The challenges of parenting a child with special needs can put a strain on relationships. Here are a few ideas that could help revitalize your marriage or partnership.
“So what are you buying John for your anniversary?” my girlfriend Jean asked me.
“It depends on which John you’re talking about because I think I married a man with multiple personalities. During this pandemic, I’ve seen so many different sides of John, I don’t know who I’m living with anymore,” I said with a huge laugh.
“Half the time, I want to give him the biggest hug and kiss for being the most considerate and
loving husband and dad. The other half, I want to lock him in the closet and throw
away the key, because he drives me crazy.”
Stresses of life and the pandemic
Many couples probably felt this way about their partner at one time or another during the pandemic. Spending more time than we normally would with our significant other allowed us to see “the good, the bad, and the ugly” in them and ourselves. And there may have been a few occasions when we had doubts about our relationships.
If you’ve ever thought this way, you’re not alone. Managing a fulfilling relationship while raising a child with special needs has been, and will always be a challenge. Between work, family responsibilities, and taking care of all aspects of a child’s life, parents are left with hardly any time for themselves, much less a spouse.
The pandemic probably added more pressure, including financial insecurity, job uncertainty, and health concerns. On top of all that, there’s full-time caregiving, remote learning, and managing challenging behaviors of kid(s). So it’s completely normal to feel exhausted, overwhelmed or stressed out.
Fortunately, things are improving as many places around the world emerge from the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic and we slowly adjust to our new normal. Like everything else in life, nothing stays the same, but it’s important to get back on track, especially with your partner.
So how can you become a couple again while dealing with challenges and responsibilities? How can you make your relationship a priority again?
Don’t worry! By following a few important steps, my hope is that you can revitalize your relationship and keep it strong.
A few ideas to revive your relationship
- Give yourself some space
After isolating with your family during the pandemic, it’s time to think about your personal needs for a change. Give yourself some “breathing room” and try to get back to being “you” again, and don’t feel guilty about it.
Participate in activities that make you feel good. For example, go back to the gym, start a walking/running program, dance, get a mani/pedi, meditate. Doing what makes you happy is beneficial for you, your relationship, and the entire family.
- Keep in mind you’re both human
Remember this the next time your partner says she/he is overwhelmed with working from home while managing a kid’s virtual learning schedule.
- Take over or help out with a task if you can
- Give each other permission to vent and “blow off steam” whenever you need to
- Don’t be critical or take anything to heart in the heat of the moment
- Be understanding of your spouse’s feelings so you avoid fostering anger and response
By allowing each other to be open and honest, you’ll build goodwill, trust, and respect within your relationship and deepen the bond between the two of you.
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- Take advantage of your support team
Ask family members or close friends (well in advance!) to watch your special needs child and/or other children for a few hours or a day or two. They will feel good knowing they can help. You’ll have peace of mind because your kid(s) are safe and well cared for. Best of all, there are no child care costs.
- Plan enjoyable dates
Every couple needs and deserves some time alone together to reconnect and keep the emotional, physical, and communication strong bonds. And don’t feel bad for doing so. It’s the best way to prioritize your relationship.
- Schedule “fun” dates for yourselves on a weekly or monthly basis. Enter them in your cell phone or computer calendar. After living in sweatpants for a year, it’ll probably feel great to put on a nice outfit for a change
- Your date doesn’t have to be a “night out on the town.” A blockbuster, summer movie, or quick bite at a local restaurant is fine. Participate in some of the hobbies, activities, and events you enjoy
- Summer is a perfect time to relax outdoors. Have an old-fashioned picnic at a park or beach or go swimming
Most importantly, focus on your partner. Put down all the electronic devices and talk and listen to each other. And as hard it may be, don’t discuss the kid(s). You’ll have time to do that when you get home!
- Keep the spark alive
Remember, affection and attention for your partner doesn’t have to be set aside for just date nights and special occasions. Romantic evenings can be created anytime. After your kid(s) are asleep, have some wine, munch on chips and dips, or have a scrumptious dessert by candlelight. Snuggle on the sofa while you stream some Netflix movies. It’s a cozy way to wind down from a stressful day.
A little extra effort from both partners can generate ongoing intimacy and maintain a loving atmosphere at home. A tender kiss, hug, or smile in the morning or evening is a wonderful way to start or end the day. A simple “thinking of you” message by email or text can mean so much.
Tell each other: “You look beautiful in that dress,” or “your cologne smells great.”
Hearing those compliments can really make your spouse happy. And looking at each other as attractive partners can make you feel desired and positive about your relationship.
- Surprises are welcome
Showing you care, even when there isn’t a special occasion, is one of the most romantic things you can do. Don’t wait for Valentine’s Day, birthdays, or anniversaries to do something thoughtful for your partner. An unexpected gift or gesture is a fantastic way to enrich your relationship. Give him/her a balloon that says: “You’re Amazing!” Buy something your partner really wants, like jewelry or athletic clothing.
- Appreciate each other
Despite the negative aspects of the pandemic, it has taught us some important lessons. Life is unpredictable. It can turn upside down in an instant. We should treasure our loved ones.
Now, perhaps more than ever, it’s important to express gratitude for your partner. Don’t forget to say: “I love and need you,” or “thanks for taking care of that for me.” They’re simple words, but on a tough day, a few heartfelt expressions could make all the difference.
A gift of a lifetime
After speaking with Jean, I thought about my lovable, handsome, stubborn, and thoroughly impossible husband. What would be the perfect gift for the only person who knows exactly what I’m going through? Who loves my child as much as I do and is on the same life-long journey?
Dinner at John’s favorite restaurant is fine. But I also want to give a meaningful present. I’ll buy John a heart-shaped frame and put a picture of us on our favorite rollercoaster ride. It was taken shortly after we married, when life was carefree and uncomplicated. It brings back such happy memories.
And now, when I look at it, I realize it’s representative of our current lives. Raising a child with special needs is like riding an emotional rollercoaster, encompassing unpredictable highs and deep lows, with major twists and sharp turns along the way. But at the end, we always arrive safely on the ground with a huge smile on our faces.
Despite how crazy John makes me, he’s my pillar of strength and main source of comfort. And, after all these years, with the ups and downs of our marriage, he’s still the one!
This article was featured in Issue 126 – Romantic Relationships and Autism