Tag Archives: special needs marriage

Focus on Marriage, Part 4: Staying Connected

Golden Wedding Ring  by Danilo Rizzuti courtesy of  FreeDigitalphotos

“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:

  • Guilt
    • 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
  • Exhaustion
  • 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

Lorna Bradley

Golden Wedding Ring by Danilo Rizzuti courtesy of  FreeDigitalphotos

Focus on Marriage, Part 3: Careers and Roles

Golden Wedding Ring  by Danilo Rizzuti courtesy of  FreeDigitalphotos

Career change is a key theme that emerged from my recent special needs marriage focus group.  When couples begin to raise a family, adding children to the household brings about big changes. Juggling two careers plus a family comes with challenges. Responsibility and roles within the household cannot help but shift. This happens even within typical families.  When special needs are present the impact to household roles and careers can be even greater.

According to statistical data evaluated by Dennis Hogan in Family Consequences of Children’s Disabilities, mothers in particular are less likely to return to full-time work if raising child with special needs than if raising a typically developing child.  The more severe the disability, the greater the likelihood that one parent will stay home. The parent who remains in the workforce often works two jobs or moves into a position that includes much travel due to those jobs offering a higher salary.

These trends within special needs households were reflected within my focus group. At least half of those participating gave up highly specialized careers in sales, accounting, medicine and performing arts.  Several changed from full-time to part-time employment, switching to less demanding jobs in order to be more available to their child and spouse. These career changes were not part of the plan when having children and parents felt the impact deeply. Issues of identity, purpose, and self-worth all came to light.  These are major life changes and cannot help but have an impact within a marriage as roles and responsibilities are resorted. Each parent found great value and rewards in having more time with their children. There were very positive blessings that came with that career shift. Those greatly helped balance some of what was missed, such as a dearly loved job, colleagues, and a higher income.

Much of our discussion boiled down to a sense of purpose. Our purpose in life changes right along with careers and roles. I recall on my own journey with special needs parenting that I needed to re-arrange my career as my son’s needs became more clear as he grew from being a toddler and into pre-school and beyond. I gave up a full-time career and stayed home for several years, gradually adding back part-time employment and eventually full-time. In the process it felt as though I was continually recreating myself, fulfilling different roles and purposes. My experience is highly typical based on research as well as my recent focus group.

How can couples stay on track in the midst of these changes? Here are a few suggestions:

Agree as a team about division of labor inside and outside the home. Work toward an understanding that both spouses are equally valued and equally necessary within the household, even when contributing in different ways.

Communicate about needs and expectations, especially when roles change.

Maintain a healthy sense of purpose in the midst of transition. Focus on the positives that come with changing roles and responsibilities and acknowledge what you miss.

Explore your interests and abilities. What are you good at? What do you like to do? How can you use those talents in different ways to fill something that you may miss from a former career?

Create a long-term plan that includes personal goals for both spouses and look at how those plans can be fulfilled as your child grows and develops.

Caring God, we give thinks to you for the children in our lives and for the ways that our lives are blessed through them.  As they grow, we grow right along with them, learning to fulfill a new purpose.  Help us to discover new paths and walk them in a way that is pleasing to you. Amen

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)

Golden Wedding Ring by Danilo Rizzuti courtesy of  FreeDigitalphotos

Focus on Marriage, Part 2: Communication 101

Golden Wedding Ring  by Danilo Rizzuti courtesy of  FreeDigitalphotos

Communicating within marriage is a key tool for resilient relationships.  What is communicated?  How is the message shared and received?  As clergy, one of the key skills I review with couples in pre-marital counseling are tools for communication. Engaged couples can’t imagine this will ever be a problem.  Yet, we’ve all witnessed at restaurants the quiet couple at the table who seemingly have nothing to say to each other, eating silently and spending more time on their phones than in communication with each other. What happened?

Good communication, as with any skill, takes intentional practice. In busy lives, communication with a spouse can become shorter and more infrequent over time, especially when there are children. It is easy to let good communication skills slip.Some surveys indicate that couples can spend as little as 15 minutes a day in real communication with each other. Here are a few suggestions to help improve the quality and quantity of communication.

Communication 101

 Set aside time to talk. In busy schedules time for important conversations is easily lost.  By important, I don’t mean wills, and trusts, though they are important too.  Rather, what is important in your spouse’s life? What is important to you? What are your long term dreams as a couple? Try to set asaide 30-45 minutes a few times a week to talk.

 Have an attitude of gratitude. Express appreciation when your spouse does something considerate or helpful, like providing a sleep in day, washing dishes, filling the car with gas, and so forth. Simply saying thank you for the way each person fills the everyday roles in the relationship can help build up the marriage.

 Talk about the things that worry you.  Many parents hold on to grief, guilt, and anxiety about the future.  There can be a sense of embarrassment in sharing these feelings inside the marriage. “I wish I could say to my spouse that I am scared about….” Or “I have never said it out loud, but I feel our child has a disability because of me.”  Communication about these secretly held feelings can be very healing, releasing an emotional burden.

 Express your needs or wants clearly. Be specific when communicating with your spouse. Avoid thinking that he or she can read your mind. If you have a need or expectation, remove the guess work and let your spouse know.

 Model Respectful Listening. Avoid multi-tasking, especially when the topic is serious in nature. Reflective listening is also a good tool.  Repeat back in your own words what you hear your partner say.

 Monitor your mood. No one is in a good mood all the time. If in a bad mood, why is that? Hunger, fatigue, illness, time, expectations? Let your spouse know if you are having a bad day and why. It may help avoid an argument.

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, thank you for the gift of words and expression. Help us to use those gifts to build up our relationships. Amen

Lorna Bradley

“Golden Wedding Ring”  by Danilo Rizzuti courtesy of  FreeDigitalphotos.net

 

Focus on Marriage

Golden Wedding Ring  by Danilo Rizzuti courtesy of  FreeDigitalphotos

Last week I conducted a small focus group of special needs parents on the topic of marriage.  Two of the most rewarding and most challenging relationships we enter into are that of spouse and parent. Both relationships are full of wonderful rewards, surprises, and joys. They may also be filled with heart-break, miscommunication and challenges.  When a child with extraordinary needs is part of this dynamic, the challenges within relationships can increase exponentially.

Based on the input from my focus group I will be offering to a support group that I lead three weeks of strategies to help strengthen marriages in the areas where they expressed the most concerns.  Each week I will share that information with my readers. Keep an eye out in the coming weeks for ideas related to communication, careers and staying connected.

No one has a perfect marriage, including me.  For that I am grateful. Perfect is over-rated.  Perfect leaves no room for learning, trying new things, exploring life together, making mistakes, and finding forgiveness. Real marriages need work and attention, even more so for those with special needs children. While we are not perfect, we are made for relationships from the moment we are born. Relationships that matter are worth our time and attention.

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, thank you for the realtionships in our lives that sustain us, filling us with love and hope. Help us to strengthen all of our relationships and equip us to repair the ones that are fragile and in need of healing. Amen

Lorna Bradley

“Golden Wedding Ring”  by Danilo Rizzuti courtesy of  FreeDigitalphotos.net