One of the major stressors on disabled people’s relationships is negative (or even incorrect) attitudes and beliefs about disability from outsiders. Yup, it’s the people who have no business commenting on the relationship, or who have no clue about disability, that get most in the way of disabled folks’ intimate lives and partnerships.
Sometimes it’s direct interference – such as the people who make comments about stuff that’s none of their business, or even “warn” a nondisabled person to not get too involved with the disabled person they’re dating or falling in love with
Sometimes the interference comes less from in-your-face comments, and comes more from knowing the negative unsupportive attitudes are out there – and feeling pressure to prove those assumptions wrong.
A prevailing myth about disabled people is that we don’t have a lot to offer a romantic partner, and that we’ll be an energy drain on anyone who gets involved with us. The Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability puts it way more bluntly, saying that the prevailing myth about disabled people and relationships is: “People living with disabilities and chronic illnesses are pathetic choices for partners.” Sometimes people make up stories to explain to themselves what they’re seeing, turning our spouses or partners into our friends, siblings, parents, or even payed caregivers. People make up stories about how a disabled person’s inability to wash the dishes, or bathe themselves, or scrub the kitchen floor translates into that person’s inability to be a supportive, responsible partner.
There’s also this general myth about how to be a great friend, lover, life partner – or even child or sibling – really it touches any relationship we’re in, and it basically says that the way we show care towards each other involves doing things for each other. This leaves out all the emotional, psychological, and even spiritual stuff that makes up the structure of a relationship between any two (or more) human beings.
The Real Story: All relationships are about give and take, and while (sometimes) that give and take looks different when disability is thrown into the mix, there’s nothing about disabled people that makes us less able to, or less interested in, caring for our partners. There’s no rule that says that being able to wash the dishes is the only way to show your boyfriend you care, or that being able to bathe yourself without assistance is a requirement for a mutual care-filled long-term partnership.
So, yes, knowing that people believe us to be less-than (or believe us to be wonderful, just not a wonderful marriage prospect for their daughter, brother, best friend) is stressful. We’re trying to fight stereotypes, and, you know, actually do the work (and the fun) that goes along with being in a relationship. Sometimes that balancing act isn’t so balanced.
I reflexively almost push back too hard when in a relationship with an able-bodied partner, try to do more for myself, as if I’ve almost adopted this attitude of not wanting them to fall into a caregiver role. I have to catch myself and work really hard at not doing this, because it’s destructive to self-confidence and relationships.