My husband and I are coming up on our eleventh anniversary this June. Like many brides, I thought that on my wedding, I knew well the man I was committing my life to. What I’ve learned since that day is that every wedding is a leap of faith and that as much as I thought that I knew my husband well through our years of dating and engagement, it is the joys and challenges that life brings that really reveals the true nature of your partner.
Like other families whose child has been diagnosed with autism, my husband and I shoulder big responsibilities: finding the best therapies for our child, navigating the school system, planning for his future. We are both busy with our careers, our other daughter, obligations to family and community. At times, the responsibilities, fears and daily challenges that come with raising a child with autism have overwhelmed us, driven us to take out our anger and frustration on one other and turned us away from each other.
But fortunately, in these painful moments, we rise out of them and remember that we are partners in our parenting journey and in our life. We do our best to turn towards each other and offer support when one of us is feeling especially down or drained. What I’ve realized is that the man I committed my life to has more strength and vision than I ever could have imagined when I married him, and that it takes work, for any marriage, to come together to overcome obstacles…but it is very possible.
The Top 5 Ways That We’ve Been Able to Support our Marriage Include:
1. Give each other space to grieve: I wish that when my son had been diagnosed that there had been a social worker present to address the impact of the diagnosis on us as parents and to offer guidance. There wasn’t—and I know for most families, there isn’t. We found our own path to support but also each realized in our own time that we needed to allow ourselves to grieve. Our processes were different and it was important that we respected each other’s grieving process.
2. Make time to be a couple: We set a monthly date and try and go out twice/month when possible or meet for lunch during the day. Even when we’ve been really broke, we’d find a friend to watch the kids and go for a walk. Taking time away—even if you’re feeling down or exhausted—is so important to staying connected.
3. Have each other’s back: There are some weeks when I’m not on my A game, and some weeks when my husband needs to give attention outward and not do as much at home. We make sure that we pick up the slack for each other, knowing that we’ll cover for each other as needed. We don’t keep tabs of who’s doing more with the house or kids, keeping in mind that we are in partnership and both working hard towards the common good.
4. Get help: With all of the therapies that autism parents are juggling, you may think I’m crazy to suggest adding a therapy appointment, but we’ve found that going to couples’ therapy when we were really challenged helped us enormously. Before we had time to start therapy, we began by reading a book called Getting the Love You Want by Harville Hendrix. It was a game changer for us.
5. Make time, daily, to connect about things other than your child: Even if it’s 15 minutes of watching “The Daily Show” or a quick chat about a movie we want to see, we keep conversations going about your interests and passions. It’s so important to remember that your partner is your friend above all and that you have the ability to create a loving marriage that is nothing if deeper and stronger because of the challenges that you face.
About the Author
Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer is the author of “The Kitchen Classroom: 32 Viusal GF/CF Recipes to Boost Developmental Skills.” She blogs about food and family at www.kitchenclassroom4kids.com