Four years and a dog later, my ex-boyfriend somewhat unexpectedly ended our relationship. When we moved in together years prior, I changed my attendant care and got comfortable having an extra set of hands. After he packed up, and amongst balled-up tissues, I had worries beyond the single life. I came to the realization: a long-term, live-in relationship on wheels brings a whole new set of breakup dilemmas.

Illustration by Mark Weber

Illustration by Mark Weber

My ex moved out and left me hanging — not just as my boyfriend and best friend, but as the person I relied on for some daily help. Making dinner (parts of it), getting groceries with me, buttoning my blouses, helping me with a bandage on my back, moving couches to get a misplaced dog toy. Hell, he even lovingly and willingly helped me change over and over one night during a bout of stomach flu.

Despite everything we had been through, he still felt the need to leave. I remember our sitting down to eat dinner on a Monday night — he kept moving the food around on his plate. Being that it was very unlike him to not be on a second helping of his favorite meal, I asked him what was wrong. “I think we need to take a break, Kate,” was all he could muster. At first I thought he was joking, but then his eyes had me believing every word. I instantly began to cry and wanted to throw up, yet somehow I asked, “Is this a break or are you leaving me for good?” As you can tell from the article thus far, it was for good.

I had a million questions. I thought this was the man I was going to marry. This was the guy I had lived with for two years. We bought a dog together. He was an uncle to my nieces and nephew, just without the official title. He was a second son to my dad. I was a part of his family! His life! I didn’t see it coming — he gave no indication that weekend, that morning, on my phone call on the way home from work.

Looking back, I know our relationship wasn’t in the best place. After a nitpicky fight, my ex told me he wasn’t feeling happy about a month before our breakup, but he gave no mention after our conversation that he was feeling that unhappy. I assumed he was working on it or would reach out to me for help if he needed it. Apparently I was wrong. My ex said he needed time to work on himself, find his happy — he couldn’t do it together and he couldn’t commit to ever getting back together. “I can’t predict the future,” he said.

As devastating and complicated as my situation was, at least it happened before we had taken the next step.


Dave, 38, a C6-7 quad and father of three, saw his 10-year marriage take a nosedive soon after he was paralyzed and his third child was born.

“My marriage was strained before my injury. In our relationship, I was the easy-going guy and she was the controller. I think it was overwhelming for her to control everything and that was ultimately the final straw. I ended up being the lowest hanging fruit that could be expelled.”

While his ex-wife wasn’t as intertwined due to their rocky relationship, he picked up more hours with caregivers to compensate for her void. Dave also experienced another angle of a breakup when the lawyers got involved.

“Divorce proceedings lock you down from a financial perspective,” he explained. “I had to postpone getting a car for over a year until the divorce was finished. Otherwise, the van would be considered an asset and divided in half. I felt like I was being held hostage on multiple levels.”

Dependency is a tricky subject. Dave mentioned how you “feel abandoned at some point” when some of that is gone. In any relationship, we rely on our partner, physically and emotionally. For a chair user living with another person, the rules can be blurred and the dependency more real.

For example, I had my ex pull the dry laundry out of the top loader (the joys of apartment living), letting me do laundry at any time and in any order. Now, I have to make sure I have someone there at the end of the cycle, or have clothes that can sit and not wrinkle until help arrives later. It might sound small, but it was monumental. I went from being unplanned to having to choose what gets washed and dried when.

The same freedom applied to something like my jewelry. I could wear whatever pieces I wanted to — necklace clasps or tricky earrings were no match! I knew my ex would be there at the end of the night and could help me take off the day … maybe even in more ways than one (if you catch my drift).

Beyond the actual help, he had been there on many more levels. On a Friday night, I didn’t have to have plans all lined up because he was going to be a part of the planned and unplanned adventures. I didn’t have to worry if I was headed to a friend’s house with steps; he could carry me and my chair.

I’m now mapping out my weeks and weekends, getting used to eating on my own, making sure I have the right muscle waiting to lift, dealing with an empty apartment without him and our pup. There was such an emptiness in my bed, not having him beside me, one arm wrapped around my chest and another rubbing my head.

Most importantly, he was my best friend, the person I told everything to. I shared my fears and entire medical life and history to him, something I had never felt comfortable doing with any other boyfriend, or really, man. He knew my vulnerabilities and had supported me on the good days and the bad. He laughed it off when I leaked pee from my belly button and made me smile when he jokingly called my medical drawstring bag a S.U.B. (Special Utilities Bag) for code (calling it anything else in public can be dicey). He offered advice and loved me unconditionally, even when my type A personality kicked into overdrive.

The impacts and layers to a breakup on wheels continue well past someone ending the relationship or moving out. I’ve lived it, and continue to live it, so there are unexpected reminders wherever I roll.

What have I learned? For one, my friends, family, and current attendants are always in my corner — keep them close no matter what. When my ex split, they were the first ones to help me fill the void, force me to eat a real meal, and pick up extra hours with my care. Even today I rely on them for the physical and emotional support that I lost. It’s hard to depend on them in new ways or explain everything I’m going through, but I’ve allowed myself to ask for the extra help as I transition into my new normal. We’re growing together — or at least that’s what I tell myself. I also learned getting too comfortable with someone can bite you in the ass.

I can’t believe a smart, successful woman like me found myself where I am today. I’d like to think I am self-aware and that I surround myself with people who love me enough to work through the so-called “tough stuff.” Maybe I was wrapped up in thinking we’d get through everything and that our love was no match for any bumps along the way.

Turns out, I was working on the relationship and he wasn’t. It didn’t become evident until I looked back after he left. I know I need an equal partner by my side because let’s face it, love is work, life is work, and adding a chair in there is work. BUT all that work is worth it when it’s with and for the right person.

Going forward, I think it’s crucial to still blend two lives — that’s part of any relationship! There’s nothing wrong with adjusting your care and routine slightly, but be sure you can make a few nursing calls or small life changes if your relationship bottoms out. Invest in your other half and take care of yourself, or have more than one other half — if that’s how you roll!