How many of you remember reading in the child rearing text book you had to read before having children that they would add extra stress to your marriage? I think it was on page 39 where it said,
“Please note that having children will increase the likelihood of added personal and marital stress, sleepless nights, and potential conflict between you and your spouse. Please take this into consideration before taking this next step in your relationship.”
You don’t remember reading the book? Well neither do I because it doesn’t exist! You don’t have to read any books or take any tests to have a baby, unlike getting your drivers license. But the warning is a good one to remember so that when conflict and stress come as a result of having children you don’t give up and think your marriage is over.
This is especially true when it comes to parents who are raising children with special needs. Not only are they dealing with the challenges of a newborn who thinks the world revolves around them, night time feedings, diapers, short nights, and added financial burden, these folks are crushed by the reality of lost dreams, alienation, self blame, and guilt for having created a child that isn’t “perfect.” They fear for their child’s future and are burdened with questions like:
- “What will happen to my child when I die?
- Who will care for them?”
Seizures, adaptive equipment, meds, doctor appointments, and therapy take every free minute they have and more, leaving them depleted, angry, and exhausted. You are lucky if you have enough energy at the end of the day to say, “Good night” as you pass out on your pillow.
To be honest I don’t really know how many marriages end in divorce because of having a child with special needs. Some say 80%, others 70%, some say there is no difference with the general population. I have read that 96.4 % of these statistics are made up on the spot! But I do know that caring for a child who is sick or disabled challenges any marriage. Sadly many people just give up.
I was reading Dear Abby yesterday and one of her readers was sharing how his marriage ended due to some significant health issues their child had. He wrote,
“Our lives were shattered at the time, but his health recovered. After this my wife’s attention was drawn towards our son, and I found pleasure hanging out with our friends. Our marriage became pretty robotic and loveless. We separated last winter.” She challenged him for giving up so quickly. She wrote, “In life, you don’t get instant satisfaction. In life, you get to slog. You work. You grow. You take the long view.”
Brenda and I have a great marriage due to the fact that we have made a commitment to “slog” it out. But in the early days of David’s diagnosis we struggled. As we grieved, begged God for David’s healing, and flogged ourselves for what we may have done to have caused David’s disease, our marriage became stale. I remember one night listening to Brenda sobbing in bed and I turned over, covered my head with my pillow, and tuned her out. I had nothing for her. I was spent. We were growing apart.
We decided to get some counseling which was one of the smartest things we could have done. We also read a book called Love and Respect by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs. One of the truths that really helped us was the challenge to remind ourselves that we are on the same team. Each time we started to drift or have conflict one of us would say, “Hey, we are on the same team! We are fighting for the same thing.” Sometimes just saying this truth ended our conflict and allowed us to come together to care for David and our other two boys.
One of the greatest things you can do to better care for your child is to care for yourselves as parents. If you are married find creative ways to keep the marriage fires burning. Take the long view. Slog it out. Remind yourselves you are on the same team. Be smart enough and bold enough to get some counseling. If you want the names of some great counselors here in the Syracuse, NY area I can get them to you. If you are already divorced I would still encourage you to get counseling. The better you care for yourselves as a caregiver the better you will be able to care for your child.
If you are looking for some practical things you could do to make your marriage better check out this blog written by a man who got divorced after sixteen years of marriage. This is advice he wished someone would have given him before he got married. Pick one of them and give it a try.
Keep slogging it out! I have read that 99.3% relationships will survive if you keep on slogging and never give up.
Oh and by the way, before you put your head on your pillow roll over and remind your spouse, “We are on the same team.”