Five Suggestions to strengthen your marriage & your children’s happiness
Time alone is rare for parents. Even more so for families with children who face learning challenges.
“I’m tired of being the one who always has to call the babysitter! Can’t you take some responsibility for arranging our date night?”
I heard those words from my wife quite a few years ago. Two of our children have significant learning challenges, not all of them obvious in public or even to acquaintances (that issue is for another blog). The concrete result was that it could be difficult to find babysitters with the skills to handle our three children still at home.
Carving out alone time with your spouse is challenging enough during child rearing years, but add a beloved child (or children) with learning challenges to the equation and you could very quickly have an emotionally fragile home environment.
I love my wife and revel in spending time with her; but to be honest, it was too easy to fall into the trap of thinking my desire to be with her is sufficient.
…that my desire to be with her is the same thing as doing what’s necessary to spend time with her. Too many times I’d say early in the week, “Hey, let’s get a sitter and go see a show this weekend!”
By the end of the week each of us were usually exhausted from both a busy work week and from the “normal” work of keeping a challenging household functioning. I fell into the trap of thinking my desire to be with her is sufficient.
In retrospect it’s easy to recognize that I held unspoken assumptions.
Edie would find the babysitter (her phone contacts has more home-based information than mine), she would choose the movie, and she would make sure that dinner for the children was prepared and ready.
Good grief, all the assumptions I made about whose job it was to make “our” date night happen is almost too embarrassing to think about!
But Edie’s willingness (well, more like determination) to help me see the problem brought a world of good to our marriage, and therefore to our children’s emotional wellbeing.
We had always agreed that our marriage would be founded first on the integrity of our relationship with each other – only then would our children’s wellbeing be possible.
1. Spend time ALONE
I have been the worst at rolling my eyes when hearing pastors or relationship gurus on the radio blather on about how important it is to spend more “alone time with your spouse.” I rationalized folks needed to “walk a mile in my shoes.”
Edie and I had two school-age daughters who, for different reasons, responded poorly to changes in their daily routines.
The effort to bring our two daughters “down off the ledge” after Edie and I returned from dates was a virtual wet blank to any romance.
Edie and I only half-heartedly referred to these circumstances as our very own version of natural family planning.
We had a real issue – a couple of our children did not always respond well to non-family sitters. But one day it struck me like a ton of bricks! As both of our girls were in school, they were occupied during the day.
So Edie and I began meeting regularly for lunch, sometimes at a restaurant but often at my lab or at a park close to work. Alone time doesn’t have to be long, extended (or expensive) periods of time.
Consistent and frequent opportunities to be with each other are a sweet balm and provide swift healing even to long-term resentments.
Alone time doesn’t have to be long, extended (or expensive) periods of time.
2. Pay attention to the warning signs
The daily and long-term responsibilities of raising children with learning challenges can quickly exacerbate any underlying weaknesses in any marriage.
Small problems feel like huge insurmountable issues, but I can share a couple experiences that may help.
A healthy marriage will have periods when one spouse is running on empty emotionally, but the other spouse can take up the slack.
This can be called compassion, mercy, generosity, and forgiveness – resulting in the fruit shared between two people who love each other.
But when, for whatever reason, both spouses have been functioning at full throttle and have little personal reserve, this is when things are said out of frustration, differences result in arguments, things are said that are painful.
Words are interpreted in a “historical” context (he has never been…, or she is always…).
Example: The small problem of finding Timmy’s socks became a huge problem when you said “Why don’t we EVER have clean clothes!?” Here is a hint… The socks are not the problem.
Many warning signs like emotional exhaustion can be recognized much earlier and dealt with effectively when spouses have enough alone time to work through their differences.
Differences that will happen when two people join together to love each other and raise healthy children.
3. Ask for help and work to create a network
For many couples and families, support and encouragement comes most easily from immediate family and relatives.
In contrast, couples with children who struggle to learn, to make friends, or have significant issues that require special modifications in the home, often find that the need for educated support is not easily found in the immediate family.
And for some of the reasons mentioned in points 1 and 2 above, it can be a daunting task to even understand what a support network might look like for their family.
At ASPIRE Interventions we actively seek to connect our families with other families who share some of the same challenges.
As parents ourselves, Edie and I have gotten some of our most helpful solutions from other families with differently-abled children.
One way we work to be network builders at ASPIRE is through our group therapy programs. About half of our children have both individual and small group sessions.
Parents often sit together in our observation room to watch their children’s sessions.
One of the best outcomes of having 4 or 5 parents sitting together, watching their children learn the language of play or the language of learning, is that the parents begin “comparing notes” with each other.
