Marriages are tough, and if you have children, they’re even harder. The divorce rate for parents of children with disabilities has been said to be as high as 85%. Why are these rates so high, and how can a family beat the odds?
I’ve found that raising our two disabled children has brought my husband and me closer. I’ve wondered why our marriage seems to have thrived, even when I see couples with typically developing children heading for divorce. I think it’s our approach to marriage. I’m going to share some of tips that have kept us strong for 13 years of marriage, and 19 years as a couple. Let me know if they help you.
- Intimacy. Yea, that’s right, intimacy. It’s difficult for people with kids to find bedroom time, but when you have a child who needs constant supervision it’s a real challenge. Don’t blow it off! Even if your time for sex will never get back to pre-children frequency, that’s ok. Turn to trusted friends and neighbors and respite care time, but if those are not an option, just put the kids to bed early – and turn OFF the TV. Fight your urge to fall asleep and turn to your spouse. As long as you are still physically able, you should pursue this area of communication to strengthen your marriage. It’s worth the effort.
- Stop fighting. Yes, easier said than done, I know. Chris and I still fight, but we always make up, and we fight much less than we did while dating! Take the topics you’re never going to agree on off the table, for a little while at least, and cultivate some peace in your house. Be the “bigger” person and let the pet peeves slide. Zip your lip when you want to criticize and focus on your spouse’s good points. It will not happen overnight, and I’ll admit, I spend time in prayer and meditation to keep my mouth closed, but it’s made our marriage a place of peace. I avoid stepping into the “blame game” and consciously think about what I can do or say – or not say – to avoid an argument when it looks like one is brewing. I think of my husband’s obvious good points, like how much he loves me and what a good father he is, and it reduces my angst over the little stuff. Oh, and don’t fight about raising the kids, which leads me to:
- Put one of you in charge of the kid stuff. I’m the one in charge of the kids – the logical choice because I spend the most time with them. What I mean by “in charge” is that one of you should be making the decisions and doing the homework and paperwork on therapies, diets, medications, doctors, psychologist, school, services, etc. This will allow the person in charge to create a management system to keep track of everything and avoid missing deadlines or scheduling. Secondly, your spouse will respect you and listen to you when you have ideas that can help your child – if you’re the one in charge. If not, you’ll find that having your partner organize everything will be a great sense of relief. When I decided to put my kids on a restricted diet, I completely managed it, from finding out what they could eat, to purchasing supplements, to creating menus. My husband is on board and helps out, because he trusts me to oversee everything and make informed choices, which eases his stress levels.
- Team up…to fight. Even if you don’t have the opportunity to date, start to think of yourself and your spouse as a team. No one besides the two of you knows your children better, no else needs to provide a secure, united front for them like you do. You two are their fortress, and now is the time to take solace in each other. Try to do things like attend IEP meetings together (at least some of them), and before you go, read the proposed IEP and discuss goals for your child. For me, I’ve learned that when we disagree with the school, whoever has the stronger opinion should be the one to take charge. Standing together and supporting each other in the face of opposition has a way of bringing you closer that nothing can quite compare to.
I don’t mean to offer neat bullet points to people in marriages that are in real trouble. Certainly, seeking guidance and counseling is the best way to go if divorce is a real possibility for you and your spouse. However, if your marriage is at the point where the difficulties are starting to cause more and more arguments and less time together, a little effort on your part can go a long way. Remember that a good marriage is a stable foundation for raising a child whose disabilities mean they face an uncertain future. Take the time to nurture the relationship that is the basis for your child’s home, and they will reap the rewards.