Marriage and parenting are two things that don’t always come easy, add in a child with special needs and it gets that much harder. Statistics show that marriages with special needs children s have a much higher divorce rate, due to all the extra stress, but that doesn’t have to be the case.
No one will argue with the fact that your marriage is probably harder than those with neurotypical children. It takes even more effort to make it work but it’s worth it. The world of special needs parenting can be so isolating and there’s no one who understands it better than someone who lives it with you day in and day out. 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.
We’re here to offer some suggestions to help strengthen your marriage, even 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. Remember, 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 it does not mean you are weak. And help can come in many different forms.
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
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, self care is crucial to your mental health.
Last but not least . . .
Find humor in as much as you can!
Parenting a child with special needs can bring about situations or conversations that many parents may not ever have to experience. Ones that can make you either laugh or cry. Find the humor and develop inside jokes that only the two of you can 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.