Over a period of time, a bond of trust is built and parents become peer mentors to each other.
4. Create and foster a “Time Out” zone in your marriage.
There is a book Edie introduced me to about three years ago: “Beyond consequences, logic, and control – A love based approach to helping children with severe behaviors.” Its purpose is to help parents better parent children coming from terribly difficult environments. But it has so many messages appropriate for helping spouses with challenging children to better love each other.
We are designed to process emotions and to use them to both enjoy life and to better regulate our actions.
But sometimes our daily lives (and parenting children with learning challenges) leave us feeling overwhelmed (see point #2: Pay attention to warning signs).
Spouses need to be able to discuss the really important subjects together, but these topics can become “reactionary” and harsh, with very little space between something your spouse might say
(“Why were you so hard on Billy?”)
and your immediate reaction
(“Why am I always the bad-cop parent? He needs to study more!”)
One of the consequences of these types of reactionary discussions is that there is very little “space” between the question and response.
And these types of responses are usually emotionally and they frequently address issues not really pertinent to the immediate conversation.
I’m not suggesting anyone simply “eat your words” and say nothing or check out of an important discussion. Emotional states can rarely be improved if what is causing them is ignored;
However, improving our emotional responses happens more effectively when we increase the “space” before reaction. This space can be called a mutually agreed –Time Out.
Time-out zones are where spouses give each other the time to think through an emotional situation; thereby learning the real intent behind each other’s questions.
In the above example, before a spouse angrily answers the question with a question, he might say, “I really need a time out to think about what I’m feeling. Can we agree to take 5 minutes off?
Maybe I can get my head around why I’m suddenly so upset and better share my thoughts with you.” As the space between responses is increased, it becomes markedly easier to keep the discussion focused on the issue, to regain
emotional equilibrium, and make choices that strengthen the contributions of each spouse.
5. Be a team
When I shared with my wife that I really wanted to spend time with her, but left all of the preparations for her to deal with, I wasn’t being a teammate – quite the opposite! I was unintentionally treating her like a personal valet and traveling companion (think of the movie, “Room with a View”). As spouses, if we understand each other’s jobs, and what is required to successfully complete those jobs, we’re in a great place to be able to anticipate each other’s needs and better support each other’s vision.
I hope that this list helps you and your spouse to strengthen your marriage.
I fell into the trap of thinking my desire to be with my wife was sufficient. If we truly desire to be with our spouse, then perhaps we ought to take personal responsibility and do what needs to be done to spend time her (or him) .
All those years ago we decided something needed to be done. Ours was not an overnight success, but with time, effort, & love we have come very far.
Meet Patrick Henry Hughes. He was born with out eyes and the ability to straighten his limbs. To define him as disabled is to miss the essence of who Patrick is. Just watch..
Way to go Patrick! This is what it means to be differently abled. It applies to my kids. It applies to your kids. Truth told, it applies to all of us.
More dangerous than the definition of a term is the definition society will try to press upon our children. We need to spread this differently abled term and more importantly the truth within it.
At Aspire Interventions we hold to this mantra – Life Beyond Labels. We believe strongly that there is a fulfilling life beyond what ever terminology used to describe your loved one.
Your child has a unique set of gifts and as their parent you know this. We know it also. We want to join you on the journey.
These are our thoughts, but what do you think? We want to hear what you think? Do you think there is a problem if we only see the disability and not the ability in our kids?
- Open up a new browser tab and go to google.com. Go ahead… I will wait.
- Now type DIFFERENTLY ABLED and press enter.
- Read the definition…
This is what I got…differently abled disabled
I have a feeling you got the same. Way to go Google… But to be fair Bing.com gave the exact same result. This is not an internet search problem.. it is a culture problem.
It is obvious that at this late date, PEOPLE JUST DON’T GET IT. Culture does not understand the difference between “differently abled” and “disabled.”
Many feel like the term differently abled is an effort to be more politically correct
…a kinder gentler term. This is not the point.
People with differently abled kids understand. We see it up close. Until relatively recently, children with physical handicaps and/or learning challenges were identified as “handicapped,” “disabled,” or “mentally retarded.”
Having differently-abled children myself, helped me understand that “differently abled” people have their own unique set of gifts and deserve the same degree of respect expected by “neurotypical” people.
Children with disabilities are not incapable, which is the uneducated assumption in the terms “handicapped, disabled,” and “mentally retarded.”
There are many ways children compensate for a reduction in abilities; in fact, they often have other strengths that exceed many neurotypical children.
Special Olympians, special interests of children with autism, or engaging personalities and general cheerfulness of children with Down syndrome.
It is a head scratcher how we have not come to understand this.