When my spinal cord injury happened four weeks before my wedding, I was devastated, but comforted that I had my fiancé Chris to help me get through it.
It never crossed my mind that our relationship would be compromised because of an accident that changed me physically. I knew our relationship was stronger than that.
Well when the story hit the media, reporters asked the same question over and over again, “Did either of you ever think about leaving?” Chris and I would just look at each other and think to ourselves, “Why the hell would we do that!”
Its like people were baffled that someone would be with someone in a wheelchair. But the thing is, I’m still the girl he fell in love with. We were just happy I was alive.
We leaned on each other for strength and hung on tight to one another. If an accident like mine had caused Chris to walk away then it would have been because of one of two reasons: He was a total jerk and apparently never deserved me, or because we hadn’t built a strong foundation. People wonder, “How do we do it?” Well here are 10 tips I have for maintaining a strong and healthy relationship.
1) No secrets.
You can’t have a strong relationship if you keep part of your life from your partner. Our experiences make us who we are. Allow yourself to be vulnerable and let your partner in completely. Also, don’t sneak around. If you feel the need to be shady, then you obviously need to evaluate your priorities. If you love the person you are with, then do everything in your power to make it work. If not, give that person the respect to let them go.
2) When you are wrong. Own it.
Wasting your energy on dragging a fight out will only hurt you and your other half. It’s so much better to admit you were wrong and just apologize. Your partner will feel like you are validating their feelings and that you understand where they’re coming from.
3) Never go to sleep angry.
The whole “I’m not touching you or facing your direction” thing will get in the way of intimacy. That quiet time you have together just before falling asleep is the best time to connect emotionally and physically. Sometimes life is so crazy that this may be the only time you and your partner are alone. Why waste this precious time in a bad mood? Once in a blue moon, Chris and I will have a misunderstanding that causes conflict. Seriously, we talk it out every time. We share our feelings, make sure we understand each other’s feelings and bury the hatchet.
4) Show your partner how deeply in love with them you are.
When Chris comes home from work, the first thing he does is find me to give me a huge bear hug. At night, ill rub his back until he starts snoring. Every night he says “I love you sweetheart,”and every morning he says “good morning beautiful.” He always kisses me goodbye and I never let him walk out of the door until we’ve exchanged “I love you.”
We never let a day go by without these moments because we know how drastically life can change in a split second. Who knows what will happen today, tomorrow or years from now. But you better believe that no matter what, we know we are loved.
You don’t have to shower each other with gifts and plan extravagant dates. Leave cute notes, give big hugs and never let a day go by without saying I love you. Don’t take one another for granted.
5) Don’t run when something goes wrong.
There will come a time in most relationships where things are just so screwed up that you have no idea how you’ll ever be able to pick up all of the pieces. For some it may be a pile of small things gone wrong or it may be one catastrophic incident that has rocked your world. I know how that feels all too well! But Chris and I fought through the storm until we saw the light. While in the hospital, it was difficult to see how my life would turn out. But that’s just it, if you give up too soon you may be cheating yourself out of a beautiful future.
6) Express yourself peacefully and listen.
Let me remind you of an all to common exchange. Dude: “baby what’s wrong?” Chick: “nothing I’m fine!” We’ve all done it. Pouted and wallowed in our own sorrow or anger only to shut a loved one out.
If you have something you need to say, just say it! Don’t play the you-should-know-why-I’m-mad game. Your partner is not a mind reader. When you let something fester it will only lead to resentment.
7) Accept each other for who you are.
This doesn’t mean you put up with crap, but rather realize that the person you are with isn’t someone you should try to change. If you are dating someone that you are trying to morph into the perfect mate, then you are not in love with that person. You are in love with the idea of them. Realize that nobody is perfect though. Some personality traits are deal breakers but some are just quirks. Take the good with the bad and embrace one another’s whole self. Our mannerisms, habits, routines and dispositions are what make us all unique. Trust me when I say there are some things about Chris I could do without but I couldn’t do without him. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!
8) Be silly together.
Chris and I are pros at this one. Sometimes I think we would make for a hilarious reality show. Then sometimes I’m like, maybe we are a little too weird together! But I love our quirkiness. We can literally say anything to each other without fear of being judged. If you are at any point afraid to let loose around your partner then there is a problem. Either you are not allowing yourself to be vulnerable or your partner has in some way made you feel like you can’t be yourself. Inside jokes are always good too! I feel like Chris and I have so many that people often wonder what the heck we are talking about!
9) Be supportive.
Not feeling supported by your partner can be a lonely feeling so be there for them when they are sad, even if you can’t fully understand why. Encourage them to follow their dreams no matter how big they are. Offer your partner advice, a shoulder to lean on and an opportunity to vent. You should be one another’s cheerleader.
10) Realize it’s possible that you might just need to move on.
it may be the ugly truth that your first step in having a stronger relationship is to end the one you are currently in. Not every couple should stay together. After you have put in all of your effort to no avail, maybe it’s time to reevaluate your relationship. If you aren’t getting what you need, then you may never get it. Get out of an unhealthy situation ASAP.
My disability may have changed some dynamics in our relationship but it never changed our feelings for each other. We had built something super special far before the accident ever happened. I may be in a wheelchair, but love is love.
if you’re in a situation where you feel like a disability would end your relationship, then you aren’t really in love. The advice for someone with or without a disability is the same. Real love is looking past imperfections, growing with each other and not being able to imagine a world where your partner isn’t in your life. It’s been said that we accept the love we think we deserve. And we all deserve real love.
Rachelle Friedman is a c6 quadriplegic who was paralyzed at her bachelorette party in 2010 during innocent horseplay by the pool. Her story went international and has been featured on the Today Show, CNN, HLN, MSNBC, Vh1 and other various media outlets. Since then she has become a motivational speaker, blogger, and ambassador for the spinal cord injury community. Rachelle is currently writing a book due out in Spring of 2014. Visit www.rachellefriedman.com to read more about Rachelle's story and to connect with her on twitter on Facebook.