I recently came across an article that talked about special needs families and marriages that made me think. I have read lots of books and articles on special needs families and one thing I have noticed is that often in these types of families the marriage gets pushed aside. I don’t think this happens on purpose, but more because of how stressful it is to parent a special needs child and because of all that comes with it.
I noticed a growing trend in books in articles that mention this, but none of them give suggestions or solutions on how to deal with this or how to overcome these difficulties and better your marriage. As someone who comes from a divorced home and as someone who is oh-so-passionate about marriage I thought I would take some time today to talk about how to make your marriage stronger amid the stressful lifestyle of being a special needs parent.
The article that I recenlty read was called “Divorce and the Special Needs Parent.” It seems that not only is divorce high among families that do not have a special needs child, but it is even higher among those that do have a special needs child. I find this so incredibly sad.
“Chances are good that you’ve heard the statistics: Eighty percent of marriages of parents of children with autism end in divorce. For most people I know with special-needs kids, that’s a terrifying statistic. And most people can imagine it to be true, because it usually doesn’t take long to realize that autism (and other special needs) can do a real job on a marriage. Different people handle big events differently, and there’s no guarantee that you and your partner will handle things in a compatible way, starting with the diagnosis – if there is a diagnosis. Some really proactive parents get started addressing the issues even before a “qualified professional” tells them what those issues are. Often there is one parent who sees the issues and jumps on them, if not right away, then as soon as he or she can wrap his or her head around it, while the other parent may bury his or her head in the sand and deny there is anything to be done – the autism equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and singsonging loudly, “I can’t HEAR you!” – thinkingmomsrevolution.com
So right away there is the hardship of one spouse being in denial. Personally we have not had to deal with that in our family. My son was born with special needs and has had issues since birth. For us it has been working through this in our heads and together. Figuring out what was going on, what was normal and what was not.
“If you’re the action-oriented parent, chances are you get burnt out and exhausted and would like to share the burden of the difficulties: diet, therapy, supplements, etc. But the spouse doesn’t want to hear it. He or she just wants to go back to the way things were — which is, of course, impossible.” - thinkingmomsrevolution.com
For us, it’s not the hardship that my husband doesn’t share the burden, but that as a military family I share most of the burden when he is not home. My husband tries very hard to be involved, but he has to go to work. He doesn’t get to come to therapy appointments, doctor’s appointments or get to see or hear all the progress that is being made. I can explain things to him at the end of each day, but in reality that doesn’t do much. A lot of it has to be seen first-hand.
When my husband was deployed it was even worse. My husband felt completely and utterly helpless to help us and to help with what was going on back home, and I felt overwhelmed and unable to handle everything that was going on here: going to therapy, trying to get a diagnosis, and not having family nearby to help. Thank God for good friends that helped me get through!
The point is, being a special needs parent is one of the most difficult journeys. Being a parent and keeping your marriage first is hard enough, but you add on these other stresses and things get even harder. So how do we find time to connect as a couple? How do we make time for each other when our child needs so much help?
“I’ve noticed that there’s one area that gets shafted for almost all special-needs parents: ‘together time,’ also known as ‘date night.’ Burnt-out folks find it difficult to plan fun activities for themselves and their partner. Spending money on it can also be difficult when you’re balancing it against this week’s organic food or speech therapy. But doesn’t it seem that marriages where the relationship is a top priority are more fun and more resilient?” - thinkingmomsrevolution.com
And this was the part of article that sucked the breathe out of me. I read and re-read it. As a special needs parent this is SO true. And that is why this topic is so important to me. Not because I have arrived and I am doing it all right because I can honestly tell you I haven’t and I’m not. This special needs parenting thing is hard. This making my marriage a priority thing is hard. But I know in the end it’s going to be worth it. And I think you will think so too!
I know these things may not work for everyone, but the key is finding what works for YOU. If you choose to make your marriage the priority, God will honor that and He will be at the center of your lives. I whole-heartedly believe that your marriage has to come first (after God). Yes, even before your children. Because if you have a good marriage everything else tends to fall into place. It won’t always be perfect, but it will be better.
Yes, life is hard with an Autistic child, but I believe it has brought my husband and I closer together and closer to God. Because sometimes when you are going through a storm the only thing you can do is cling to God and to each other.
