Marriage as special needs parents is hard
Maybe I’m just preaching to myself, but I, for one, think it’s dang hard! All marriages are hard. All relationships are hard, but marriage as special needs parents has a whole extra set of issues! My husband and I had so many issues once upon a time, and they definitely were compounded being Autism parents.
Being in the military was difficult, for example, being away from family, deployments, and moves. Autism amplified all the problems caused by that. My husband and I were once separated for almost 2 years. We went from having a pretty toxic set-up to now being very happily married (most days 😂). We’re not the perfect couple, by any means, but I’d like to share what I’ve learned that help turned this boat around. Below are 7 of my favorite tools in my marriage toolbox for a successful marriage as special needs parents.
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Keep relying on God
This one can get hard, I know. When you feel like your sadness will never end, things will never change, and everything seems so unfair. Prayers may seem to go unanswered, maybe you feel silence. Keep seeking, keep praying, and you’ll see His plan in time. Some of these hard moments are for our growth, but we rarely see it until it’s behind us.
Ask for help
Please don’t be afraid to ask for help! Whether that be therapy, talking things out with a trusted mentor, or for help at home when you’re overwhelmed. You don’t need to fix your problems on your own. You probably can’t. You aren’t superwoman (be it close?!), and you need to take that load off.
If you need help around the house from your spouse, ask. Don’t stew over how annoying it is that he never thinks to help.
Which leads me to tool number 3 in your toolbox.
Let go of being overly-controlling
When your husband does help, and you end up with half dirty dishes, just “Woosah” yourself and be grateful that he’s helping. It took me a while to get here. I felt like it just made more work for me. I was the family martyr and angry patron saint of house cleaning. And that didn’t help me to be any happier…
Once I realized my pickiness was making it worse, I actively worked against my instinct to control things. I instead “allowed” him to unload the dishwasher (even if it meant being put in the “wrong spot”) because he would see that they still had food on them. That’s so much more effective than arguing over it!
Be selective in the company you keep
If you’ve got friends who aren’t mature enough to hear out your frustrations without starting a bashing session and encouraging you to leave, you may need to set some ground rules if they’re going to stay around. It’s important to have supportive friends. But to keep your other friendships, I’d set a ground rule that you don’t discuss your relationship with them.
I’ve set those rules for myself with some people in the past. You don’t need to say anything about it to them, just don’t discuss that topic from your end. Honestly, they probably don’t even have experience with marriage as special needs parents anyway, statistically speaking. Would you take a ton of advice and trash talking from them about your child’s disability? Probably not, because they have no idea what they’re talking about! Their inexperience with marriage as special needs parents is the same!
Focus on positives
So coming off that last point, you may want to make a habit of catching (and stopping) yourself when you are having negative thoughts. First, it’s just not going to help you see the positives in your spouse. Being made in God’s image, there is good in your spouse! You wouldn’t have married them otherwise, right!? Maybe you are still aware of that, but the more you focus on negatives, the more you’ll lose sight of those qualities.
I recently attended a training held by an early childhood leader at my church, who teaches a lot of information from Conscious Discipline. Something interesting I learned- our brain doesn’t process pronouns the way we would think it should. Upon further research, it also doesn’t process negative words.
Here’s an example:
Don’t picture your soupse being angry.
Did you picture your spouse with an angry face? Probably. Apparently, your brain doesn’t process “don’t” in the same way it processes “your spouse being angry.” You know what that phrase means, but you are going to imagine them angry. If you’re are simmering in, “He’s so lazy and rude, he takes me for granted, etc…” your brain is just simmering in those thoughts. You’re putting the negativity on you as much as you are with your spouse. Crazy right? But it also makes sense.
Speak life and commit random acts of kindness
Try telling your spouse, often, what you appreciate about them. Just as thinking negative thoughts about them bathes you in funk, affirming their good qualities washes you all in love.
Consider leaving notes for them to find, surprise them with back rubs, or a special dessert… you get the idea. Consider reading The 5 Love Languages with them and shower them with love in their language.
Do fun things together
This can/should be both with the family and alone. Try making a list of things you both enjoy that can be fun. My husband and I both love to play cribbage, so some afternoons we sit on our back patio with some island reggae playing, a glass of wine, and the cribbage board. These are some of our best times together as far as I’m concerned.
We do a lot of fun, family building activities with the kids as well, but we make it a point to have a date at least once a month. Check to see if your health insurance offers respite care. If not, and if you can’t afford a sitter, try finding a family in the same situation with whom you can trade childcare. A restful and solid marriage as special needs parents needs some time alone and away from the chaos.
If you can’t quite make it a reality yet, don’t despair and just keep trying! One thing we do is to occasionally have a “date at home.” We set the boys up with a movie and dessert in their room (You can use an iPad on guided access for this), which they consider a special treat. Then we have our “date night” alone in the family room.
Have a friend that could use some of these tips? Please give it a share!
Your turn in the comments: What are your top tips?
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