My husband and I recently celebrated our 11th wedding anniversary. While reflecting on how blessed I am to have such a wonderful husband and a strong marriage I thought about all the measures we’ve taken to keep our marriage strong. I’ve especially been thinking about our how our marriage works in light of being special needs parents. I’ve read several articles on the divorce rates in couples raising special needs children. Each article I saw had a different statistic but they were all pretty high.
While our marriage isn’t perfect, (we are both human after all) we have made certain things a priority to help keep our marriage strong.
Communication is key to any successful marriage. When you throw special needs parenting into the mix, communication really does need to be open between you and your spouse. You’re dealing with a lot of stress factors most marriages don’t face. Make sure you communicate with each other what you’re really feeling about your child’s diagnosis.
You’ll both need to grieve your child’s diagnosis and the life you thought you would have together. Take the time to communicate with each other through the grieving process. You each might grieve differently and that’s ok; but, you need to let your spouse know how you need to grieve. It might sound silly, like why does my husband need to understand my grieving process. But to be honest if he doesn’t understand (or you don’t understand how he is grieving) you risk misunderstanding each other. How someone else grieves might be taken as being insensitive, or just not caring by other. That’s the last message you want to communicate, so make sure you take the time to understand each other.
You also need to remember that the grieving process will go in cycles. It’s not uncommon to grieve over and over. Be open with your spouse about where you are on the cycle.
Your marriage is a partnership. Each of us have different strengths and weaknesses. Put these together and we make a pretty awesome team. The trick is to figure out how to best come together as a team and work together. Take some time to really figure out what areas each of you excel in, then place that individual in charge of those things. If you see your partner struggling in something come along side them and help them through just like any teammate would.
Marriage isn’t a once sided relationship, don’t treat it that way. Help each other, encourage and cheer each other on. Help pick each other up when they’re down.
Allow Each Other Down Time
Special needs parenting is an extremely difficult road to manage. We each need to make sure that we’re taking care of ourselves. Try to find practical ways to let each other have a night off from time to time. Self care is important for every parent, but throw special needs children into the mix and I would argue that it should be a requirement.
You’re both tired, so take turns giving each other a break. For us it might mean that I go take a bath while my husband takes care of dishes. Sometimes I will go to our bedroom to watch TV for an hour after my husband gets home from work. My husband enjoys playing video games as his down time. Find practical ways to give each other a break, and try to do it once a week.
Communicate with each other what your needs are in this area. Make sure you’re not making your spouse feel guilty for needing to have some time for self care. It’s hard enough to admit you need to take care of yourself without feeling guilty for needing it. Don’t add an extra layer of guilt on your spouse for admitting they need some time alone (especially if your spouse is an introvert).
At Home Date Nights
While you do need to help give each other a break from responsibilities like mentioned above, make sure you don’t take it to the extreme and each do your own thing every night. When the kids go to bed it’s a perfect opportunity to have a date night at home. I encourage you to find a simple activity like doing a puzzle or playing a game. Find something that’s fun to do together and spend quality time with each other a couple times a week.
Spending time together in an intentional way will really help strengthen you marriage. It helps keep your communication going, which is key to maintaining your marriage.
Let’s be honest, sometimes you just need to get out of the house! Continuing to date your spouse is probably right up there with communication whenever newly weds are given marriage advice. When you’re raising special needs children however, it gets tricky.
First, there is the issue of getting a babysitter. With special needs children, you often can’t get by with a young teenager. If you’re lucky you can hire an older more mature teenager. More often than not we want an adult with our kids. Our children have higher needs, and therefore need higher level of care. Finding adults who are willing to babysit can be tricky, not because they’re not willing but because they have their own families to take care of. This is probably the biggest hurdle to date night special needs parents encounter.
Next, there is the issue of the cost of date night. Babysitters these days make a lot more than I ever made when I was babysitting. Pair the cost of the sitter and the cost of the date together, and it can be a lot for a family raising special needs children. The costs of raising a special needs child is astronomical. I’m not going to dive into that here, but just understand it is a hurdle for special needs parents.
Get Away Together
Some of our best marriage strengthening opportunities have been when we’ve gotten away just the two of us. This can be anything from a simple weekend getaway somewhere nearby to a week long vacation without the kids. We’ve done both and they’ve both been amazing for us as a couple.
We’re fortunate enough to have parents who acknowledge the fact that we need to get away from time to time and are willing to take the kids for an extended period of time. I’ll admit without their help I’m not sure we would be able to get away together.
Getaways are great for your marriage for a few reasons. First, it gives us a chance for some much needed respite. Special needs parenting is exhausting. Not only is it exhausting, but it’s a life long commitment. The stress factors of special needs parenting will always be with us, we need a break from it if we’re going to make it.
Another reason I suggest getting away without the kids is because it’s a great way to reconnect. Getting away for more than a couple of hours g gives you both the chance to rest, and reconnect in a way you simply can’t at home. An extended period of time apart from your children allows you to really take the time to connect on deeper levels. It’s time spent together without the distractions of your daily responsibilities.
Make Your Marriage a Priority
Marriage is hard. With any marriage you need to be intentional with making it a priority. This is especially true for parents of special needs children because you face so many more challenges than the average couple. I encourage you to try to incorporate some of these tips into your week. Or, discuss with your spouse some ways that will work for you to help keep your marriage strong.
Find a practical way to set boundaries to protect your relationship. Don’t be afraid to ask a friend or family member to be willing to come watch the kids one evening a month so you can have date night. I’ve found so many people are willing to help they just don’t know how. When we ask for a specific need like this they are more than willing.
How do you keep your marriage strong? Comment below with your tips!
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