3 Ways to Make your Marriage a Priority in a Special Needs Family
1. Work Together.
From the first day that my son Adam was born, my husband and I worked together as a team. I don’t think we realized it then, but as I look back I am so amazed at how what was considered one of our biggest trials brought us together. I had had a 24 hour labor and rough birth. It took them two hours to stitch me up and I was on bed rest for several weeks with strict orders not to lift anything not even my own son.
Sure, we had family there to help for awhile, but even as we struggled through figuring out why our son wouldn’t eat, and why he couldn’t latch on to breast or bottle, and even after we struggled for months to get him to suck on a bottle correctly, we worked together. We talked to each other and bounced ideas off of each other. We did not shut each other out, but we did struggle. We just struggled together.
My son started his first therapy session only a few weeks before my husband deployed. After he left, I was left trying to figure everything out. The therapy sessions, the doctor’s visits, and the trying to get a diagnosis. But even then I tried to keep us working together. I emailed him updates as I could. Some things I was not able to tell him until later. Important decisions were discussed over Skype and email and as I worked through insurance mess-ups, traveling long distances to see specialists and more, he was praying for me.
And when we finally received that diagnosis although my husband could not be in the office that day with me (he was in training), he had already worked it out with the person in charge to keep his phone on that day so that I could call when it was over. Even then we worked together and told each other everything was going to be ok.
Life is hard special needs mommies and daddies, but God is bigger than that. He gave you your spouse so that you would not be alone. This is the one God picked out for you. He knew that they were the one you needed along for this journey. Don’t give up. Work together. Stick together. The best is yet to come.
2. Spend Time Together.
If you read the quotes above, you can see that spending time together is near-impossible at times a for a special needs family. There have been times where my husband and I were so exhausted that all we could do is fall into bed. Other days, one of us has more energy than the other and picks up the slack. In times like these, it’s hard to find time and energy to spend together. But I cannot stress how very important it is.
The way I look it is like this: if you take time to rejuvenate with your spouse and make time for each other, don’t you think you will be a much better parent? What better example to set then to show your kids how much you truly love each other! Taking time doesn’t have to mean going out and spending lots of money. It doesn’t even have to mean spending money at all.
Here is a list of things you can do together:
- Take a walk together (or even as a family).
- Hold hands.
- Laugh together.
- Talk together.
- Watch a funny movie together get your mood up and your mind off the things you don’t need to think about right now.
- Take a shower together.
- Play a game together.
- Lie in bed talking about your day or the future together.
- Read the Bible together.
- Pray together.
These are all things you can do at home. You can also have an at-home date night or a date night out of the house. Make it a priority to get a sitter that is willing to work with your child and that is willing to come at least once a month. Ask someone at church or maybe find respite care in your area. You need it and deserve it!
If you go out here are a list of things you can do together:
- Go get a pizza together.
- Go window shopping together.
- Go get coffee together.
- Go see a movie together.
- Go browse a bookstore together.
- Go drive around with the windows rolled down and feel refreshed! Talk and laugh together and remember back to when you were dating.
I know it’s hard when you have a child with special needs. Trust me I know, I have been there. But even once a week or once a month can go a long way to helping your marriage. Don’t have a lot of money? Get creative with at-home dates you can find online and on Pinterest.
3. Go to Church Together.
This one might have you wondering why it’s on the list, but it’s one that I think is very important. Something a lot of people don’t think about is how hard it can be for special needs parents to come to church. Some churches don’t have any areas for special needs children or don’t know how to deal with them, so these parents end up staying home because they don’t know what to do with their children during the service. I am very thankful that our church nursery and other programs have been so helpful with us with Adam and that they have tried so hard to work with us to make Adam have a good experience at church and to love it there.
It’s so important to go to church if you can, because church is where you are encouraged. Church is where you can grow together as a couple and as a family and church is where you can go to meet with God. A special family needs that. EVERY family needs that. It’s good to go to church, and get involved if you can. Work in a ministry together as a couple or even separately if one of you is not able to. Seek encouragement through the people there, the ministries there, and learn that you don’t have to do all this alone. The church (hopefully your church) is there to help.
I think if you are attending a church on a regular basis it’s going to be much harder to stray from your relationship with your spouse. Get with other couples who are your age and who may be going through the same things as you. This will help you feel not so alone and help you realize that you can do it. That marriage is something that is good and right and that with God nothing is impossible.
What about YOU? What are some ways you make your marriage a priority whether you are in a special needs family or not?
*Please keep in mind that I do not agree with everything in the article that is quoted here or the blog, but thought the article proved to be helpful in making my point come across. Thank you.*