People Living with Spinal Cord Injury Provide Insight into Love and Relationships
Shepherd Center counselor recounts what he’s learned from wheelchair users about how to adjust after injury.
By Wayne K. Ware, M.Ed., LPC
Counselor, Shepherd Center Spinal Cord Injury Program
So, as I was thinking about writing this blog about love and relationships after spinal cord injury, I realized that because I don’t have a spinal cord injury, you might ask what I have to say on this subject. Sure, I’ve been a counselor at Shepherd Center for a long time, seen lots of folks in the early part of adjusting to life with a spinal cord injury (SCI) and learned a great deal from them. But, it seems most useful to get some ideas from those living it. So, I asked a couple of folks – one female and one male – who have lived with SCI for a number of years. And, here’s what they said, and I’ll throw in my thoughts along the way.
- Love is the focus. That’s basic, but true. It can keep the focus on building the relationship and away from making all of life about the disability.
- Communication is key. Again, this sounds basic, but is so important. Listen… really listen. Make understanding the other person more important than trying to change them. Express yourself, too. Invite the other person into your experience of the SCI, so they can understand your perspective. Express yourself, yes; but, listen, listen. If you’re not in a relationship, but hope to be, practice listening to the people who mean a lot to you. It’s good practice.
- Be open to new things. Life is different now. There is more than one way to please each other. Experiment. Make mistakes. Give yourself some room to be imperfect. This is new territory. Laugh about things as much as you can. Explore together, but at your pace and level of comfort. There’s no “right way” or “right time.” Communicate. There, I said it again. There’s no way your partner can know what you’re thinking or feeling unless you tell them.
- Focus on the “now.” This is where being open to new things helps: Learn about your body and your relationship post-SCI. Let it be what it is, rather than constantly comparing it to the way it used to be. Make the goal about giving and receiving love right now.
- Treat yourself with respect. Begin to take pride in who you are. Yes, an SCI can shake the foundations of your self-image, but the job of rebuilding is yours, and you have choice in the way you rebuild.
- Get out and live. As you build confidence by doing, you will likely find that beyond feeling good, it is attractive, and you’ll begin feeling more comfortable in your own skin. Be kind to yourself in this process of becoming the kind of person you hope to be. And, as the confidence builds, any relationship will be more about the people involved and less about how they get across the room.
These are just some ideas. You likely have your own about what you’ve found works. Whatever of this resonates with you, take it in.
WAYNE K. WARE, M.ED., LPC, is a counselor in Shepherd Center’s Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Program. He has practiced counseling at Shepherd Center since 1989. Wayne has a master’s degree in counseling from Georgia State University.
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neuromuscular conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 900 inpatients, 575 day program patients and more than 7,100 outpatients each year.