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Spinal Cord Injury Paralysis Resource Center

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When a Marriage Changes

Saralee and Bob

Saralee and her husband, Bob

By Saralee Perel

Many people tell me they envy the relationship my husband, Bob, and I have. But nobody would be envious upon seeing what we've been like as each other's caregiver.

Naturally we both believed it, so many years ago at our wedding when we said, "in sickness and in health." But when disability strikes, even the most loving people in the world can shock themselves with their own behavior.

My spinal cord injury was 10 years ago. Bob's been my full time caregiver. Lately he's needed extra care from me. Until now, I've assumed that I would handle this role with patience and grace. But I haven't.

Last week, when Bob took a heavy box to the truck and then jogged back to the house, I said, "The cardiologist said you're not supposed to strain or run. I can't follow you around all day making sure you don't do something foolish."

He felt terrible. "I'm sorry I'm doing this to you," he said, wanting to make up with a hug, which I returned with obvious reluctance. "I hate it when I worry you."

You see, Bob thinks more about my feelings than he does his own.

I'm shocked at the awful, angry person I have become. When I see him smiling sweetly as he's trying to make me feel better about myself, my guilt is relentless.

Feeling isolated and lonesome, I realized I couldn't keep everything inside anymore. So I decided to talk to my very best friend.

Saralee and Bob

"Bob, can we talk? I'm disgusted with myself."

He took both of my hands in his. "You're just scared. How can you not be with your disability? I'm your caregiver. And now you're taking care of me. You've got to give yourself a break."

I stood as we hugged and cried together. "Can you find it in your heart to forgive me for how impatient and frustrated I've become?"

"There's nothing to forgive." He gently dried my tears with the cuff of his flannel pajamas. "You're not feeling anything that anyone in your shoes wouldn't feel. All caregivers get angry at times. It's natural and normal. I love you. And I know you love me."

"Please, Bob. Please say the words, ‘I forgive you.' I can't change until you do."

"Yes you can. All you have to do is forgive yourself."

Ever since we had our heart-to-heart talk, I've learned, through Bob's tutelage, that I don't need to stay within my cloistered emotional walls. It took support and love to get me back into a good place. It took reaching out to a community.

I thank my friends at the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation. I thank my compassionate readers. I thank the patients at the rehabilitation hospital who I used to walk by without even saying hello, but with whom I now share bagels. I thank Bettina, my Chair Yoga instructor who, at my first yoga class last month made me feel instantly welcomed and accepted.

And of course I thank, with every ounce of love in my heart, my very best friend, Bob.

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Umbilical Cord Blood Banking (PDF)

Center for Research on Women with Disabilities (CROWD)Dept of Physical Medicine and Rehab Services at Baylor College of Medicine.

Mobile WomenArticles, resources, online forum for women with disabilities especially wheelchair users.

Paralysis Resource Center The Reeve Foundation Paralysis Resource Center Information Specialists are reachable business weekdays, Monday through Friday, toll-free at 800-539-7309 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm ET. You may also schedule a call or send a message online.

Reeve Foundation Online Paralysis Community Connecting people living with paralysis, families, friends and caregivers so we can share support, experience, knowledge, and hope.

Quality of Life Grants DatabaseFind resources within the PRC Quality of Life Grants Database. Search by Zip Code, State or an Entire Category.

Library Books and VideosFind resources within the PRC library catalog.

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The Reeve Foundation Paralysis Resource Center Information Specialists are reachable business weekdays, Monday through Friday, toll-free at 800-539-7309 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm Eastern U.S. Time. International callers use 973-467-8270. You may also schedule a call or send a message online.

This project was supported, in part by grant number 90PR3002, from the U.S. Administration for Community Living, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. 20201. Grantees undertaking projects under government sponsorship areencouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Points of view or opinions do not, therefore, necessarily represent official Administration for Community Living policy.