A Love That Lasts Beyond Special Needs Children
“God, the best maker of all marriages, combine your hearts in one.” William Shakespeare, Henry V
The bags are packed full of dreams, hopes, ideas, plans for the future and two very unique personalities, family backgrounds and characters. These two become one over time and learn more about themselves and each other as they walk on their new adventure called “marriage”.
…and they lived happily ever after…
Wait a minute! I guess I did not read the script for our marriage before I said, ‘I do’. Little did we know how relevant some fine print would be to the taxing and painful work of developing a strong and Christ centered marriage.
Our friendship grew from a fragile new marriage into a durable one after amazing as well as many crazy and ugly moments like days of not talking, dirty laundry conflict, yelling, verbal sumo wrestling matches and slamming doors.
Like most modern couples, we quickly woke up from the honeymoon dream and realized this “We” thing was much harder than we expected it to be.
Between taking out the garbage, paying the bills, disciplining the kids and folding laundry we both often lost our passion for each other and reduced our relationship to a highly functioning tag team.
How can our romantic ‘We’ survive when our ‘Me’ is extremely stretched and often overwhelmed? Wouldn’t you agree that marriage and parenting are without a doubt an amazing character buildings trainings ground for everyone?
THE IMPACT OF SPECIAL-NEEDS CHILDREN ON MARRIAGES
When our daughter Dominique entered our family life with all of her medical challenges and developmental problems it was like a bomb went off.
All my time was taken up homeschooling our boys, running our household, taking care of Dominique’s needs and trying to keep my other kids’ lives as normal as possible. My husband Pete started a new company with two partners the year our angel was born, and all of his time was taken by investing endless hours into the business.
Between that and the constant state of exhaustion, we both learned to live with our little bit of ‘Us’ time, which seemed to almost evaporate through our fingers.
I think we all would agree that getting married is not as difficult as staying married under any circumstances. Having a child with chronic illness, disability or other severe condition adds a completely new dimension to the marriage adventure.
HOW TO BEAT THE ODDS OF STATISTICS
A friend of ours once mentioned to me that he was so deeply impressed on how our marriage is alive and surviving the great challenge of parenting and caring for a special-needs child. My absolute spontaneous response was: “We survive because Jesus is our anchor, our faith holds us together and the “D” Word (divorce) is not an option for us.”
Several weeks later, I found out that according to some research, the divorce rate for couples who have special-needs kids hovers around 80 percent. Other studies also indicate that 18 percent of these couples in this situation say that their children have brought them closer together. I was honestly shocked about these statistics and quickly realized how blessed we are that we belong to the 20%.
CHOOSING TO MAKE OUR MARRIAGE A PRIORITY
With these numbers in the back of my head and being confronted with the day to day life challenges, I made one of the most important decisions in my life, I vowed to focus on our marriage with a high intensity and to look for creative ways on how to invest into our marriage.
1. Corinthians 16:14 calls us to be intentional in our actions: “Your every act should be done with love.”
I began to shine the light on our marriage and asked myself what is the difference between the couples who rise to the challenge and those who don’t?
We attended marriage conferences whenever we could and took several marriage classes over the years at our church. The greatest change in our marriage came about when I stopped focusing on my husband’s shortcomings. Don’t we ladies love to work on our pour spouses? I know I did. But the reality is that we have plenty of areas where we need to work on ourselves and start to change what we can control. This huge shift from His stuff to my stuff finally cleared my path for my healing.
TWO PERFECTLY IMPERFECT PEOPLE
My internal healing set a huge avalanche of behavior and expectation changes for our marriage in motion. We both are perfectly imperfect people who need grace. The moment I started to concentrate on my ‘Me’ by learning who I am in God’s eyes and allowing Him to heal my brokenness, our ‘We’ started to improve and heal as well.
When challenges arise, we recognize that sometimes we struggle because our intense feelings of love for our daughter can become so tremendously complicated. We can carry a high level of frustration, exhaustion, irritation and resentment which is caused by the required 24/7 care for her.
NEGATIVE FEELINGS ARE NORMAL
I sometimes experience negative feelings about our daughter and afterwards get completely overwhelmed with feelings of guilt. Yes, I confess that my momma heart sometimes struggles with the extreme up and downs of our life. I admit that I can get overwhelmed with feelings of bitterness when we can’t live our life like other people. I sometimes get tired of sacrificing and staying home because she struggles with a huge anxiety or can’t handle gatherings and loud noises.
We often face harsh realities that ultimately intensify the testing of our marriage. Chronic illness or a disability doesn’t necessarily have to destroy our marriage, but it will put an extra strain on it.
LOOK FOR HIDDEN OPPORTUNITIES
In these challenges are also hidden opportunities which allow us to strengthen our relationship and to focus on what really matters. The chance to face emergencies together becomes a blessing because we are in it together. We learn to respond as a team and our communication is our lifesaver. Retreating into ourselves, which is natural in these crises, is not an option. Taking time to pray together melts our Me’s into a stronger We. Knowing each other’s feelings, fears, frustrations and needs prevents unnecessary fights and miscommunications.
CREATE A SAFE SPOT FOR COMMUNICATION
It takes courage to both open up and confess your frustration as well as to provide a safe spot of undivided attention to listen to each other without judgement. When challenges arise our support and love for our spouse needs to rise above and beyond. This in return strengthens our marriage relationship. Unfortunately, by nature we often fail to support each other adequately.
CREATE WE - QUALITY - TIME
Our marriage is not perfect by far, but it gets better every year as long as we keep our eyes fixed on the One who created the institution of marriage. Our faith and hope need to be in God and not our spouse. (1. Peter 1:21) We both are drawing closer to the Lord and because of that we grow closer to each other. We are keenly aware of the importance to spend quality time with each other. Creating time with each other is undoubtedly one of the highest hurdles to overcome with a special needs-child.
Romans 12:9 encourages us to “Let love be without any pretense. Avoid what is evil; stick to what is good. In brotherly love let your feelings of deep affection for one another come to expression and regard as more important than yourself.”
We don’t have a magic formula and are still in the process to become the best version of our “We in our world focused Me life”. Let’s put each other first and stop focusing on the other’s shortcomings. Let’s invest into our relationship with God and our spouse. Let’s build each other up and role model to our children how encouraging words, respect and positive affirmations impact and empower the one we love.
· Does your marriage get lost in the daily family business?
· Can you openly talk about your feelings like fears, anger etc. with your spouse?
· Have you ever made a simple list of things on how to improve your relationship with your spouse?
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