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The question:

Hi there,

I have become disabled in later life and unfortunately will continue to degenerate.

My wife and I have been together for 30 years and have always had differences in how we approach life.  This hasn’t been such a problem but now that I am less independent it is becoming more apparent. There is a shift in the power dynamic of our relationship that I’m not comfortable with, due to her being the breadwinner. This is having an impact on us sexually too. I almost feel I have to do what she wants and that I’m not considered as much. I think I feel a bit used.



The answer:

Hello Geoff,

Thanks for your honesty.  It can be really hard for couples to adapt when disability comes into the relationship. It sure can throw out the dynamics that were there before and both of you will be dealing with a whole heap of emotions brought about by the change.

Unfortunately, a lot of disabled people can feel like they’re a burden to family members, friends etc.  It sounds like you and your wife aren’t singing from the same hymn sheet, as it were, and perhaps never have – but it’s now more obvious and creating problems.  I would always encourage checking in with someone regularly asking them how they’re feeling and also getting your feelings heard.  Sounds easy – but not always if the other partner is defensive or doesn’t want to meet you in the middle. 

I don’t know if you feel you can be vulnerable with her – particularly as you say you’re feeling a shift in power.  Usually being vulnerable results in closeness, but equally you need to ensure you feel safe with her (emotionally).  I guess this could play out as having a few small conversations to get her thinking, before you drop the big info about feeling used.  Test the waters first.  Sometimes, if you’re not feeling heard or a conversation quickly escalates into an argument, then perhaps writing a heartfelt letter could be more effective.  She can read and assimilate it when calm and not so defensive.

She may be feeling like she’s carrying the load now and so then gives the air that you should be doing something for her (eg the sexual stuff) and you probably feel like you want to give back/owe her. Maybe let her know that you think she’s doing a great job and you’re proud of her. Maybe she is feeling unseen and is trying to establish a strong role for herself now that your situation is changing. We don’t know if she’s scared of the future as your condition is getting worse. People react in different ways.  This could be pretty complex stuff so if things don’t improve, I would suggest going to a couples therapist where you can both safely express your fears and wishes.

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