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If you’re in an existing partner relationship at the time of your injury, it's vital to work together as you both cope with new realities. Here are a few things to keep in mind.
A spinal cord injury is a traumatic event that not only greatly impacts the injured, but also has a dramatic effect on a spouse or significant other.
If you’re in an existing spousal or any type of serious relationship at the time of your injury, it’s natural to be concerned about sex, financing, parenting, dependency, and future plans. For the injured, an additional layer of stress may come from self-image issues, fears of abandonment, and feeling guilty about their perceived burden on their partner.
Every couple that deals with a spinal cord injury has a different experience and journey. The good news is that, as long you both are committed in the long term, your relationship can survive, and may even evolve to grow stronger by overcoming adversity together.
As you both cope with the new realities and issues after the spinal cord injury, there are a few important things to keep in mind.
Work closely with your occupational therapist as a couple. Your occupational therapist can help you with more than just the daily practical needs of those with spinal cord injury. They can help both of you understand the physical, cognitive, and psychological impact of your injury, and in doing so help address other potential relationship issues.
Explore your sexual function as a couple. Having a spinal cord injury doesn’t mean the end of your sex life as a couple. It’s possible to have a healthy and enjoyable sex life. All it takes is understanding how sexual function may have changed post-injury, making adjustments, and attending to a few practical matters. Then you can begin to explore new sensations and greater opportunities for sexual enjoyment. Your healthcare team, including your occupational therapists, can help in these areas.
Start and continue with open, honest communication. It’s important for both of you to be honest about your fears and concerns, as well as truthful about your hopes, wishes, and dreams. It’s also crucial to have honest talks regularly, and as new issues surface. For the long-term health of the relationship, it’s vital that both of you give communication a high priority.
Aim for long-term success. There’s evidence to suggest that couples that can survive initial short-term challenges and stresses may have success further into the future. In a review that looked at the effects of spinal cord injury on marriages, the results showed that divorce rates were higher in the first three years post-injury. However, after five years, the rate of divorce averaged out to be the same as the general population.
There’s no doubt that a spinal cord injury can have a big effect on existing relationships, but there’s some proactive steps you both can take to navigate through it all. Leveraging your occupational therapist and your health care professional team is a good initial first start, which can help lay the groundwork for the other action steps mentioned above, and a healthy long-term relationship.
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