When you find out you’re pregnant your brain and heart fill with excitement and hope, joy and the thoughts of endless possibilities. It also brings with it concern and trepidation, thoughts of sleepless nights and being able to provide what a child needs. As a couple, the focus changes from being on the two of you, to being on your new baby. These are not simple changes and maintaining a strong, positive relationship with your spouse will take work. When a child is born with special needs, or is later diagnosed with special needs, parents need to work even harder to preserve their relationship. Here are some tips to help you do that.
1. Be a team: We often hear “there’s no /i/ in team.” This is rarely truer than when sustaining a spousal relationship. If one of you has an issue, it is a problem for both of you. Ask your spouse how they are feeling and avoid placing blame. Be sure to validate your spouse’s concerns, particularly those relating your child’s needs. Invalidating feelings can lead to anger, disappointment and resentment. Work on solutions together. Share the information you have and what you’ve learned during your time with your child and his or her therapists.
2. Listen: Everyone wants to be listened to. Listening to your spouse and feeling that your spouse has really heard you, will make a positive impact on your relationship. Be tolerant of the way your partner is processing your child’s diagnosis and experience. Be patient, everyone deals with their emotions differently. Effective listeners face the speaker, ignore or get rid of other distractions, make eye contact, keep an open mind, repeat back what they have heard, and respond appropriately. Give it a try!
3. Take care of each other: In the same way we teach children to make their needs known, adults need to learn to express themselves. Last I heard, mind-reading was a myth. Tell your spouse what feels good for you and what doesn’t. True understanding of each other’s needs, will bring an added level of intimacy to your relationship. Spend time together.
4. Remember that we all fight: A wise woman once told me “it’s not about whether you fight, cause we all fight, it’s about how you resolve conflict.” Reflect on the way you and your spouse resolve conflict. Is it working? What do you do with your anger? How do you let it go or move beyond it? How does your spouse? Do the two styles mesh? Do you consider your partners perspective? When discussing discipline and difficult situations with children, I remind parents that reconnecting is essential. Reconnecting with a spouse after conflict is just as important. You always love them even if you don’t like their behavior.
5. If you need help, ask for it: This idea starts with asking for help from each other. When you are feeling particularly challenged by a situation with your child, or in your daily life, ask your spouse for help. Offer help when you feel that your partner may need it. When you have reached a point where you are having repeated difficulty resolving issues with your spouse and managing your relationship, go to a professional for help. That’s what we’re here for!
Overall, try to have realistic expectations. Try to keep an open mind and consider your partners perspective. The transition from being a single person, to a partnership, to a family, is a huge one! Adding in recognizing and supporting a child with special needs can make it even more complicated. Spending the time on strengthening this partnership is essential. Share the stress, the challenges, and most importantly, the triumphs. You can do this! You, your spouse, your family, and your children, will reap the benefits.
Dana Rosenbloom has a master’s degree in Infant and Parent Development and Early Intervention and has been working with children and families for over 10 years. Dana’s Kids provides parent education, play therapy, special education services, parent workshops and support groups, and professional development. To learn more about Dana and Dana’s Kids please visit www.DanasKids.com. You can also follow Dana on Facebook: www.facebook.com/DanasKids1 and Twitter: DJRkidsDana’s Kids. empowered parents, happy families.