Keeping Love Alive When Parenting a Child with Special Needs

Valentine's Day

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, many of us are pondering the nature of love. And while the holiday brings to mind images of hearts and flowers, in reality, love isn’t always romantic. Frequently, it’s anything but. What’s more, studies find that most marriages suffer after children are born.

“Comparing couples with and without children, researchers found that the rate of the decline in relationship satisfaction is nearly twice as steep for couples who have children than for childless couples,” writes Matthew D. Johnson, Director of the Marriage and Family Studies Laboratory at SUNY Binghamton in the the Washington Post.

Raising children is stressful regardless, but when your child or children have special needs, there’s even more stress.

Yet that doesn’t mean your marriage is doomed. It only means that you need to tend to your relationship with your spouse even more carefully — on Valentine’s Day and every day.

Here are some tips for keeping your love alive for the long haul:

1. Don’t forget the person you married before kids
When you’re a parent, especially a parent of a child with disabilities, parenting can become all encompassing. Resist the tendency to think of your spouse as only a co-parent. Do your best to find half an hour or so every day to catch up on aspects of your life that aren’t about the kids. 

2. Appreciate your spouse’s strengths as a parent
Instead of assuming you’re the only one who can care for your child appropriately, divide and conquer. Don’t assume your spouse is not up to the task of babysitting so you can have a night out with friends. Maybe you’re better at housework and your spouse is better at cooking. Let it be. Trust each other and know when to take a break.

3. Listen to your partner’s perspective
When you’re the parent of a child with disabilities, decisions can feel like life and death. Sometimes they are. But keep an open mind about how to handle situations regarding your child’s healthcare, education, etc. Don’t assume that you have all the answers. Instead share your thoughts and really listen to what your partner has to say.

4. Communicate
Feeling hurt or unrecognized, anxious or angry? Don’t bottle it up. Find time to talk to your partner calmly and face-to-face. Otherwise, your resentment will be expressed in all sorts of ways — none of them productive!

Some couples have difficulty settling conflicts and can benefit from having an intermediary. If that sounds like you and your spouse, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Find a therapist or marriage counselor to facilitate communication.

5. Take time for yourself
We know… you don’t have time. But taking time for yourself will make you a better parent and a better partner. That can mean taking a walk or browsing in a book shop or having a girls’ or guys’ night out.

6. Take time to be together
We know… you don’t have time.  You have to make time. Regular date nights are an essential part of taking care of your relationship. An evening out of the house is ideal, but even if it’s just having a late dinner after you finally get the kids to bed or binge-watching your favorite TV show, having fun together is a must!

7. Express your love
There’s no substitute for letting your partner know they’re loved. Small thoughtful gestures, a quick kiss, a mushy text, and most important, saying the “three little words” make all the difference. And do it every day, not just on Valentine’s Day.