Marriage is hard work, harder than I realized when I was single. I'm more likely to have a marriage that ends in divorce since I am a child of divorce. When my husband and I were engaged, we did everything in our power to ensure that we were ready for a lifelong commitment. The most important thing we did was to seek out premarital counseling. The three sessions that our church offered were not enough. We felt we needed more so we sought out a private MFT (Marriage and Family Therapist). That did the trick. Or so we thought. Along the way, life threw us a few curve balls: cancer (my husband's), mental illness (first my parents' then our daughter's), and job loss (mine). Any one of these things could have led to our marriage's demise. My husband and I chose to not let these things deter us. We pulled up our bootstraps and did the dirty work. Then our world came crashing in on us when our daughter's unique challenges really tested us. We were really at a loss as to what to do. Then at a school meeting for our daughter, the school psychologist suggested we seek out family counseling. Our daughter left that school shortly after that meeting but we took the advice we were given.
I asked one of the pastors at our church for a recommendation for an MFT who might help our family. We were referred to a wonderful lady who we saw for almost five years until she recently moved out of the area.
This counselor was not only concerned with the emotional health of our daughter, but the health of our marriage as well. It was important to her that we learn how to parent this child and care for ourselves also.
Early on this special needs journey I read from parents who are nearing the end of their child's teen years. They said that the one thing they wished they had done was to spend more time on their marriage. It's kind of like a car. A good one needs a tune-up every so often. A car, or marriage, that's traveled a lot of miles needs more attention in order to keep it running well.
A huge part of this equation was my husband's willingness to even go to counseling. He was humble enough to admit that he needed counseling just as much as our daughter did.
We still have hurdles and obstacles, but we have learned a lot of techniques that help us jump over them with as much ease as possible. One of the techniques that our therapist taught us was to try to make sure we are on the same page as far as parenting goes. For many years I was super strict and my husband was more lenient. We learned to meet in the middle. In the heat of the moment if we cannot agree on how things are to be done, one of us will call the other over to discuss how best to resolve something. It’s kind of like a time out for parents. We learned how important it is to take the time to discuss how our day was once our daughter is in bed. We have to remember that we are individuals too, not just parents. Finally, we had to learn to give each other breaks even if it is difficult. When our daughter was unstable, it’s been as simple as my husband staying home while I do a Starbucks run or drive around the block for 30 minutes.
I vowed to do my very best to stay married. Having a special needs child makes it difficult, but not impossible. I’m confident that the techniques my husband and I have learned and implemented will help us defy the high divorce rate in the special needs community.
My husband and I celebrating our 16th wedding anniversary last year.
*Another version of this also appeared on The Mighty.