Building a strong marriage and maintaining it is a struggle for the everyday couple. Divorce rates are around fifty percent for typical couples. For couples who have a special needs child, those rates jump to as high as eighty-five to eighty-seven percent.
Katy and Richard is a great example of how partners might feel. The couple had shared that they find themselves feeling overwhelmed, burnt out, and stressed raising their son with a disability.
Their son, Kevin, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at birth. Since then, they have spent all of their time learning about his disability and taking care of his every need.
Connecting with each other was the last thing on their list. If it even made the list at all. More times than they can count the thought of divorce crossed their minds.
Katy and Richard felt they didn’t even know each other anymore. Like many couples, they had many issues to face. Nevertheless, the couple worked on their marriage and it was a success.
Issues Couples Face Raising a Special Needs Child
One issue that can arise, but doesn’t with every couple, is a state of denial. When one or even both parents deny that their child has an issue or disability, it can cause serious marital problems. Sometimes parents have a hard time coming to the realization that there is an issue with their child and it is perfectly normal. Many times, the news about the child comes as a shock.
They may make excuses for the child and even ignore the advice of trained professionals, such as the child’s doctor or even a local counselor. The couple may argue over this issue or they may just avoid each other altogether. The situation might cause them to feel distanced from one another.
Another issue that often arises is that most likely one or both of the parents are going to go through periods where they feel angry, regretful, or guilty. They are upset over the child’s diagnosis and become depressed over the situation. This can cause issues within the marriage because they tend to take it out on each other.
As they come to terms with the diagnosis and learn to deal with the challenging behaviors, it is not uncommon for couples to blame each other. This can truly damage a marriage and cause resentment to build.
Challenge to Learn About Disability
Raising a special needs child is a challenge for most couples. One of the biggest once is learning new skills outside of the normal realm of raising a child. This can be time-consuming and may require classes to learn to better understand and parent the child.
You might have to learn how to care for their basic needs or learn special strategies to deal with behaviors. This can be a restraint on time as a family and as a couple.
Oftentimes, one parent may learn faster than the other, creating division between the two. They may start to be critical of one another or even resent each other for not being on the same page.
Child’s disorder or disability may be the sole focus of every conversation. It leaves no time to focus on other things such as work, family, friends, church, or anything outside of raising the child.
It can become overwhelming and redundant for them as a couple and also as an individual. Couples often forget there are more topics they can talk about.
Lack of Support
Most couples also find that a lack of support causes issues within the marriage. They may not receive support from their extended family or one side may be more supportive than the other.
Friends, family members, or community members may not understand what its like to raise a child with special needs.
This can cause the family and couple to feel as though they are ignored, left out, or even shunned for the special needs of their child. This causes severe feelings of isolation and can affect the couple negatively.
They might argue and feel hopeless. When couples tend to focus on how this makes them feel as individuals, instead of coming together. Partners might feel like an uphill battle they cannot win.
Another issue many couples face is a lack of intimacy. Many times, parents do not have available caregivers to help with their special needs child, so that they can get alone time.
This may be due to the lack of support of resources in the community. Moreover, not all have the money to pay for someone to come in and help.
They also could be too exhausted from parenting that child to focus on this aspect of their marriage. This can cause a major disconnect with the couple. Also, make their marriage feel more like an arrangement than a relationship based on love.
Loss of Individuality
Going hand-in-hand with intimacy, couples also lose time just being an individual or a couple. They are often so busy raising and advocating for their child that they don’t manage to find time to go out to do things they enjoy or even go on dates.
When you have no time to yourself to do things you enjoy or to do things you enjoy as a couple, it can create a disconnect that only causes more issues as time goes on.
Couples often feel that their child and the disability are the sole focus of their life. It can cause feelings of resentment and depression to arise.
Attention Deficit Affect
A couple may find that they are not able to give equal attention to the other children in the family when they are raising a special needs child. This can cause issues with the other children. Then spiral into issues within the marriage.
Parents may disagree on how to handle things. One parent may feel they do more of the work than the other, causing resentment.
Often, the other children in a family feel as though they are ignored, causing them to act out. It might another reason to have fights within a marriage .
Parents have to deal with another issue. On the top of everything, there are other kids whose needs must be taken care of.
Couples can often feel as though they focus all of their time and attention only on their child with a disability. Often forgetting, there are other family members.
How to Save Your Marriage While Parenting a Special Needs Child
Every marriage requires work. A couple who is raising a special needs child has to work on their marriage much more than a typical couple. Below are some tips to focus on when facing challenges in your marriage as parents of a child with a disability.
