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“Nobody Wants a Woman With a Handicapped Child”: Husband Ceases Contact With Special Needs Son, Wife Breaks Free

“I have three children; my middle son, Ben, has multiple disabilities. He has been diagnosed with spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy, ataxia, epilepsy, and severe developmental delay, including communicative and gross motor. He is a non-verbal, 3 year-old trapped in a 20 year-old body and will require 24/7 care for his entire life. You can imagine how terrified I was of being a single mom caring for him by myself.

I had already failed three times at ending my marriage – fear always crept in, filling my mind with doubts. Being in a domestically abusive marriage for 17 years had taken its toll on me emotionally. I lacked self-esteem and confidence. My spouse had embedded into my head that nobody would want a woman with a handicapped child. I would be alone for the rest of my life if I left him. So, I went through the motions for the last 6 years. I no longer loved or respected him and did not like the person he’d become. I struggled to keep our family together. I tolerated the abuse and sacrificed my own emotional well-being as long as I possibly could.

In November of 2014, Ben underwent knee surgery, soft tissue lengthening, and extensive osteotomies. He didn’t recover well, and there were many complications. As I slept next to him each night, I felt so alone and asked myself what I was doing with my life. It was in that hospital room I realized my marriage was over. We got Ben home, and I focused on his grueling recovery for the next three months, while going through the motions of married life. I met alone with our marriage counselor to share my thoughts and ask for guidance. In February of 2015, I hired a lawyer.

For the first time in my life, I chose me – my own happiness. My life had become a living hell. The hostility, anger, and verbal abuse I dealt with on a daily basis was almost unbearable. But, I had an amazing support network. My spouse ceased all contact with Ben. In his mind, that was my punishment. Having to care for Ben by myself, day in and day out, would make me realize I needed him. That didn’t happen. For almost two years, I regularly met with a psychologist and worked on myself. I was in a good place; I was happy. I felt free and could breathe. No more walking on eggshells.

By January of 2016, Ben had grown so much I could no longer carry or lift him. If my oldest son wasn’t home, I was unable to bathe him, because I couldn’t get him in/out of the bathtub by myself. My new focus was my accessibility journey – achieving 100% accessibility in my home so I could care for Ben without injuring myself. Six months later, I hired a contractor to build an accessible bathroom with a roll in shower. Victor was fabulous to deal with. I enjoyed speaking with him each day. He was very knowledgeable and had so much compassion and empathy. I was amazed by his interactions with Ben. It made me want to know who this guy was!

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Courtesy of Diane Neves

A few months after the bathroom was completed, I had Victor come back to paint my kitchen. He shared he was newly separated, and we got into some deep conversation. I was surprised at how much we had in common. He too spent many years sacrificing his own emotional health, ignoring his feelings, and trying to make everyone else happy in order to keep his family together. We both had spouses who had the mindset marriage trumped your own happiness; keeping the family together was more important than anything else; and choosing your own happiness was selfish. They would blame menopause or accuse you of having mental issues requiring medication.

Victor and I began talking every day for hours on end. It started out talking about our spouses, our children, the breakdown of our marriages, and what was going on each day – sharing each other’s drama. After a few weeks, there was a slight shift. We started looking forward to talking to each other. Our conversations started becoming about us. We were sharing personal stories, our favorite things, our bucket lists, and where we wanted to travel. We were sharing childhood stories, likes, dislikes, and how our days went. A beautiful friendship formed.

After four weeks of talking and texting each other every single day, we took the plunge and met in person for coffee.  There was no denying we had a connection; it was unreal. We sat and talked for hours, neither one of us wanting to leave the other. We laughed so much. It was beautiful. But, it wasn’t long before our spouses found out about us. Of course, the extreme level of hostility, anger, and verbal abuse had our lives spiraling out of control. Our spouses were determined to destroy our characters.

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