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Most of us enter a marriage with every intention of staying married “til death do us part”. It would be next to insanity to get married with only short term intentions. Marriage is a lot of work as most married couples discover during the first few years of marriage.
It takes self sacrifice, appreciation for one another’s individual likes and dislikes, encouragement for one another as each of you navigate the ever changing dynamics that affect work, home, marriage, and day to day responsibilities.
When children enter the picture, it is not an exaggeration to say that children will “make a couple or break a couple”. In an ideal world, you and your spouse had some healthy discussions about how life would be as a married couple. Love, finances, home, career, hobbies and of course family.
Yet, how many couples discuss the future with the possibility of having a child (or children) who have special needs? A good guess is that not many couples consider that as a possibility in their lives. Most of us idealize a perfect marriage, a cute little house, happy children, pets, and warm and sunny vacations.
Having a child with autism is usually quite unexpected for most parents. Not many of us spend time visualizing unexpected expenses, stress, tragedy, or change of circumstances. But, the truth is that life is filled with all of these things on a small scale and sometimes on a large scale.
What if autism is completely unfamiliar to you as parents? What does this do to a marriage? How does it affect each individual in a marriage? Does everything necessarily change or is it similar to raising a typically developing child?
Having a child with autism changes the vision you once had for married life, and it changes the daily dynamics that once seemed so feasible. Your vision of becoming a parent may have been playing at the park, making cupcakes, and sending your child off to the first day of kindergarten. With a diagnosis of autism, this vision quickly changes to include psychologists, neurologists, speech therapists, occupational therapists, ABA therapy, support groups, social skills groups, and a full time job for one parent or the other making all of these appointments happen.
Two years later: Wait! That’s right! There was a marriage at the beginning of all of this! What happened?
A child with autism happened and they need you. More specifically, the child needs both of you. But, with everything focused on the child with autism it is easy to lose sight of a marriage and even easier to start drifting apart, arguing, and even blaming one another for various things along the way.
Do parents of autistic children have higher divorce rates?
Be careful with what you read and what you listen to. Some unfounded online studies claim that parents of children with autism have a divorce rate of 80%. However, this is not true.
Parents of children with autism tend to have the same chances of a successful marriage and the same rate of divorce as those parents who do not have children with autism.
One might think that having a child with autism causes additional stress that other families do not endure which would result in higher rates of divorce. In reality, children are always a life changer and a marriage changer. The difference between couples who get divorced and those who do not is in the way that the couple handles life’s circumstances.
Let’s face it. It is no easier to raise a typically developing child that falls into the wrong social groups as a teen and falls into trouble. There is nothing easy about a typically developing child that is skipping school, doing drugs, hanging out with violent groups, or running away.
Regardless of your child’s cognitive, emotional, intellectual or physical abilities- parenting is tough and marriages are always affected with every life change.
How does having an autistic child affect a marriage?
A better question to ask is, “how is each individual in the marriage affected”? Marriage as a whole is made up of two individuals who will have their own way of reacting to stress. The unique reaction of each partner will dictate how both partners relate to one another. There may be an increase in conflict or closeness- depending on the foundation of the marriage before children arrived.
Many times, one parent takes on more of a burden than the other. Typically, dad is working (to provide for the family and for medical insurance), while mom is taxiing the family around to various appointments in addition to the already busy schedule of household responsibilities and school schedules.
It is nothing short of a full time job making phone calls, setting appointments, attending meetings, having the child evaluated, and keeping each day organized with all obligations met. At the end of each day, it is a miracle for the parent who stays home with the children to have a shower and a time of relaxation before falling asleep in a sitting position on the couch.
With barely any time for self care at the end of each day, making time to be a couple can seem like a fantasy that lives far off in the distance.
With the addition of a child with special needs, both parents have so many added responsibilities to take care of that marriage gets put on hold unless some extremely intentional plans are made to nurture each other and the marriage.
Tips For Having A Successful Marriage
The most successful marriages (with or without a child who has special needs) are the marriages that embrace individuality and togetherness.
Consider these points:
Appreciate Each Other
When you are raising a child with autism together, having appreciation for one another can go a long way. When you see that your spouse needs some alone time or a little break- give it graciously. Encourage your spouse to take a break and enjoy some relaxing time doing something that they enjoy. Thank your spouse for the little things. It goes a long way.
Spending Time Alone
Marriage should not be the end of the things that bring you joy in your solo time. If you enjoy reading, meditating, yoga, writing, playing an instrument, or getting out alone at the beach or in the mountains, it is important and healthy to intentionally make those things a part of your life.
The things we do in our spare time make us who we are. In fact, the things that we enjoyed doing alone before marriage should continue to bring us joy and hopefully provide an opportunity for you and your spouse to enjoy these things together.
The Importance of Compromising
Good marriages are the marriages that find compromises. Make an effort to respect your spouse’s feelings and opinions. When your spouse is overwhelmed, this is a time to support them and listen to how they are feeling. It is important to respect a difference of opinion and work through frustrations calmly. Rather than attempting to fix, disregard, or downplay your partner’s preferences and emotions, you can support one another respectfully.
Avoid placing all of the responsibility on your spouse. Share all the responsibilities as much as possible and take care of one another when you see the other getting tired and depressed. Make sure mom gets a shower. Make sure dad gets his lunch made before work. Help each other out and show love in small ways at every opportunity.
The Effect Of Your Marriage On Your Children
When you show appreciation for one another and support one another it is teaching your children a valuable life lesson. When you feel that support from one another, it is “making” your marriage instead of “breaking” your marriage.
All of your children, including your child with autism, need you. If autism wasn’t in the midst of your marriage, there would inevitably be something else that challenged your marriage at some point in time. Your response as individuals and as a couple determines the future of your family.
Circle Care Services in New Jersey helps families get acclimated to life with autism. We have helped hundreds of individuals get the help that they need as parents. We’ve helped them get quick access to the therapeutic services and resources their children need to learn how to communicate, socialize, and learn the skills that they will need to be successful in school and daily life.
It would be our privilege and pleasure to help you and your family grow closer and continue to enjoy all of the wonderful things that you love to do – as a family. We provide 1:1 ABA therapy as well as parent training for parents to understand and manage their child’s behaviors more easily.
You can have a successful marriage and a thriving family. Give us a call.