Building and maintaining a strong marriage is a struggle for the everyday couple. Divorce rates are around fifty percent for typical couples. For couples with special needs children, those rates jump to as high as eighty-five, with higher divorce rates of up to eighty-seven percent.
Katy and her husband, Richard, are great examples of how partners might feel. The couple shared that they feel overwhelmed, burnt out, and stressed raising two sons, and their son lives with a disability.
Their son, Kevin, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at birth. Since then, they have spent all their time learning about his disability and treatment and caring for their son and his every need.
Connecting was the last thing on their list for date night. If it even made the date nights list at all. More times than they can count date night, the thought of divorce crossed their minds.
Katy and her husband Richard felt they didn’t know each other anymore. Like the divorce rate for many couples, they faced many issues. Nevertheless, the team worked on their marriage, which 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 parent or both parents deny their child has an issue or disability, it can cause serious marital problems.
Sometimes parents have a hard time realizing that there is an issue with their child, which is perfectly normal. The news about the child’s development often 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 local counselor. The couple may argue over this issue or avoid each other altogether. The situation might cause them to both feel isolated and distanced from one another.
Another issue that often arises is the reality that, most likely, one or both parents will go through periods where they feel angry, regretful, or guilty. They are upset over the circumstances of the child’s diagnosis and become depressed. 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 genuinely damage a marriage and cause resentment to build.
You might have to learn how to care for kids and their basic needs. Or learn unique strategies to deal with behaviors. This process can be a restraint on time as a family and as a couple.
Often, one parent may learn new strategies faster than the other, creating division between the two. They might start to be critical of one another or even resent each other for not being on the same page.
A child’s disorder or disability may be the sole focus of every conversation. It leaves no time to focus on work, family, friends, church, or anything outside of raising a child with special needs.
It can become overwhelming and redundant for them as a couple and individuals. 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 life it is like to raise parent a child with special needs.
This can cause the family and couple to feel ignored, left out, or shunned for their child’s unique needs. This causes severe stress and feelings of isolation and can negatively affect the couple’s relationship.
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. Parents often 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 community’s lack of support or resources. 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 and special needs child together. This can cause a significant disconnect between the couple. Also, make their marriage and special needs child 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 team. They are often so busy raising and advocating for their child that they don’t find time to go out to do things they enjoy or even go on dates.
When you have no time to do things you enjoy or do something you want as a married couple, it can create a disconnect that only causes more issues as time passes between marriages.
Couples often feel that their child’s development, treatment, and disability are the sole focus of their life. It can cause more stress and feelings of resentment and depression to arise.
Attention Deficit Affect
A couple may find that they cannot give equal attention to the other children when raising a special needs child. This can cause issues with the mother of other children with special needs children. Then spiral into problems within the marriage.
Parents may disagree on household chores and how to handle things. One parent may feel they do more work than the other, causing resentment.
Often, the other two children in a family feel as though they are ignored, causing them to act out. It might be another reason to have fights within a marriage.
Parents have to deal with another issue. On top of everything, there are other kids whose needs must be addressed.
Couples of children with autism often feel they focus all their time, effort, and attention only on their child with autism or 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 raising a special needs child must 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 child’s responsibility alone.
Focus your effort on working together as a team to tackle all the many tasks, challenges, and issues you expect to arise while parenting kids. You will be surprised at how quickly you can grow together, instead of apart, when you view life and things this way.
Learn About the Disability
As a couple, research and learn about your child’s disability. Talk to professionals researching and studying 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 parents. You learn to parent your child the best way you can with training and services such as counseling.
If your child needs to attend therapy, counseling, or other special services, 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. Many groups on social media are going through similar challenges. Sharing experiences and listening to advice 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 of your marriage. Often, we forget to take care of ourselves 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 talk about each other’s feelings specifically. There can be so many things and 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 good and bad feelings.
Make an Agreement
It’s essential to reach a mutual agreement that you will listen to. Please respect each other and the children’s feelings, even when they are not the best friend happiest.
No one wants to hear someone admit they think negatively about the process and challenges of 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 significant 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 in relationships. The everyday tasks associated with raising your child can quickly fill your whole schedule if you don’t schedule a time and stick to it.
Although it might be challenging to find someone to help, try to do so. For instance, we spent time at home talking with a cup of coffee. Also, watching a movie is always good.
You might need to pray or meditate, which are excellent mental health ideas. 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 essential to maintain your individuality and relationships. Make time for yourself outside of your husband, life, and marriage vital 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 you don’t feel your whole identity is raising your special needs child. It is excellent for your well-being as a spouse and as an individual.
Taking care of yourself is crucial when raising a child with a disability. If you are physically and mentally well, you will be able to take care of someone else to the fullest extent. Make sure that you and your partner attend regular appointments for well-care and seek 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 massive weight off your shoulders, even 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 good.
Make sure to seek and use resources beyond that your social circles. Talk with doctors and counselors to determine what services are available to you and your family.
Make sure to use the free resources that are provided to you. There are websites available that can help you find a caregiver for your unique needs child. They do extensive background checks and interviews to ensure your child is left with someone who knows and understands their special needs children.
Agencies to Help
Numerous organizations 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 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 where these free resources and services are available to you and your family:
Administration on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities
This organization works 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 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 children with special needs in healthcare and children with special needs everywhere. 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. They aim to ensure these individuals are included and can participate in their community for a lifetime.
Save Your Marriage
Marriage is no walk in the park. When married and you add in the everyday stress, relationship challenges, and reality of working, raising kids, paying bills, and finding time to enjoy life, it can be overwhelming.
For parents of children with autism and a special needs child with autism spectrum disorder, that mountain to climb every day can be even steeper. Nevertheless, you can go through it with support, correct thinking, and motivation.
There is a great book that you might find helpful. It was recommended by many.
Take the time to work on your relationship and marriage and invest in each other’s lives.