My partner, Riley, had a spinal cord injury 8 years ago. As a result, he is a C5/6 quadriplegic. This article speaks to how that reality impacts certain aspects of our relationship.
I suppose I would call myself a romantic realist. While these traits might first seem in opposition, for me and my relationship they work in collaboration. Let me take a moment to explain what I mean.
It was my belief in synchronicity and romance that led me to the love of my life, Riley, who just so happens to be quadriplegic. Romance absolutely plays a main role in our relationship. But at the same time, Ri and I both believe in setting fair and realistic expectations in life and romance. We simply do not have the time, energy or desire to pile any amount of unrealistic demands on each other. Maintaining this realistic approach works to eliminate many of the selfish behaviors that stand to plague a modern day relationship. Yes, we have ALL been guilty (from time to time) of demanding more than a partner can give. Now, understand that I am no relationship expert, and that I am perfectly imperfect in my realistic approach, but the truth is this- even if I wished it to be so, I will never be the center of my partner’s world- he just has too much going on (and don’t we all?). In my view, that is actually a good and healthy fact of my life.
Before Ri and I ever began a romantic relationship (back when I loved him but didn’t know what to do about it), I carefully considered the possibility of a future together. Ri and I knew each other quite well back then. I knew how his spinal cord injury impacted his day-to-day life, and I knew that his needs around care were an absolute necessity, dictating his ability to do anything and everything. I also knew Ri’s life had a certain element of unpredictability- caregivers, pain and from time to time, health complications.
As I reflected on those realities, I found myself struck with an overwhelmingly enormous amount of respect towards Riley.
This respect came out of a realization that he was constantly working to perfect his art of self-care, something we could probably all stand to examine in our own lives. I deeply admired Ri’s unapologetic prioritization of his health, his needs, and his wellbeing. Through Ri, I realized that my values around relationships actually began with the ability to care for myself, instead of counting on a partner to care for me or being guilty of putting someone’s needs over my own. After all, how can we give to another in a relationship if our bucket is empty?
I didn’t really know any of that before Ri. I thought I did, but I didn’t. I am grateful for Ri’s non-negotiable needs because they remind me that I too have needs, and that I am the one in charge of caring from them first and foremost. It truly took a great love with great needs to illuminate these values that now form the basis of our solid partnership.
As one last thought, I want to let you in on a little secret. When we have the freedom to prioritize our own needs, we actually have a greater capacity to show up for our loved ones. So, while it may seem counterintuitive, not being #1 in Ri’s life has left me feeling so adored, so loved and so worshiped. While I know he wants, so badly for me to be his #1, the truth is that I am far happier being my own #1.