We Have a Child With Severe Autism — Here's How We Keep Our Marriage Strong
Let's face it: no matter how much you love your spouse, it takes work to sustain a marriage. Adding children to the mix means more challenges, expenses, and distractions and less time to focus on each other. Add in a child with severe autism, and your entire world gets turned upside down, potentially turning your marriage into an afterthought or a battleground. My husband and I have had our share of ups and downs, and our 6-year-old son with autism adds many unique challenges to our daily life. Here's how we still manage to keep our marriage strong.
My husband and I have somewhat different ways of coping with our son's outbursts and addressing his needs — and we've learned that that's OK. Trying to force each other to accept what we feel is the "proper parenting style" is not a winning strategy. Instead, we acknowledge what's important to each of us (in other words, we try not to do the things that really bug each other), and we try not to sweat the small stuff.
We designate activities.
While we do try to work some family time into our day, assigning certain activities to do with our son between the two of us has become a great way to de-stress. Gabriel gets to spend personal time with one of us while the other parent gets a break or can spend time with his little brother.
We play to our strengths.
I like to incorporate learning and structure into our son's activities. My husband is an active guy with more of a spur-of-the-moment personality. Thus, I tend to do the "learning stuff" with our son while my husband plays with him at the park or takes him swimming. We both get to do what we like and feel that we're good at, and our son benefits from both the interactive learning activities as well as fresh air and exercise.
We stay accessible.
My husband and I try to be "around" each other as much as we can when our son needs attention. Even if one of us is reading (me) or playing video games (him) while the other handles our son's needs, we stay in shouting distance. It's not only good if you need an extra hand, but it's also nice to know your spouse is around for emotional support — or just a hug — when needed.
We acknowledge each other's efforts.
My husband and I try to recognize the little things we do to help each other out, whether it's wiping down a mess of toothpaste in the sink or offering to take one of the boys off the other's hands for a while. A little gratitude and appreciation really do go a long way, especially when you're helping your partner scrape dried spaghetti sauce off all of your kitchen walls.
We plan it out.
Anyone who has a child with autism (or any child, for that matter) knows that structure helps. A lot. My husband and I often plan out our day ahead of time. That way our sons know what to expect and we can get our personal stuff done before the major activities begin. It's nice to not have to shove what we each want to do out of the way to please our sons (or each other), and the boys get to enjoy some time doing what they like. Everybody wins!
We set reasonable expectations.
I don't expect my husband to volunteer to do the dishes nightly, and he doesn't expect me to try to fix the vacuum cleaner. I'm not saying we don't occasionally try to surprise each other or climb out of our comfort zone, but we try to be reasonable regarding what we are each willing to contribute.
We try not to take things too seriously.
Life's too short not to laugh at yourself and, occasionally, your better half. My husband and I tease each other, chuckle over our mishaps and mistakes, and often just yuck it up over life in general, even when things turn into a bit of a disaster. Laughter is a great way of defusing a tense situation, and it just makes the day better for everybody.
We do a postargument reassessment.
Of course, we have the occasional argument. After a cooling-down period, we try to bypass the accusations and just assess what got us mad in the first place. Sometimes we agree that we were both stressed and a little snippy. Other times, we decide to address the situation differently next time. Stepping back and taking a breath lets tempers cool, then the logical parts of our brains can take over and tackle the problem.
We fit in some touch and talk time.
Touching your partner releases the feel-good chemical oxytocin, which helps with emotional bonding. You don't have to give your spouse a deep-tissue massage or disrobe (unless you're in the mood). Sometimes sitting together and holding hands is all it takes — and that's often when my husband and I feel like we're in a safe place to reveal something that's bugging us (or simply spend some time talking like two partners who are interested in each other should). It's a great way to preserve the intimacy in our marriage and put a little much-needed focus on each other's wants and needs.