Maintaining honest communication in key relationships – even in the best of times – takes dedication, mutual trust, and vigilance. When the challenges and stressors that accompany spinal cord injury (SCI) are added to the mix, it is more important than ever to keep open and honest lines of communication in relationships flowing.
Spinal cord injury changes a lot of things, but good communication doesn’t have to be one of them. In fact, many people find that their relationship becomes stronger.
A Primer on Communication
Communication is vital to healthy long-term relationships, especially when something as life changing as a spinal cord injury is involved. As with most challenges, this is not always easy. There will be times when you don’t want to put in the work or want to retreat and give up. But, like all hard things, the effort is worth the reward!
What do we mean when we talk about open and honest communication? Is it asking someone how their day went? Is it making small talk around the dinner table? It is, in part, but this is only the beginning. Communication starts with the small things and grows into something much deeper – and much more satisfying.
Deeper levels of communication require you to open your heart to another person. It means talking about your doubts, beliefs, fears, aspirations, and dreams. It means you hold nothing back, but always prioritize communicating with love and respect.
Communicating in this way isn’t easy. Start small and build upon it with someone you love and trust. It gets easier with time, and it will strengthen your relationships in surprising ways.
Romantic Relationships and Spinal Cord Injury
Communication is hard enough, but when you add romance to the equation things can get tricky. Popular culture and social media have programmed people to believe successful romantic relationships are perfect, like something out of a story book or movie.
Real romance looks – and feels – nothing like perfection. Spinal cord injury or not, romance is a complicated relationship between two imperfect people. It’s important to have a realistic view of romance that doesn’t rely on anyone’s perfection, or even idea of perfection.
What can you do to nurture and strengthen romance through communication? It starts by expressing your expectations and desires to one another. Rather than waiting for your partner to know how you’re feeling, or what your expectations are, you need to communicate what you need and expect from your partner.
This is especially important during challenging times. We may think the other person knows how we feel, or what we need, but that assumption can be dangerous and corrosive. We can’t expect people to fix something they don’t know is broken. Open, honest, and compassionate communication prevents misunderstandings that can take root and cause bigger problems in the relationship.
There is an expression that says: teach people how to treat you. Only through honest and loving communication about everything can your partner truly understand you, and vice versa.
Communication isn’t just important during difficult times, though. It’s important to give equal weight to communicating gratitude, appreciation, and love towards your partner. Romance is always a two-way street, and we get back what we put into it.
Let’s Talk About Sex and Spinal Cord Injury
Time to get awkward! But, that awkward feeling is exactly the topic we want to address. You can’t let the possibility of embarrassment prevent you from expressing your needs and desires. When faced with a spinal cord injury, it is even more important than ever to be open and honest about sex in your relationship.
Spinal cord injury usually impacts a couples’ sex life, but many spinal cord injury survivors regain some sexual function. It is likely there will be changes in the way you and your partner experience sexual pleasure. This makes open and loving communication even more important as the way we please our partners, and what we ask for from our partners, may well have to change.
These are often uncomfortable conversations, but necessary ones. It’s unrealistic to expect that you, and your partner, won’t feel awkward or even have fear about sex after spinal cord injury, but good communication is the antidote to these uncomfortable feelings. The more often and openly you talk about sex with each other, the easier these conversations become. The outcome is worth it, as you can feel the gratification of knowing you are both asking for – and receiving – what you need both physically and emotionally. This topic, among others, are conversations and questions we are answering in our Thrive Community on Facebook.
Communication and Connection
All healthy relationships are built around honest communication, no matter what the circumstances. All human beings need reciprocal communication to feel loved and understood.
While we focused more on romantic relationships here, these principles apply to all our relationships – from family to friends to lovers. Be open, honest, and loving and all your relationships will continue to grow and flourish.
The Thrive Community by Enemeez®
The Thrive Community Facebook Group is a private space for any person with a disability, as well as caregivers and healthcare providers that touch their lives. Our purpose is to provide a safe, educational space for group members to ask every question, connect with their peers, and empower each other through communication and connection. Our conversations are led by incredible individuals who themselves are living and thriving. You are welcome here!