Whack-a-mole reminds me of a few things:
- Raising small children.
- Having children close together.
- Parenting a child with special needs.
In each of these instances, my mind goes to diaper changes, crying, screaming, feeding on demand, naps that aren’t happening, and interrupted nights. Also coming to mind is tired, weary, and sometimes overwhelmed and wanting to quit.
The difference in the above list is that the first two generally age out. But the last one is never ending.
While our two daughters grew up and moved on to lives of their own, the life of having a special needs child/adult child doesn’t change. And because of that, it has an ongoing effect on our marriage. We need to be sure we don’t let it override or overwhelm our marriage in a way that causes it to crumble.
Keeping your marriage strong
In our 41 years of raising, caring for, and living with our son with special needs (cerebral palsy, epilepsy, severe allergies, mostly nonverbal, lack of learning abilities, and being 6-feet 4-inches tall—yes!), we have hoped and desired to give other couples on this unexpected journey help, hope, and encouragement.
In our own marriage, we’ve always felt we need to have things to look forward to. Things that give us hope in our day or year we can anticipate in a positive way. We should daily share affections with each other—saying “I love you” and sharing how we appreciate each other. Looking forward to those words of edification are life-giving and so needed. But there are also things we can anticipate in the days ahead.
Here are three (there are more, but let’s keep this simple) ways to keep your marriage strong when parenting a special-needs child.
1. Have something to look forward to weekly together.
Because getting a babysitter for a child with special needs is often a challenge, we’d plan something for us to be able to stay home. For us, it’s a show or program. It has varied over the years, but we know on a certain night and at a certain time we will be together to enjoy it together. Popcorn and pop? Snack and hot beverage? Add something fun and easy. Talk it up ahead of time. Afterward, talk about it. If it’s a series, talk about what happened and what you think will happen next. Have fun with it.
What is a weekly idea that would suit you and your spouse?
2. Have something to look forward to monthly together.
We knew a lot of couples when we were young who could get out on a weekly date. That didn’t work for us (see #1 above!), but we tried hard to have something once a month that would get us out of the house: a dinner out, a movie, a bible study, a ministry meeting and going out for coffee after, breakfast out, etc. It would have to be something we both would enjoy. Some of our friends on a similar journey would plan a sport or hobby night out.
What would you both enjoy doing? Maybe take up a sport like we tried. We took golf lessons. We stunk at golf, but we got out and had fun … once getting drenched in a thunderstorm. Try something new. Fail, but have fun. You’re together! That is the goal.
3. Have something to look forward to yearly together.
This can be tough, and a lot of planning and preparing is necessary. We recommend a long weekend away, attending a marriage retreat or conference, or perhaps a weeklong vacation if you are able. The need to get away from the everyday, lifelong obligations of care is so important. It may take time to plan it all, including gathering the kind of help you need for the time frame you need, but if you don’t work at it … it won’t happen. Together, plan it. Talk about what would be a nice getaway for you both.
Even though returning home reminds us our situation doesn’t change or go away, it is the anticipation and excitement of looking forward to daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly times together that keeps us going and keeps our marriage strong!
What will it be for you? Have a seat with your spouse, grab your favorite beverage and start planning. You’ll be glad you did!
Copyright © 2023 Joe and Cindi Ferrini. All rights reserved.
Dr. Joe and Cindi Ferrini share their newest book: Love All-Ways: Embracing Marriage Together on the Special Needs Journey (order at www.cindiferrini.com). They are authors, speakers, and bloggers for several blogging sites on marriage, family, and special needs. They spoke nationally for FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember marriage getaway for 20 years, authored Unexpected Journey – When Special Needs Change our Course, and have been interviewed on Focus on the Family, FamilyLife Today, Janet Parshall at “In the Market”, Chris Brooks of “Equipped” and various other radio and television venues. Connect with them at cindiferrini.com, and via social media at: facebook.com/cindi.ferrini, facebook.com/UnexpectedJourney/, and facebook.com/MyMarriageMatters.