Marriage,  Special Needs Parenting

5 Ways Our Special Needs Child Strengthened Our Marriage (and How We Stayed Together)

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This is day 3 of 31 Days of Supporting the Special Needs Family. To view the story behind this series and the series contents, please visit the landing page. I’m excited today to have Sara from Pacis in the Gutter guest posting today with a very honest look about how having a son with autism has changed and strengthened her marriage.

5 Ways our Special Needs Child Strengthened Our Marriage | "Whether it is a child with special needs, or something else, we had to wake up and understand that our marriage was not something to discard when life gets harder." #specialneeds #marriage #autism
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When we first got married, my husband and I were very in love and talked about having 6 kids. We loved children and as my husband said, he wanted a “quiver full!” I pictured myself as the cool soccer Mom who had 6 perfect children, driving a mini-van, living in a house with a white-picket fence, and eventually packing up and moving to a foreign country to be a missionary with my husband.

After our son Stephen was born, and he soon began having problems, my husband and I were thrown into a very different life than what we planned. Neither of us expected things to be so hard. I went into a deep depression, and my husband focused on his job, which also happened to take him away from our family every week. Our son had surgeries, was in and out of the hospital (including a month-long medical trip to Dallas), and struggled with many things. Without even realizing it, my husband and I began to drift apart. We no longer felt the connection and intimacy we once had. My life was completely focused on our son, and my husband’s was completely focused on his job and getting home to help me. We didn’t have time to go on dates, let alone spend any type of quality time together at home. Our son constantly needed us day and night.

Another year or so went by, and we got more diagnoses for our son. But life got even more hectic. Every day involved doctors’ appointments, hours of therapy, feeding tube care, and trying to figure out why my son would not sleep. My husband’s job allowed him to be home more, but it was just as complicated finding time together alone. It was nearly impossible to get a good baby-sitter, and at the end of the day, we were both so exhausted that all we felt like doing was sleeping. We also stopped going to church for a brief period, mostly because we were tired, it was hard to bring our son, and also because of my depression. It felt like things were falling apart, and our marriage greatly suffered.

Another year passed by. After things started to improve with Stephen, life got a little bit easier, and my depression was going away. Yet our marriage was on the brink of extinction. My husband and I no longer knew how to connect. We still had a hard time finding ways to spend time together alone, and we were fighting constantly. At one point, I felt that there was nothing left for us to salvage of our marriage. Even though we are both Christians, we thought that maybe God had made a mistake when He brought us together. We didn’t know what to do.

But because of our faith in Christ, God started revealing things to both of us. We prayed constantly and through many tears, I begged God to show me what to do to rebuild the marriage that I was not ready to give up on. We also did some marriage counseling, which helped tremendously, and God used people in our lives who were able and willing to take our son for a night or a weekend so we could spend time together. Our son began vastly improving in all areas of development, thanks to several different avenues of help. We also noticed a huge connection between our marital happiness and his ability to be calm.

My husband and I are convinced that if we did not have a relationship with God, and if we had not been willing to pray and seek Him in order to change, we might not be together. We still have to fight for our marriage every day, and some days are harder than others. Looking back, we can also see how having our child with special needs forced us to evaluate ourselves. In many ways, having our son has strengthened our marriage. Here are some things we have learned along the way:

1. We needed to be less selfish.

This might sound like an oxymoron, since we were so focused on caring for our son and sacrificing our needs for him. However, one thing our special needs child has taught us is that we had a lot of selfishness. As husband and wife, we did not consider one another’s needs. We were mostly focused on our own. Although we were in love and happy before our son came along, much of our love was not based on the other person, but rather on ourselves. Now our love is a commitment – not a relationship solely based on how we feel individually.

2. We needed to grow up.

We were both immature and naïve in many ways before our son came along. Looking back, I can see how we never considered the effect any child would have on our marriage, let alone a child with special needs. We also made many decisions that were based on what we felt like doing at the time, rather than praying about God’s will. Having our son has made us grow up a lot!

3. We needed to join the same team.

One thing that we didn’t realize was that we were both fighting for Stephen separately and not as a team. I got mad when my husband could not be at the doctors’ appointments with us, and it made him angry that I was angry. He was working hard to provide for our family. We finally talked about why this made me angry. I told him I felt like we were on different teams. Thankfully, my husband understood this, and he has made a huge effort to be involved in everything going on with our son! This has in turn strengthened our marriage in other ways.

4. We needed to understand our marriage vows.

We didn’t know what “for better or worse” really meant when we said our marriage vows. We never considered the “worse” part of the equation, so when things got difficult, we felt like it was unfair. But the reality was we thought life and marriage was going to be fun all the time. Whether it is a child with special needs, or something else, we had to wake up and understand that our marriage was not something to discard when life gets harder.

5. We needed to deepen our faith.

“Faith is the deliberate confidence in the character of God whose ways you may not understand at the time.” ~ Oswald Chambers

Both my husband and I would agree our faith was much shallower before we had a child with special needs. The Bible talks repeatedly about the reason for trials and tribulations in the life of a believer, but we both thought that Jesus was supposed to make everything easy and happy all the time. Having been through what we have been through, we both now realize that our faith is deepened through the hard times when we lean on and trust in Christ.


sara.jpgSara is a stay-at-home Mom living in the south with the love of her life and beautiful son who has special needs. After completing her Masters in Christian Education and teaching, she is now an aspiring author, occasional freelance writer, tutor, coordinator for a foreign exchange student program, and dreamer of one day being a long-term missionary. She loves reading, cooking, learning how to live healthier, and talking about her faith. You can find her at Pacis in the Gutter.

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  • Katie @ Wonderfully Made

    Sara, I identify with your story in so many ways. I think you make a great point about selfishness. We did not even realize that was happening in our marriage, but it was. We began to grow apart because we were so focused on survival that we lost sight of each other’s needs. Marriage counseling has made a huge impact on our marriage. I am so grateful God led us to it. Thank you for sharing this part of your journey!

    • Sara

      Thank you Katie! I was very scared and nervous to share this, but I prayed that someone reading it might find hope and encouragement for their own struggling marriage! It’s not something that people like to talk about, but marriage is hard and often ends in divorce. I am so grateful my husband and I did not take that path. God is so good! P.S. I LOVED your post on marriage as well. We do have a lot of similarities!

  • Michelle

    Sara, I identified with your story so much! Marriage can be difficult enough on it’s own but adding the endless regiment that comes with having a Special Needs child can strain it to the point of breaking. My husband works in a job where it’s extremely difficult for him to get time off, so there are times in which I’m very overwhelmed with doctor’s appointments, procedures, and therapies- I’m the one who has to use my time off and FMLA for that purpose. He tries to take some appointments when he can arrange it, but it can be hard at times not to feel that you’re doing the majority of the heavy lifting, so to speak. But I have to sit back and remind myself that those 60 hour work weeks are for the benefit of our family and our son; that he’s working his butt off to make sure we’re provided for, and he still does his best to be present for therapies or to just give me a break when he’s home. But at the end of the day, you’re too tired for anything else but sleep and it’s hard to connect.
    BTW, did you ever figure out the sleep issue with your son? My son is also impossible to get to sleep on his own and I’m always curious to find out how other families with similar situations found solutions.

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