One of the most complex, ever-evolving concepts in life is that of marriage. Choosing to spend the rest of your life with one person is a big decision and today, divorce rates are as high as 50%, casting a shadow on the lifelong, till-death-do-us-part commitment.
Deciding to have kids introduces another complicating variable to marriage and should the child have special needs, the strain on the marriage can become almost palpable. A special needs child brings intricate, intense emotions at times and it is imperative to have an adequate support system- hopefully, of course, this includes your spouse.
Keeping a marriage healthy, intimate, evolving, and responsive takes dedication, commitment, and open and honest lines of communication. When a couple’s child or children have special needs, such as down syndrome or autism, the need for those qualities in the marriage intensifies. So how do you keep your marriage alive after being faced with a special needs diagnosis for your child, such as autism?
Experts, professionals, and long-time couples weigh in regarding how a couple can strengthen their bond and solidify their support for each other. Here are 5 ways to keep the marriage alive and strong following your child’s autism diagnosis.
1. Communicate, communicate, then communicate more!
It almost seems cliché, but truly, communication is the key to a fulfilling, happy marriage, particularly for those couples who are also parenting special needs children. Talking is so important and when we don’t, we start making assumptions and conclusions about what the other person is thinking or doing and then it spirals down from there. There is a massive mental load for a parent with a special needs child and it is all too easy to become caught up in the day-to-day routine, tasks, and frequent appointments. Couples must prioritize their marriage and make time to talk to each other above all else.
2. Make time for 1:1 quality time
Again, we are brought back to the importance of prioritizing marriage and ensuring 1 on 1, quality time together. Parents of a child with autism or other condition have time constraints with all there is to do in a day, including increased frequency of doctor, hospital, or therapy visits in contrast to parents of neurotypical children. Their time management is stretched to its maximum and it may seem impossible to hold the marriage to a higher priority level- but it must be done. Just like communication is critical to a well-balanced and happy marriage, making spouses more of a priority is necessary to continue to strengthen the bond as a couple.
3. Reflect on your journey, together
On the hard days, take just a minute to reflect on your journey through marriage and life together. This can be done alone or with your spouse and remember back to when it was just the two of you and how it all started. It may seem silly and trivial, however, thinking back to happier times and even times when life wasn’t so great and remembering how the two of you pushed through, together, is sometimes a great reminder as to how far you’ve come and how strong you are as a couple.
4. Share the responsibilities
Strengthening your marriage as parents of a child with special needs should mean that you divide and conquer all the added commodities that come with day-to-day life. In most instances, one parent will become the “default parent” when it comes to scheduling appointments, ordering supplies, registering for clinics, camps, and trials, and more. If this is the case, then, the other partner should be aiding that balance by taking the child to the appointments, helping keep inventory on current supplies, and other routine tasks your child needs. This will help prevent resentment from forming between the couple and serve as a reminder to the couple that they are capable of handling this, together.
5. Go to bed as a team
It may seem foolish but keeping the mindset that you are a team helps solidify the bond between you both. One way to accomplish this is to go to bed at the same time together each night, as a team. Leaving the other to go to bed by themselves while the other stays in another area of the house can feel isolating, especially to an overworked special needs caregiver such as your spouse. Just as much as talking to each other is important, doing things as a team with your spouse, even routine tasks such as bedtime is critical.
A marriage is a dynamic structure, the “bones” of the house that is your life if you will. If the bones are united, strong, and unwavering, they can hold and support nearly anything. A married couple facing life together as special needs parents must prioritize their bond and ensure unity to keep those bones healthy and strong. It may take additional work, but we promise, it’ll be all worth it!