Work as a Team
First and foremost, you must remember that you are in this together. You have to view your spouse as your partner on the journey through marriage and also a partner in raising your child. Do not view your partner as the enemy or try to take on all the responsibility of the child on your own.
Focus on working together as a team to tackle all the many tasks and issues that arise while parenting. You will be surprised at how quickly you can actually grow together, instead of apart, when you view things this way.
Learn About the Disability
Take time as a couple to research and learn about your child’s disability. Talk to professionals who have researched and studied the disability and learn everything you can. Find support groups in your area for parents who are going through similar situations.
Get Early Intervention
There is an early intervention program. Experts are more than willing to help. You learn to parent your child the best way you can with training as well as counseling.
If your child needs to attend therapy, counseling, or other special services for their needs, make sure that you take advantage of all that you can. You do not have to do this alone.
Connect with Others
Connect with others online who are also experiencing the same things. There are many groups on social media who are going through similar challenges. Sharing experiences and listening to advises might help.
Express Your Feelings
Making time to express feelings throughout the day can be helpful. A simple “I love you” or expression of gratitude can be great for the morale in your marriage. Oftentimes, we forget to take care of ourselves when we are in this situation, much less take care of our spouse. It’s important to remember that we all need love and support.
Try to carve out time to specifically talk about each other’s feelings. There can be many feelings that arise when raising your child, from anger and resentment to joy and love. It’s crucial to listen to each other, to express these feelings, both good and bad.
Make an Agreement
It’s important to come to a mutual agreement that you will listen to. Respect each other’s feelings, even when they are not the happiest.
No one wants to admit they think negatively about parenting their child. Nevertheless, sometimes it is necessary to vent and let those emotions out. You and your spouse should agree to understand that love can still exist, even when you are frustrated and overwhelmed.
Improving Communication skills plays a big role. Partners have to open up and share their thoughts. Communicating helps to save the relationship.
Make Time for Each Other
Making time for each other is of the utmost importance. The everyday tasks that are associated with raising your child can easily fill your whole schedule if you don’t schedule a time and stick to it.
Although it might be difficult to find someone to help, try to do so. For instance, spending time together at home to talk with cup of coffee. Also, watching a movie is always good. You might need to pray, or meditate which both are excellent ideas for the mental health. The time together is important and can make a big difference in the state of your marriage.
Maintain Your Individuality
On top of making time for each other, it is also important to maintain your individuality. Make time for yourself outside of your parenting role. Share a connection with a pastor, friend, or someone in a support group.
Make sure to get out and talk to others, so that you don’t feel your whole identity is raising your special needs child. It is great for your wellbeing, as a spouse and as an individual.
Taking care of yourself is important when raising a child with a disability. If you are well, both physically and mentally, you will be able to take care of someone else to the fullest extent. Make sure that both you and your partner are attending regular appointments for well care and seeking help for mental health if needed.
Get Help from Others
When you need help and people are willing to help, take it. This will take a huge weight off your shoulders, even if it’s for an hour or a simple quick clean of the house. Don’t be too prideful to accept help. You are doing it for the family and your own good.
Make sure to seek and use resources beyond that your social circles. Talk with doctors and counselors to find out what services are available to you and your family.
Make sure to use the resources that are provided to you. There are websites available that can help you find a caregiver for your special needs child. They do extensive background checks and interviews to ensure that your child is left with someone who knows and understands their needs.
Agencies to Help
There are numerous organizations that provide support for parents with a special needs child. Depending on your child’s disability, you can look beyond their local caregiver for more information and support, in order to help you successfully parent them, which will, in turn, help your marriage. All of these organizations can be found at child welfare
Here are a few examples of agencies that are available to you and your family:
Administration on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities
This organization work with state, local, and private resources to provide those with disabilities and their families resources that they need. This can include support, assistance to help promote independence for the child and family, and also opportunities for inclusion in their community. This program helps from the stages of diagnosis to intervention, along with therapy, education, training, and more.
Family Voices is a national organization that works as a non-profit. Its mission is to provide advanced healthcare problems for those with special healthcare needs. They work with families and professionals at the local, state, regional, and national levels. They have been working since 1992 to ensure that families’ voices are heard and recognized.
The Arc works with people who have intellectual and developmental disabilities. Their goal is to ensure that these individuals are included and able to participate in their community for a lifetime.
Save Your Marriage
Marriage is no walk in the park. When you add in the everyday stress of working, raising kids, paying bills, and finding time to enjoy things in life, it can be overwhelming.
For parents with a special needs child, that mountain to climb every day can be even steeper. Nevertheless, with the support, right thinking, and motivation, you will be able to go through it.
Take the time to work on your marriage and invest in each other. It is worth for yourself, for the love you share, and for your child who desperately needs you both.