Being Together

 ‘I don’t like someone calling me blind at home… sometimes he tells me, you are blind how will you know? And I give it back to him saying you are blind too, so you won’t know either! But like any other couple, we argue, we forget, and we get back together.

Namita (name changed), 29, visually impaired


What if my partner starts thinking that I am a burden on him?

Asks counsellor Jyotti Savla from Mumbai: ‘Are you anticipating this situation, or are you getting hints which have led to this fear? Are you feeling like a burden External Website that opens in a new window because of your disability? If yes then it’s time to see how you view yourself. Your disability is a functional problem; it is separate from you as a person.

Moreover, your partner External Website that opens in a new window is fond of you, attracted to you, loves you, and wants to live with you. He knows of your disability and has had time to understand it, analyse it, and accept you with it. So quit thinking of yourself as a burden. If someone has directly or indirectly planted such an idea in your head, then the best way is to talk to your partner about it. Sharing your fears and anxieties will make things better between the two of you.’

A feeling of being a burden can also stem from an underlying feeling of dependence. Two people in a relationship are inter-dependent External Website that opens in a new window on each other. You may be financially dependent on him, he may be emotionally dependent on you, or you’ll may both be emotionally, financially, intellectually, and socially dependent on one another. It is a partnership and both of you are givers and receivers. Thinking of what you contribute to the relationship can reduce your feeling of being a burden.

We fight a lot. Does that mean our relationship is not healthy?

Having a healthy relationship doesn’t mean that you never fight or disagree about anything. Fights and conflicts External Website that opens in a new window are an inevitable part of any relationship. It is important to deal with conflict without freaking out. Stay calm and honest about what you feel and what you need.

Says counsellor Jyotti Savla,’It’s not about how frequently you fight, but how quickly you patch up. When couples don’t talk to each other for days, then a kind of coldness creeps in. Discovering how to work things out is a part of every relationship and everyone does it differently. Perhaps if you notice that one partner is agreeing with the other all the time, then either that person is denying a lot of their needs, or not expressing what they really want. This could be unhealthy for the relationship in the long run. Till the fights are not physical or the relationship is not abusive, fights are okay.’

I don’t know if my partner is taking advantage of my disability and cheating on me. How do I find out?

If someone has to cheat on you, they may do so irrespective of your disability. Here’s what Mumbai-based counsellor and project consultant Jyotti Savla says: ‘Sometimes, the the doubt External Website that opens in a new windowalso stems from within you. If you keep holding on to your disability, you may start feeling that probably I can’t see or can’t walk, therefore I am not good enough, and so the other women are much more tempting. Don’t think that your disability is the problem because they have loved you for who you are and you love them for who they are. Trust issues are there with every couple. Yes, since you are disabled your anxiety levels could be higher, but don’t let it create a crack in your relationship.’

Despite all this, if you continue to have a doubt, it’s best to try and clear it. Bring it up with your partner at an appropriate moment, without posing it as an accusation.

My partner is also my caregiver and this is affecting the sexual and other aspects of our relationship. What do I do?

Since your partner is also your caregiver External Website that opens in a new window , he or she has to play both roles meaningfully – and this is difficult to do. These roles are somewhat mutually exclusive, which means one cannot compensate for the other. So there are ‘basic needs’ like getting dressed, eating, bathing, and ‘other needs’ like attention, attraction, sex etc. We tend to place ‘basic needs’ above other needs, although we experience many of these needs at the same time.

In putting basic needs above other needs, we sometimes tend to suppress our sexual needs and desires. Artificially suppressing one’s needs in a relationship can have serious repercussions – this needs to be dealt with. Says Neha Trivedi, a project consultant for visually impaired people in Mumbai, ‘I think that negotiating the boundaries between the caregiver and the partner is really about the maturity levels of two people who are in a relationship. It also happens with friends and caregivers. For example a disabled individual has gone on a vacation with her friend. The friend may need to guide her or serve her food. And here is where the maturity comes into play. The nondisabled friend should not feel guilty that he/she is not constantly paying attention to the disabled friend. At the same time the disabled friend should realise that as much as he is my friend, and as much as I need this, I need to be conscious when to make that call. Sometimes the disabled think, “Oh he is my friend, I can ask anytime.” Which then may lead to an irritation for the nondisabled friend like, “Well I am also on a vacation; I also want to have a sit down peaceful meal.”

