Special Needs, Special Marriage

Our children's challenges mean our marriage needs extra care too

I looked in my rear-view mirror and quickly wiped the tears from my eyes. It was too late. The telltale puffy redness behind my sunglasses could not be erased. Breathing deeply, I opened the car door and walked through the familiar Davis Elementary School entrance, a near-daily experience in response to teachers' concerns about my two autism-spectrum sons.

Today I was the problem. As I entered the principal's office, there stood my three children waiting for me, clad in their footy pajamas for Pajama Day. Only Pajama Day apparently wasn't scheduled until the following week. Their humiliation wasn't their own doing. This time, it was mine.

I wiped my daughter's tears, assured my sons that their superhero jammies would not brand them for life, and gave them a change of clothes. I headed home alone. Done. I was done with everything. Done trying to look as if we were a "normal" family. Done trying to look like a "normal" mom. And done trying to juggle the bazillion therapy sessions, doctor's appointments, IEP meetings, and clueless questions from well-meaning teachers who "didn't get it."

I cried. And I raged at God, demanding to know what I was supposed to do now. What is a mother supposed to do when she not only feels incapable of protecting her children from themselves, but obviously is incapable of protecting them from herself?

Some time later, I sat alone, tears spent, completely exhausted. In the quiet I sensed God's gentle voice, seeming to ask, "So now are you finally ready?" Would I stop hiding from the world and start communicating with others, outside of my husband? Could I admit to others our weaknesses and our needs? Was there something beyond just the usual Bible studies and Sunday school pat answers? Were we ready to stop our solo act and our prideful "No, really, we're all fine" performance?

And my answer was "yes." But we would need to do this together. We needed deeper relationships outside the two of us.

With children who have special needs, marriage has its own difficulties, beyond the normal struggles. We have extra financial strains resulting from medical costs. Often, couples bear the loss of one spouse's income as one parent must be home, available for all the meetings, appointments, and crises around the special-needs children. We face emotional strains from the continual stresses, and this can cause a breakdown in marital communication, resentment, grieving, and loss of intimacy. We tend toward isolation, pulling away from a community that doesn't seem to understand us. Isolation can occur between us, as husband and wife, as we dig deeper into our solitary roles, in order to just manage and cope.

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May 25

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