Marriage in itself is difficult when everything is going about its “normal” course. But when you are raising a child with special needs, there is a different dynamic involved that can cause added strain to your relationship.
We received a letter here at Marriage Missions that asked us to consider writing about this topic.
“I am in a second marriage and my stepchild has a disability (autism). It is a known fact that many marriages end in divorce when there is a child with a disability. I am dealing with a second marriage, which is hard enough, but this is one with a stepchild with autism.
“My husband is often in denial about his adult son with autism. I have never seen an article relating to this on any Christian website. I have looked! With so many kids being diagnosed with autism today (for boys it is every 1 in 93 births) and so many marriages ending in divorce I can’t be the only one struggling with this.”
Our hearts go out to this wife and mother, and all of you who are dealing with this issue. How we wish we could help! Perhaps this article will help you in some way as we refer you to read some of the articles we found, concerning this matter.
To help those of you who are dealing with marriage challenges that occur when you are raising a child with special needs, we believe you will find the following article insightful:
Special Needs: A Gift and a Blessing?
Now, you may not have thought of the blessings that can come from having a child with Autism. But Crosswalk.com writer, Kim Wright tells of the many that she has learned, with one of them being:
“[My son] Morgan’s misbehavior and antics brought to the surface some ugly attitudes in me and the children that we dealt with including lessons on: learning to deal with a handicapped person, dealing with frustration, anger, and irresponsible behavior. Learning to Act rather than react.”
Children have a way of doing that —especially those who bring additional challenges into the family. But marriages can do that, as well. As author, Norm Wright says (which we TOTALLY agree with):
“Marriage exposes and reveals who you really are when you enter into that covenant relationship. All the hidden places, and yes, defects too, will be made obvious. You’ll be ‘found out.'”
Another Special Needs Blessing
This brings us to another blessing that Kim Wright has found has come out of her son’s Autism, concerning her marriage. She writes:
“My husband and I have been drawn together as we sought answers and practical help. We have not allowed this to separate us, but have chosen for this to anchor us to the Lord and to each other.”
To read more, please click onto:
A Realistic Look
It’s important to look realistically at the impact that disabled children can have upon a marriage. It’s difficult, but not impossible to make your marriage a good one. But you both decide you will not allow it to “divide and conquer” you in your relationship with each other. Sheri and Bob Stritof discuss this in the About.com article they wrote on this subject. They bring up the point:
“You and your spouse will be adjusting in different ways, and often at a difference pace. Sometimes your spouse will want to talk about the situation, and then other times may need time alone.”
To read more, please click onto:
The Impact a Special Needs Child Can Bring
Lisa, a mother of a son with Autism, writes of the impact this has had on her and her minister husband. She also writes of the impact it has on other marriages. Lisa tells a very sad fact:
“The divorce rate among couples who have a child diagnosed with autism is estimated to be around 80 per cent. That is huge. The reasons are obvious. Marriage is hard enough without adding autism to the mix. All-consuming therapies, medical treatments and financial stress can become the focus… the center of family life… and the result can be disastrous to the marriage.”
She also writes (in an article titled “Christian Marriage and Autism” that was once posted on the Internet), something she learned about marriage. This is especially true, as it pertains to being “good” parents:
“Doug and I have learned that we have to put our marriage first… even if it means giving up some time spent doing ‘good things.’ This includes time consuming therapies for Noah [who has Autism] or even, in our case, ministry activities. We have to work at this. Our priority must be our relationship. Our children desperately need us to stay together. The benefits of a strong and happy marriage are worth so much more to our children than anything else that we can give them.”
In a different article titled, “Autism and Marriage” Lisa writes that as she was “escaping” to recoup her sanity, she was at a bookstore and discovered something important:
“One article immediately caught my eye. It was about marriage and autism. It was well-written and contained solid principles and advice. The author talked about how some couples focus all of their energies on their child’s autism and completely neglect their marriage. The end of that is, of course, disastrous. The article had some solid tips for keeping a marriage strong and then using the marriage as a source of strength and comfort in the midst of the stress of autism.
“As I sat there reading and silently ‘amening’ the author’s article, I realized that I am living out the priceless benefits of a solid marriage. Oh, it’s not perfect… we will always have stuff to work on and through. But we have a marriage that’s strong and sure… and fun to boot. Living with the stress of autism… and it’s highly stressful, at times… is hard. Living with autism WITH someone… working as a team and being able to laugh through it all… makes ALL the difference.
“Over the past few years, I’ve had the opportunity to meet with a few moms who were in that ‘shell-shocked’ state of a new autism diagnosis. My first advice? Guard your marriage… guard your marriage… guard your marriage!!! Autism will threaten to take over. The race for ‘recovery’ …the stress of everyday life, now altered forever… can send wave after wave of overwhelming trials to a marriage. Do NOT let it win. Do NOT let autism have your marriage.”
Relationship Can Even Benefit in Different Ways
Mary Darr, a Christianity Today writer has discovered something else as it pertains to growing a good marriage. She discovered that as they set their sights in working together, with intentionality, their relationship can actually benefit rather than be destroyed by the ever-changing challenges. She writes:
“My husband and I are super close, and one of the reasons is because of Hannah. Our whole family is closer because of Hannah. We’re a team; together we figure things out.”
To learn more, please click onto:
Sheila Wray Gregoire wrote a touching article on dealing with a child that “isn’t perfect.” She brings out how it can negatively affect marriages. (She knows this from first hand experience.) One of the things she writes is that:
“An estimated 25% to 33% of marriages break up within a year of the birth of a handicapped child. That’s not a statistic you want to join. Resolve now, before you do anything else, that you will still be each other’s greatest priority. Speak and act kindly to one another. Give each other space to handle the grief differently, without passing judgment. You will need each other in the years ahead. Remember that if you walk through this valley together, your marriage can emerge stronger and more precious to you than you had ever thought possible.”
Another article, which backs up what Sheila wrote, plus adds more encouragement, is written by Julia Becker. In this Todayschristianwoman.com article, she writes about the fact that she struggled with the gloomy reports she heard. There are many parents who divorce when their children have special challenges. She asks an important question. “Did the gloomy statistics about parenting kids with special needs mean our marriage was bound to fail?” She answers that question and more:
An important challenge married couples need to continually work, is in the area of communication —both with their child(ren) and also with each other. Joe and Cindi Ferrini understand these challenges all too well from first-hand experience of working together with their own children, who have special needs. In the following Focus on the Family article they share practical tips that you may find helpful as you glean through the information they give:
We also found a Resource List that will help those dealing with Autism in their family. It is put together by the great ministry of Joni and Friends Joniandfriends.org.
However, if you are dealing with a different type of disability that is affecting your marriage, you can put that term into their “Site Search” to see what they make available to help you. Please click onto the link provided below to find:
Cindy Wright of Marriage Missions International wrote this article.
We would greatly appreciate it if you would share your insights in the comment section provided below to help those who are dealing with various marriage challenges as they raise their disabled children. Or perhaps you are facing challenges in your own marriage and want to reach out in community for prayer and/or advice. We hope you will “Join the Discussion” and share what is on your heart.