Research indicates a high rate of divorce among couples who are parenting a child with autism. But, that doesn’t have to define your marriage!
I am looking at this issue from my professional experience counseling couples who have a child with autism. I want to list ten issues that you need to be aware of and then give ten tips for preserving your marriage in the midst of those issues.
1. Be aware that all of your basic marital issues will be magnified.
2. Be aware of the tendency to lose your individual connection with each other as a result of intense focus on your child.
3. Be aware that you each will go through a cyclic grieving process, needing support from each other when you feel the most depleted and unable to give that support.
4. Anger may be directed toward each other. Be aware of the relationship damage that can result.
5. The possibility of an affair may increase due to the loss of couple intimacy.
6. Be aware of an increased need to control when you feel your life is out of control.
7. Don’t be taken in by the imbalance of selfishness when needing to focus on healthy self care.
8. Don’t become socially isolated!
9. Hold onto your faith. It’s easy to get mad at God.
10. Be aware that the intensity, crisis mode, hyper vigilance, and uncertainty about the future can take an emotional toll on both of you.
Reality is that there are some tough issues involved in raising a child with autism. It is extremely rewarding and enjoyable, but at the same time, draining and discouraging.
You have a choice to make. Will you give in to the uncertainty and stress? Or, will you take purposeful steps to not only preserve your marriage, but to also nourish your own soul?
Here are ten tips for preserving your marriage in the midst of these issues.
1. Seek the assistance of a professional therapist rather than discussing your marital woes with a friend or acquaintance of the opposite sex. This is how some affairs get started and how couples become more distant, feeling on the outside as their partner makes an emotional alliance with someone else.
2. The very nature of autism requires focus on your child. You can balance this by being purposeful about staying connected with your spouse, staying in touch with their personal interests, and their heart. Be sure to plan time alone together, date nights, and one on one talks.
3. Try to have empathy for each other. It may feel like you are going through your grief process alone. Take time to talk about your feelings together. Stay vulnerable rather than becoming defensive.
4. Pay attention to your communication patterns and take responsibility for how you express anger. Disagreements can actually increase your love and respect for each other if handled appropriately.
5. Place healthy boundaries around your marriage and avoid the devastation and destruction of divorce.
6. Learn to control what you can and to let go of what you can’t. This reduces anxiety and gives you a sense of security in the midst of what may otherwise feel like chaos.
7. There is a difference between healthy self care and selfishness. You will never find happiness in selfishness. It is a bottomless pit that leaves you empty. Many will encourage you to pursue self care because the time and energy drains you experience are great. But, again, don’t make the mistake of confusing self care with selfishness.
8. Your friends may not fully understand your situation as parents of a child with autism. They may pull away simply because they don’t know what to do. This is unfortunate, but you may have to be the one initiating contact more than usual.
If this becomes obviously one-sided, don’t be afraid to make new friends who may be more sensitive to you and your family. You need the strong arm of family and community as you walk this path. I believe people need to be more educated on being a support for their family member or friend who has a child with autism.
9. By all means, draw closer to God! You need His strength, love, and hope as you parent your child. Draw on His word, on prayer, and on your trust that He has everything under control.
10. Tend to your emotional health! Take time for yourself. Lovingly accommodate and nurture each other’s need for free time, individual interests, and social time. It’s important to keep this in balance so that one partner doesn’t feel cheated. Both have to step up and be full partners in balancing parenting and individual roles, regardless of who is the bread winner.
Couples who are parenting a child with autism can preserve their marriage, even in the midst of stress and uncertainty. It takes understanding the unique challenges you face, just by the nature of your family dynamics.
Don’t give up! Your child needs you! Your child craves the security of a loving secure home in the midst of the challenges of autism. As a couple, you both need the stability of a strong. secure, and supportive relationship with your mate.
It takes a realistic perspective of your circumstances, a strong commitment to your marriage, and a willingness to work at preserving and enriching your marital relationship. It is my hope and prayer that you will take this challenge and reap the joys of a healthy marriage!