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These are some tough topics to discuss.  And quite frankly, I’m not an expert on marriage.  I seem to be excelling at making my marriage particularly difficult.

Have you ever been to any conferences for people living with disabilities?  I’ve attended and will be attending this year’s Family Café conference in Orlando.  It’s a wonderful conference bringing together people of all ages in Florida with disabilities for seminars and training.  My mom and I made a girl’s weekend with Riley and attended some of breakout sessions a couple years ago.  So much good information.

Overall, I highly recommend attending this conference.  Registration is free, you just pay for the hotel.  You can check it out here: Family Café.

Why am I talking about this conference when the title of this post is about Marriage Survival when raising your arrows?  The conference is where I first heard this fun little factoid.  80% of marriages that have a child or children with special needs will end in divorce.

Say what?!?

You read that right, and I’ll say it again.  80% of marriages that have a child or children with special needs will end in divorce.

That can’t possibly be wrong, can it?  Well, it might be.  In tracking down that statistic I stumbled across this post by Stephen Grcevich, MD over at keyministry.org who wrote Special Needs and Divorce: What does the data say?

Come on, Sara, will you just get to it now?  I like to know my facts first before I start spouting off information.  So here comes the meat and potatoes of it.
My husband, Phil, and I were already exhausted with a little 1-year-old when Riley blessed our lives.  We spent 3 weeks in NICU with her, and it strained life.  Then came the abundance of doctor’s appointments, going back to work, and just life.  You don’t have to be a special needs parent to realize that life can be overwhelming.  And overwhelming it was.
Phil was there for everything.  An amazing human, truly.  He’d get up with Riley at night when she wouldn’t sleep, and that was like, well,  never.  This girl is a vampire, I swear.
He’d be at every doctor appointment and still is.  He’d pick up the information a doctor was spouting off after I’ve heard enough and I’d shut down.  He’s a great father, and a wonderful husband and yet, we were broken.
How’s that, Chan?  You just rambled on about awesome Phil is, and yet you say you were broken.  Yes, that’s correct, we were broken.
We’d do the daily grind.  Show up for work, doctor’s, but we wouldn’t talk other than pleasantries.  It was like having a roommate.  We’d barely acknowledge each other for months.  Often during those periods, resentment and anger would build.  Then when we did speak to each, other we’d be venomous.  The passive aggressive behavior would shine.
A snide comment here, mumble something under your breath there.  We were miserable.
We would try and talk, to work things out, and things would seem better for a time.  We’d laugh, smile and even enjoy each other’s company more and more.  Then stress would come back, a new diagnosis, a new doctor, new medication, work life was taking over, and no sleep… again.  And we’d be on repeat.
This still goes on today.  For better or worse was the vow.  We’ve had our fair share of both.  Between the age of 6 months to 18 months for Riley, there was a lot more “for worse” than for better.
We’ve been doing this special needs parenting a lot better.  I know a lot of it is me.  I tend to hold on to things and not let it go… queue some Disney music.
What I now realize is that I can tell when life is starting to be a struggle, and I make sure I’m extra cautious about the word’s I choose.  I know how to piss him off, and I *try* to avoid that.

Some ways to help yourself help your marriage:

Be Self Aware

One of the biggest struggles I have is losing my temper over nothing.  There, I said it.  I’m well aware of the fact that I get angry easily.  I’m Irish-Italian, I’m born this amazing.  When you have as much stress in your life as I do, you tend to not listen to what your body and mental mindset are telling you.
What exactly do I mean by that?  I can feel myself getting angry. I can rationalize what the real cause of the anger is, but sometimes I have a hard time turning it off.  Anger management issues?  Yes, plenty.  I’ve been working really hard to listen to my body, identify the causes and make sure that my husband doesn’t become collateral damage to my own internal battle.  Sometimes it happens, I also know the value of saying I’m sorry, which I’ve done more frequently than I’d like to admit.

Listen to Your Partner

Phil is not a talker.  Is any guy?  Sometimes it’s nice to be able to sit in quiet, but when you have a child that needs a lot more attention and you need to discuss topics involving said child, this is not a good thing.  I wish he would open up more, that ticks me off and then I’m mad.  When the reality of it is that he is caught up in his own head of trying to figure out the right things to say, but for whatever reason, he can’t verbalize it appropriately.
This is perfectly normal.  I shut down on information overload when I go to doctor’s appointments, for both Riley and myself.  Phil does not shut down during these times, but then he doesn’t talk about it with me, which is what I need.  I’ve learned to be patient with him, and make sure to take mental notes of questions to ask him later.
That’s a lot of listening, to yourself and your spouse.  But wait, there’s more!

Communication is Key to Marriage Success

The more that Phil and I talk, even if we have to force ourselves to do it, is it talk.  And not just a how’s the weather kind of conversation, a real one about what’s going on and how to help each.
I would get so mad, I know there I go again, about Phil not helping with stuff around the house.  I work full-time, commute 2 hours every day, and then come home to tasks I’ve asked him to do not done yet.  So. very. mad.
Want to know a secret?  I made a Sara to do list and added a Phil to do list to it as well. If you’ve read my previous post here, you know my love of lists.  Well, gosh darn, he did every single item on his list in one day.  Total game changer.
The takeaway from communication… once you start talking, or leaving to do lists, things become clearer.  I now understand his point of view a little better.  He doesn’t have to remember or guess what I want him to do.  Everyone wins.
I’m no marriage counselor, so take these tips with a grain of salt.  This is what’s working for us right now.  Just like life is constantly changing, so will the ways we need to work on our marriage.  You, too, will need to find what works for you and yours.
Drop me a line in the comments to let me know your best tips to help your marriage survive.  Just because we have children that need a little something extra *special* from us, doesn’t mean we have to sacrifice our marriage, we just need to learn to work together better.
Thanks for stopping by!!
Marriage Survival While Special Needs Parenting

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Sara is a mother of two, wife and full-time employee. She's also a parent of a child with special needs.