Marriage and parenting are two things that don’t always come easy, add in parenting a child with special needs and it gets that much harder. Statistics show that marriages that include a child with special needs have a much higher divorce rate but that doesn’t have to be the case.
Yes, it’s harder and yes, it takes even more work than other marriages but it’s worth it. The world of special needs parenting can be extremely isolating so it’s important to take advantage of the fact that you have someone on your side, part of your team, who understands your situation more than anyone else. Under any circumstances, a couple needs to be a team, this is even more true when confronted by the challenges that come with raising a special needs child.
Here are some ways to help strengthen your marriage under the most stressful of situations.
Learn how to communicate. Everyone has different communication styles – especially when it comes to men and women. Some process things externally and some internally. Some people catosphrosize, meaning they always assume the worst case scenario, and some people use a “Pollyanna” type coping mechanism where they block all possibilities of negative scenarios out of their head. Chances are, you and your spouse have different styles so it’s important to determine what those are in order to have effective communication.
Once you can understand where each other are coming from, it can be easier to have those difficult conversations or make challenging decisions about your child’s future.
Learn when to walk away. Just like with any marital spat, when you’re in the heat of the moment, we say things we don’t mean. This can be even more true when dealing with a stressful situation involving your child. Maybe you’re in disagreement about a recommended therapy, how things are going at school or how to deal with certain behavioral challenges at home, it’s OK to disagree and it’s also OK to table the discussion if it’s getting heated. Nothing will get resolved if both of you aren’t thinking rationally.
Get help if you need it. Help is NOT a four letter word and accepting help does not show weakness. And help can come in many ways. Develop friendships with other couples who also have special needs children, say “yes” to those offers from friends and family who offer to watch your child every now and then and if you feel like things are really getting out of control, seek professional help. Marriage counseling can be one of the best things you can do for your marriage. Sometimes it takes a neutral third party to help break down the communication barrier. Often times you may realize you’re actually on the same page, you just weren’t communicating effectively.
Dedicate time to each other. Parenting a child with special needs can be all consuming. It can leave little time for anything else, including taking care of your marriage. Whether it’s 15 minutes at the end of the day where you sit down and talk about each of your days or a regular date (breakfast, lunch, coffee or dinner), connecting with each other is crucial.
Make sure each of you is getting enough self-care. While time together is crucial, time apart is also important. While you likely don’t have endless amounts of time for this, getting coffee with a friend, your husband grabbing a beer with a friend or either or both of you spending an intense 30 to 45 minutes at the gym, self care is crucial to your mental health.
Last but not least . . .
Find humor in as much as you can! These may not be things that anyone else would find funny but often times, there are situations when parenting a special needs child that you could either laugh or cry. Find the humor! Develop inside jokes that only the two of you understand.
As hard as all of this is, it’s worth it and it can even strengthen your relationship. As with all seasons of life, you’ll go through hard times but if you practice these suggestions, you’ll come out that much stronger on the other side.