So there has to be a joint working at the situation. And it can be worked out provided both people are willing to see it that way. With regards to personal relationships as well, there has to be a way, where the person with disabilities makes an effort that the work of care giving doesn’t infringe upon their personal space. Those spaces have to be kept separate, or tried to keep as separate as they can. There has to be some exclusive time where none of this care giving is there.’

What if my partner can’t adjust to my special needs?

Your partner knew of your special needs External Website that opens in a new window (and vice versa if applicable) before getting into the relationship. Your nondisabled partner may take time figuring out how to share a living space External Website that opens in a new windowwith you. If you can’t hear, he or she may have to adjust to the fact that they will have to sign to you when the doorbell rings. Being patient with each other can help.

If your partner is also disabled, both of you may have to adapt to each other’s special needs. If your disabilities are different, you will have to tune yourself to each other. For example, if you are visually impaired and your partner is on a wheelchair, you will need to remember not to leave things lying in the way, and he or she will need to put things in their correct places so you can easily find them.

If you have recently acquired this disability, it may take time for you as well as your partner to adjust to the change in your life. Initially your partner may hurt you unintentionally, or may grow overprotective of you. Either ways, constant communication (about the support needed, the hurdles faced) and assuming good faith will help iron out issues.

Basically your partner and you have been living separate lives until now, and like all other couples, you will have to take efforts to fit into each other’s everyday life. In spite of this, if you are not able to adjust, consider meeting a counsellor before things get out of hand.

My partner is schizophrenic. How can I help her and make our relationship work better?

Here is what Ratnaboli Ray, a mental health worker from Anjali Mental Health Rights Organisation, has to say on this: ‘When a schizophrenic forms a relationship with a non-schizophrenic, there is always an anxiety whether the relationship will last or not, because in a relationship both thepartners External Website that opens in a new window have to participate. The point is that people with schizophrenia might feel withdrawn at times because of their illness. They may also be inert.

Sometimes what happens is that this leads to a kind of inappropriateness. For example, you come back from work, where you have had a huge altercation with your boss, and you need your partner just to be with you, but it can well be that your partner cannot pick up that signal. So you have to tell them, you have to speak in short simple sentences, saying this is what has happened, and you need them to be by your side. Secondly, when you are talking to a person who has suffered from schizophrenia, you have to talk a lot. Because usually persons with schizophrenia seem so demotivated, that they do not want to talk, they are inert. This is primarily because of the negative symptoms.

In schizophrenia, there are two kinds of symptoms – positive symptoms and negative symptoms. Positive symptoms are hallucination, delusion, aggression etc, which are very well managed by medicines. The beautiful twist is that in relationships, it is not just enough to alleviate the positive symptoms, what you need to alleviate are the negative symptoms, which are inertness, feeling of being withdrawn or non-communicative. These are some of the problems which schizophrenia brings along with it. So one has to address and constantly check on the negative symptoms. Remember to keep on talking, because talking really helps with them.

Another thing you have to constantly do is to stimulate them – intellectual stimulation, sensory stimulation etc. What happens is that because of lack of stimulation, they go back into their shell. So stimulate them with something that makes them excited enough to engage with that, be it colour, be it dance, be it talking, be it reading. You also have to listen a lot. Fantasies in your sex life could be another tricky area. Partners of schizophrenic persons often have a subconscious thing that “okay her sexual fantasies are hallucinations and mine are real.” It will be difficult but you have to find a middle ground. We have also had cases like that.’