As part of our Dating & Disabilities Series, I got to interview Donald and Eleana about the different stages in their lives. We talked about what their lives were like before they met each other, and what it has been like being in a relationship while living with a disability. A variety of subjects were discussed. Here is what they had to say.
Can you tell us a little about the difficulties in your life before meeting your partner?
E: I have experienced the typical issues people face when part of a minority group. I work full-time as an Educational Assistant. I have faced discrimination in my personal and professional life. During these difficulties, my parents have been outstanding role-models. Strong union representation has solved my workplace issues.
D: As with Eleana, I have experienced the typical issues people face when part of a minority group. Though I don’t dwell on my disability too much, I believe it has sometimes hindered my attempts to establish a loving and intimate relationship.
Were you completely happy about your health, living situation and financial situation?
E: Thankfully, I am very happy with my living which is due to a healthy financial situation. In terms of my health, I am an anomaly. I need second or third opinions due to atypical or rare symptoms. This makes it extremely frustrating because I do not know which doctor to listen to. My heart surgeon described me as a conundrum.
D: No. I’ve had jobs in the past, but presently I am on a fixed income with ODSP. My physical health is stable at present. The relationship I now have with Eleana has helped me to relax more and build more self-confidence.
Did you feel like you are a person with a big circle of friends, family, and social circle? Has this (non-romantic) group helped you to cope with difficult situations?
E: Yes, my two main avenues of extending my social circle are religious and disability-friendly events. Over the years these two channels have led to the most meaningful, long-lasting friendships sharing values and life-challenges. I have an active social life. I plan social activities, on weekends when not working. I have even incorporated a visit with Donald, and friends before or after a doctor’s appointment. Various friends were frequent visitors when under-going open-heart-surgery in July 2013. They comforted me by their presence, gifts, and reassured me of their prayers.
D: Yes, I’ve been fortunate in having a large circle of friends and family members for most of my life. I believe it is important for everybody, especially those of us who live with some kind of disability, to have an active social life. Eleana and I have made it a priority to meet up at least once a week during the school year. When I don’t get to see my family or friends in person, I keep in contact with them via email, and through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.
Were you in a serious relationship before acquiring a disability? How was your disability affecting relationships/friendships that you were already a part of?
E: I was born with unusual health challenges. It has geared my relationships because I have an innate comfort to be around, and desire to help people with disabilities. I have only had a few short-lived relationships. Ableism is a large part of my lack of opportunity for romance even though I have a lot of strengths, and am altruistic.
D: I was born with a physical disability. The only time I think about it is when I am faced with a barrier or am confronted with stupid ableist attitudes. Most of the intimate and romantic relationships I’ve had were short-term. Prior to meeting Eleana, the longest relationship I had with a woman was close to five years. I went through a long (and awkward) stretch between girlfriends before Eleana and I decided to take our friendship to another level.
How did you meet your partner and how long have you been together?
E: I met Donald at a Catholic Church in downtown Toronto. We have been dating for three months, but have known each other for several years.
D: Eleana and I met at a Catholic parish in Toronto (ca. 2006). We officially became a couple in November 2014 after developing a closer friendship. Having a deeper relationship with Eleana came at the right time, for both of us!
Did you wait before revealing your disability, and what reaction did your partner have to it?
E: Some of my disabilities are obvious such as my Dextroscoliosis, Kyphoscoliosis, left-eye blindness, and abnormal gait due to right-leg weakness. Donald is extremely responsive to my needs. For example, he sits to my right. He is empathic as he learns about my not-so-obvious health-challenges.
D: My bones are brittle, and my disability is called osteogenesis imperfecta. I think I told Eleana about my disability when we first met. She has no problem with it. Eleana is empathetic and sensitive to my needs.
Are the major difficulties in your relationship, problems that are common to most couples in general? Or are there disagreements that are mainly centred on disability?
E: Living with any disability (visible or invisible) creates its unique set of challenges. Donald and I are forced to not attend events together due to lack of physical accessibility. I take pictures and videos to share when Donald can’t attend. Having different needs and learning the best ways to help one another makes the relationship more interesting. It stimulates conversation that other couples would not find necessary.
D: Fortunately we haven’t had any major disagreements! My life has had its unique sets of challenges, like not being able to visit people at venues that are not accessible. Eleana and I have faced this together in the short time we’ve been dating. Open communication and honesty are important to the success of any relationship, and we’ve always had that going for us.
What are some relationship tools or strategies that you use to overcome disputes or disagreements?
E and D: Allowing one another the space to feel calm and collected to be able to have a respectful, calm, polite conversation, without interruptions, so we can best understand what the other person is thinking, and feeling. Learning from your disputes makes them that much more worth-while. It provides an opportunity to develop a sensible and realistic plan to prevent similar disputes in the future.
Sex is an important part of human relationships. How have you managed your intimacy with your partner considering that they may be limitations or maybe you have to create your own routines? Communication between partners is very important – any tips to share?
E: We are still in the process of learning as this is a new relationship. Religious beliefs prevent a lot of experimentation before marriage. Communication should happen only when both parties are relaxed, and prepared to think unselfishly. Proper consideration must be given to one another’s feelings. Giving your undivided attention is absolutely paramount to fostering loving communication.
D: We haven’t been dating long, so it’s too soon to say. We take our Catholic faith seriously, yet we are open to learning more about each other as our relationship progresses. I agree with Eleana that communication between partners should happen only when we are both in a healthy and relaxed state of mind. She has reminded me of this a lot over the past year.
We may assume that a couple with a disabled partner would have a reduced earning ability. Does the financial strain create problems for your children or partner because you are limited by the places you can go or ways you can give gifts to your loved ones?
E: No strain financially prevents me from giving, what I desire, to Donald.
D: Regardless of the amount of money I have, I will give time to Eleana. I love her unconditionally.
Has your participation in religious activities helped you in managing life with a disability and increased your circle of friends? Has it caused any new issues that you didn’t expect to face?
E: Yes definitely! My faith has played a significant role in my life. It has deepened in adulthood to the point where I like to pray with others. It has provided a basis for some of my closest friends. Prayer is one of my biggest stress-relievers.
D: They certainly haven’t hurt us! I experienced a conversion to Christianity from secularism in my early 30s. Since then I have wanted to find a partner who shares my faith. My faith has deepened over the past decade. Being with Eleana and praying with her has made the journey richer and sweeter.
Do you feel that there is any social stigma around a parent with a disability having a baby? Do you plan on having any children yourself? What challenges have you faced or think you will face if you were to have a newborn?
E: Yes, navigating through life with a disability (with or without children) requires extra courage. We are bombarded with false perceptions and ignorant people. I am not yet married; therefore am undecided about having children. Only when I know the challenges, my spouse faces, will we be able to anticipate challenges, come up with the best solution(s), and make an informed decision.
D: Yes, there is, unfortunately, a social stigma around a parent with a disability having a baby. I love kids and am open to having one or two once I am married. However, there are things I need to consider. For example, there is a risk of my child (or children) inheriting my particular disability. Going the adoption route would likely present systemic challenges simply because I have a disability. Since I’m not presently married, it’s premature for me to say whether or not I will have children. Eleana and I will continue to date in the meantime and will wait and see what the future holds for us.