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What My Marriage Looks Like as a Disabled Woman Married to a Non-Disabled Man

Throughout my life I’ve wondered what people think when they discover I’m married. When I was younger and still in the dating scene, I also questioned if some of those relationships didn’t work out because they didn’t know what life would look like down the road with someone like me — a four-foot-tall disabled woman. The truth is, I had no idea either, so no hard feelings there!

Sometimes I don’t have to wonder though, because as anyone who has lived with a visible disability knows, we get asked many questions. Don’t get me wrong, questions are fine with me — but some can be way out of left field and highly inappropriate. One of my personal favorites, “Is he your dad?”, is often asked in reference to my only-two-years-older husband. (Because, of course, disabled people are LUCKY to have found love!)

I thought I’d take this opportunity to share a glimpse of what my marriage looks like. I’ve thought about writing this story for a long time, but the problem was that my life is so much like everyone else’s that I couldn’t find an angle. But then I realized — that is the angle. My marriage looks like most others.

I have spina bifida. I have always walked with crutches, but in my late 20s I started using a wheelchair because my shoulders were feeling the effects of years worth of weight-bearing that arms simply weren’t meant to hold. I alternate between the two different mobility methods depending on the situation. It was hard for me at first because it was new, but my husband made it clear that it was all in my head. I was afraid people were going to stare at me, but he said, “They already stare so it won’t be any different.” He was right. I just don’t notice when they do because I am too busy going about my business! With the chair, life got easier.

Some people wonder if my husband is also my caregiver. The answer to that is no.

He does get my chair out of the car and put it together if we are out. He doesn’t have to, he just does it to be nice (and it’s quicker that way). He will reach for things on a high shelf or load the groceries in the car. Other than that, outings are pretty normal.

In the past, he’s refused to do some things that I can’t do — like going to the top of the Statue of Liberty when we went on vacation. He didn’t want to go because I couldn’t. There was no reason for him to miss that opportunity, but I lost that battle. He also wouldn’t buy a bike for himself until we could buy one that was accessible for me too. A bike that one can use with their hands is considerably more expensive than a regular bike, but once I got one, he bought one too, and we were off to enjoy that together as well.

I’ve thought about writing this story for a long time, but the problem was that my life is so much like everyone else’s that I couldn’t find an angle. But then I realized — that is the angle. My marriage looks like most others.

He’s modified and built things for me to make life easier. He does that because he loves me (as his wife and not my caregiver). He’s also extremely creative. He learned how to change the bearings on my wheelchair wheels because it’s easier — why throw away perfectly good wheels over such an easy fix?

I am sure he has had his share of insulting questions and statements from the general public over the years. Some I have been there to hear, others most likely uttered when I am not around. He doesn’t tell me about them. He doesn’t care, or at least he says he doesn’t. What other people say clouds his opinion of them, not me.

Does he take care of the home? No more than he would if I wasn’t disabled.

He mows the yard (although I can do it with a riding mower and have many times) while I take care of the flower beds. He takes out the garbage and pulls the cans to the curb. Both of these things I can do if I need to, but it’s easier for him, so he does it. I do it when he is out of town. Our laundry room is detached from the house and there is a step to get to it, so he does the washing and drying and brings the laundry in so I can take over from there. Again, I can do it, but this is how we split things up in our home.

When I got burned cooking a few years ago, he cared for me because I couldn’t get around as easily. I had second and third-degree burns on my feet (an article for another time!), and he took care of the kids and the house while I healed from that. Since that incident, I have been forbidden from taking hot things off the stove. He would rather do it because it’s safer. So I cook and yell for him when it’s time to take the pots off the stove. I cooked by myself for 20 years and only got hurt that one time, but it keeps harmony in the house, so that’s what we do.

But it goes both ways: I’ve cared for him through sickness and a couple of accidents he’s had too.

We raised kids to adulthood and went on family vacations. We both have careers, so we both work every day. On weekends we will either catch up on work left over from the week or find something to do, even if that ends up just binge-watching a new TV show or documentary.

Sometimes we go shopping together. Most of the time, it’s just me, and when I get home, he carries the groceries in the house and will help put them away.

Sometimes he would drive the kids to school or whatever they had going on in their lives. Sometimes I would, it just depended on whose schedule would allow it that day.

What other people say clouds his opinion of them, not me.

The only health-related thing he does regularly is he complains that I drink too many Cokes instead of something more friendly to my kidneys like cranberry juice (that stuff is gross I just can’t handle it).

I don’t say any of this to minimize his role in my life. He, like most spouses, is everything to me. We have been married for almost 18 years, and as any honest couple would say, it has had its ups and downs, but I would say we have enjoyed most of it. He had no idea what he was getting into when we got together. No one knows what the future holds, but he jumped in headfirst anyways, and we went about building a life together.

He doesn’t have a disability and I do, but our life is remarkably similar to what life would be if I didn’t.

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