As an Italian American woman of a certain age (omerta prevents me from disclosing the number), Frank Sinatra’s music is in my blood. When I sat down to share some thoughts on relationships one song sprung to mind, “Love and Marriage” by the Chairman of the Board himself. The song debuted in 1955 when the autism rate was fewer than one in ten thousand. Fast-forward 60 years and the rate is 1 in 68.
“Love and Marriage” was also the theme song of the Fox TV show “Married With Children.”
I think most relationships in our autism community, including marriages, are more like Al and Peg Bundy than Carol and Mike Brady. Autism adds such a level of stress, work, devotion, frustration, commitment, financial hardship, family and friend barriers – the list makes my head spin. You know it. I know it. Having a child with autism challenges all of our notions of “typical” family. And it challenges relationships too.
I think of relationships in terms of our kids’ journey through school. Every few years there is a transition. It’s painful! We dread it. We worry. Early intervention is terrifying. We survive. First grade feels like sending your child to the moon. We survive. Middle school makes us break out in a cold sweat. We survive. We panic over high school. We survive. And then comes adult transition. We run to the bathroom and “spill” as my daughter calls vomiting. We survive.
Our relationships, all of them, go through transitions. Some make us stronger as a couple. Some keep us moving forward. And others might split us up. Divorce happens across the population. I’ve never been sure if there really is more divorce in autism families than other populations. Doesn’t seem so to me. But there is divorce. And life after divorce.
I’ll tell you a secret, I’ve talked to other moms who say, “Divorce would mean I get a break every other weekend? I’ll take it!” We say that in jest, sort of, mostly….. But it’s a reality for some families.
I’ve seen “rock solid” marriages dissolve. I’ve seen couples I thought could barely tolerate each other stay together. I have no answers as to what keeps us together with a partner or not. I will say this, it’s imperative that you take care of yourself and have some sort of interest that is just for you. Happiness, contentment, and internal peace starts from within – no one can create that for you.
Our kids are exhausting. Do we adore them? Of course. Do we spend our lives trying to help them. Yup. Still, they take their toll on us.
So find something that takes you outside of autism. If you’re single, that’s probably a good way to meet someone. If you’re married or in a relationship, make sure your partner has something of his or her own to do. For me, karate has been my saving grace. For my husband, it’s golf. My husband will never kick and punch or don a gi. I will never step foot on a green. Our personal activities give us a safe harbor to relax, recoup, and salvage a bit of our independence.
Autism controls so much of our lives. I think it’s important for all of us, just once in a while, to be able to look back and say, “I did it MY way.”