Monday, January 25, 2010

Marriage Wisdom for Parents of Kids with Special Needs

A few weeks ago we attended an event called "Pursuing a Healthy Marriage while Parenting a Child with Special Needs". (Whew! How's that for a mouthful of a title?) It was a fabulous use of time and childcare expense.

The speakers were a couple who have raised three children to adulthood, including a son with autism who is almost 30 and still lives with them. I think they could have sat there saying, "Blah, blah, blah, blah . . . I still love God." and we all would have left encouraged. Most of the people I know who have children with special needs have young kids. We're all pretty fresh to this journey. Most of us are so busy surviving that we don't have time to think about issues like "What's my kid going to be like when he grows up?" and "What will he do when we no longer have the school system?" These are really scary questions. But it was so encouraging being in the presence of people who have gone before us and have done well.

Here they were, two mellow, wise, warm people who were sharing honestly about their real but good lives with a sense of soberness but also peace. It was like a parable -- some mysterious but attention getting teaching that elicits a response. My immediate response was awe. They did it. They're doing it. And their faith, their marriage, their sense of humor were still intact.

But here's the really interesting thing that they said. We kept asking them, in different ways, "Uh, so how do you keep your marriage from going down the tubes?" Most of us have read about the horrific divorce rates for parents of kids with special needs (some say 80%). All of us feel the extra strain that we live with. Here's what they kept saying, "You have to constantly give the other person the benefit of the doubt. You are stressed. They are stressed. You have to find a way to both give each other extra leeway because you are both dealing with so much more pressure."

Now, in some ways, that's a no-brainer. It's such an obvious piece of wisdom. I might even have come up with that if asked. But being in the place that I was, asking that question deep within my heart and mind as I came to this event, it has become this perplexing thing stuck in my head.

How can I become a person who gives my spouse the benefit of the doubt more of the time?

How can I have the perspective that here is a person who is struggling with the extra, extra challenges of having a child like Josh? Most of the time I am thinking, "You are not home with this kid. I am doing more for him than you do. I get to be the stressed one and you should be the supportive one." (Yes, I'm really that immature/ yucky inside toward the man that I love.) It seems like another dimension of reality to be a person who regularly, if not constantly, keeps in mind how much my spouse is carrying and is able to choose to be empathetic toward him.

I've been trying it a little bit. I am praying for my husband in his role as a father. I am trying to express appreciation more. (After all, he is one hell of a dad!) I am trying to be less demanding and more willing to give the benefit of the doubt, especially when he's not doing well. Often, what this looks like is deciding to keep my mouth shut and just give him some space. Today I had a household feedback item that almost flew off my tongue like a little mosquito in search of blood. At the last minute, I thought about whether this was the time that would be best for him to hear this little tiny thing. It probably wasn't so I stopped and decided to mention it at another time. It was the tiniest of victories but very real.

Lord have mercy on me. . . on us. Please help me to live in the reality that you are FOR me more than Alex ever could be. Please give me the security that I need to be able to be FOR my husband. Please help me to contribute to the health of my marriage every day. I really, really want to make it.


  1. I am a lucky (blessed) man to have a wife like this!

  2. great post and a good reminder for a fellow dispenser of "household feedback items" !