“We are often too exhausted to care. We co-parent, we just happen to be married.”
Married with Special Needs Children: A Couples’ Guide to Staying Connected
Raising children with special needs takes a lot of time and attention. The time and attention spent nurturing a child necessarily come from some part of a parent’s life. Typically the time that couples have for each other can be dramatically reduced. One of the key concerns parents have shared with me time and again is how little quality time they have with their spouse. What time they do have together is often spent in conversation about children. Gradually their relationship shifts further and further from receiving time and attention. In talking with parents they discussed common challenges:
- Feeling guilty for leaving your child
- Feeling guilty for “imposing” on others for help so that you can have time alone with your spouse
- Feeling guilty for needing a break
- The need to tag team parent for a child who needs constant supervision
- Busy schedules
- Placing all of your child’s needs ahead of your partner’s needs
- Sleeping arrangements
With so many aspects of special needs life pulling for time and attention it is no wonder it can be a challenge to stay connected. It may take forming an intentional plan to help keep the relationship on track. What aspects of your relationship with your spouse are most important? How can you move quality time in those areas to the center of attention for both of you?
Suggestions for staying connected:
- Regularly set aside time to talk and listen.
- Keep dating weekly or as often as you can, even if it is just meeting for lunch while children are at school. Look into respite programs through local churches or other special needs agencies with trained volunteers and staff who can offer specialized care.
- Flirt with your spouse. Keep intimacy alive.
- Evaluate sleeping arrangements. Who sleeps where and why? If sleeping with children in order to monitor their status overnight, technology can be helpful (seizure alert, video monitor, intercom).
- Change your routine and look for new adventures. There is nothing wrong with “dinner and a movie,” but change it up every now and then. Create a scavenger hunt. Go to a concert. Play tourist in your own town.
- Plan a surprise. A favorite story from a parent was of a time she came home from work and was surprised that her spouse drawn a hot bath, complete with candle light and spa music. He told her, “I’ve got the kids and you’ve got 30 minutes until dinner.” Years later she still says it is one of the best gifts she ever received.
- Check in regularly throughout the day. Even a quick phone call or text message lets your spouse know he or she is on your mind.
- Show appreciation for even the smallest of tasks. Offer compliments.
- Exercise together. Walking counts and also provides some alone time for quality conversation.
- Share hobbies or at least show interest in your spouse’s hobbies. My spouse and I traded our hobbies of running and scuba diving. Neither of us had the slightest interest at first, and I actually had a hefty dose of fear of drowning and fish with big teeth. Once we started we found we really enjoyed each other’s activities. My spouse finished his second marathon last weekend and we have several scuba trips on the calendar.
- Celebrate accomplishments, both big and small.
These are just a few suggestions for staying connected in the midst of parenting. I’d love to hear other ideas you have to share.
The rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.” Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. (Genesis 2:22-24 NRS)
Loving God, We thank you for our life partners and the relationships that bless us with nurture and support. At times the business of life causes us to pay less attention and receive less attention than we want. Help us to find pathways of connection to the ones who love us and know us best. Help us honor you in those relationships. Amen
Golden Wedding Ring by Danilo Rizzuti courtesy of FreeDigitalphotos