Dating with Disabilities: Is it a Handicap?

by | Apr 30, 2017 | Special Circumstances

Most of us have been set up with someone that was completely not a match, but with whom we shared some random commonality, such as family history, profession, height, or body type. Didn’t it feel impersonal?  Didn’t we wish that people would take the time to get to know us before they simply matched pants and a skirt? Didn’t we wish people would reflect on the inner intricacies of our personality, interests, goals, and values to find us an appropriately balanced shidduch?

This same aspiration is felt by anyone struggling with a physical, psychological, or medical limitation.  

As an occupational therapist, I know that individuals with disabilities want to be seen for who they are inside. They want to be seen for the contributions they can make to a marriage, a home, and a community.  Too often individuals with disabilities are set up with other people with disabilities based on the mere fact that they are both in some way limited. This can be deeply degrading and make handicapped people feel that all they are is their disability.  

Ironically, we all have disabilities, although some of us hide it better than others.  Many of us struggle with interpersonal relationships, time management, decision making, or even basic math. If we were to list each of our limitations, we’d likely have a sizeable collection.  

Somehow when considering a potential marriage partner, physical, psychological, and medical limitations seem to have oversized significance in comparison to our “normal” weaknesses. Being mindful of our own shortcomings may help us appreciate and not judge the limitations of others. Those others may even have strengths that we don’t possess and could value in a relationship.

A good zivug/shidduch is not only someone who possesses wonderful qualities but also a balance for your weaknesses and struggles.   When I have a strength that is your weakness I can help you, and when you have a weakness where I have a strength I can reciprocate. This builds healthy give and take in a relationship.

Somehow when considering a potential marriage partner, physical, psychological, and medical limitations seem to have oversized significance in comparison to our “normal” weaknesses

People with handicaps can often be highly functional and capable and have their disability well under control. Here are some helpful questions to ask when exploring such a shidduch:

  • How does this person operate in everyday life?
  • Can they hold down a job in a stable manner?
  • Are they under medical management at this time?
  • Is there condition being monitored consistently?
  • How would this disability affect a marriage?
  • Can their condition get progressively more difficult?
  • Do they have healthy relationships in their life with friends, family, and coworkers?
  • What indicates that they’re fit for marriage and able to care for another?

Marriage is not a place to exercise giving without the feeling that there is what to gain in return.  That could lead us down a road of resentment and destroy the fabric of our relationship. You need to be a selfish dater to be a giver in marriage.  When your own needs are met, you are better equipped to take care of the needs of others. We all need to know our limitations and what we can and can’t handle in a relationship.  

This topic calls for the mention of honesty and integrity. Some people date until they feel attraction is gaining momentum and only then drop a bomb of infertility, genetic disease, medication dependence, etc.

It is not my place to tell you how long to wait to share sensitive medical, psychological, or family information with a dating partner.  What I will repeat is Hillel’s lesson: “Do not unto others what you would not want to be done to you.” I believe that honesty is the best policy, and if someone is going to turn you down for external or internal limitations, they are not for you! As I’ve mentioned before, we need to go where we are wanted and not pretend that we will be wanted by everyone.  

Some limitations are virtually always better shared up front. These include infertility, serious chronic illness, and serious physical handicap. A dating partner will either accept those limitations or they won’t, and that should be clarified up front.

Sometimes individuals with similar limitations are attracted to each other because they feel understood by someone going through a shared experience.  Balance is healthy in a marriage but two people who are clinically depressed, for example, might not make a very stable marriage. If one person has diabetes and the other a medically managed mental health disorder, that may be more suitable. Often therapists are called in to discuss whether a marriage between a couple would be viable, given their challenges.

Many individuals with disabilities live long healthy lives and build happy families in loving relationships just like anyone else. We need to be as open-minded as possible, while being mindful and honest about our own limitations.  If we turn down a match, we should be particularly sensitive so as not to insult or define anyone by their disability. If we are the one being turned down, we must recognize that we all have a special uniqueness that is like no other on this planet. We need to accept how Hashem made us and always go where we are wanted.

Finally, I like to say that Hashem always gets his way.  No matter how many seemingly limited traits you’re afraid you have, there are many people who are happily married under those exact circumstances. We just need to find that one right person. Luckily, it’s only one!  If Hashem wants it to happen, it can. When I was 19 the first girl to get engaged my age was a blind girl who got engaged to a deaf boy. Nobody would have thought that they would be the first shidduch, but Hashem had other plans.  We all know many people who have “everything” going for them, and are still single so “Let go and let G-d!”

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