying to understand the changes my body was experiencing we didn’t concentrate on its effect on the relationship.

When my health improved and the rehab was completed, I was discharged to a relative’s home since I no longer had one of my own. My wife moved into a convent and so here we were, a married couple living apart. That was the initial strain that was placed on the marriage.

I was emotionally strained because of my living situation and my injury. I was initially lost without my wife, so she would take time off from her job and come and stay with me as often as she could. This caused my wife to be constantly depleted of her energy, which was another strain on our marriage.

We would try and go out for dinner or a movie, and I would have a bowel accident and we would have to rush home, me feeling nothing but shame, and my wife pity. Unaware of the combined effects our situation was having on our relationship, we began to bicker, complain, cry and eventually fear the marriage was collapsing. When we realized what was happening we knew we needed to do something about it.

The first thing I realized was that I relied on too many things that I honestly could do myself. I began dressing myself, grooming myself, washing myself and even cooking my own meals, which were much healthier than the fast food meals I was eating. 

I learned to work the laundry machine and developed a system where I could even fold my clothes. I stuck to my bowel care program and trained my body properly as I was instructed during my rehabilitation. 

I purchased cleaning products and kept up my bedroom and the bathroom. Soon, when my wife would come visit me, she would arrive to a clean bedroom, bathroom and an empty clothes hamper. I immediately noticed a change in her demeanor. 

I never realized my wife had to maintain her apartment, clothing and meals, and doing mine was actually double the work. She wouldn’t complain about it due to my injury, but internally she felt the extra load and it would come out emotionally.

When she was able to visit with me without spending the first four or five hours cleaning, we were able to talk about my injury, our feelings surrounding it and the relationship began to heal.

As the relationship began to heal, I was able to develop more self-confidence and look toward opportunities for personal growth. I began to look at the possibility of returning to school.

I started volunteering and becoming more active, thus placing less need on my wife to visit with me, and she began to work more, which relieved some of our financial difficulties. She also regained some of her energy and as I learned to use the public transportation and access systems, we began to have an enjoyable social life, with no bowel accidents. 

Now this experience is specifically attuned to my condition as a T-10 complete. A C-2 through 4 would have a completely different set of experiences. The emotional trauma may be deeper and the adjustment could be harder.

The level of independence will be different from person to person, and the amount of tolerance will be different from marriage to marriage. But one thing can be said for certain; the person who treats his spouse purely as a caregiver, will eventually end up with just a caregiver for a wife and in an emotionless marriage.

Those types of marriages are no fun at all.

 

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