A couple's level of oneness is usually evident in their level of companionship, commitment and passion for each other – as well as their spiritual intimacy with God. With that in mind, the time and effort required in caring for someone with special needs means that those couples often have to work that much harder to make romance and intimacy a priority in their marriage.
When couples first start out, there seems to be plenty of time to enjoy being together, time for adventure and spontaneity, time to sit quietly or communicate without interruption, distractions or pressures. Yet as the responsibilities of marriage and home start to accumulate, the potential for negative changes in the romance department also accumulate. Add children to the equation (particularly one or more with special needs), and there's a recipe for disaster in terms of marital intimacy.
Getting enough rest when caring for someone else's needs 24/7 remains one of the most difficult issues we've had to address, but it's also one of the most important. Rest restores, heals and refreshes. If we don't make the effort to get proper rest, we'll have limited energy for marital romance and intimacy. We might need to nap when our children nap, or simply asking others for help with our child so we can get away or sleep. If that thought makes you feel guilty, then remember that the more rested and healthy we are, the better we are at caregiving. Putting aside pride, humbly asking for help and showing appreciation and thankfulness is necessary for our mental and physical health.
Rest can be spiritual, as spiritual rest comes through spiritual intimacy with God. Developing a consistent and quality time of prayer and Bible reading helps prepare us for the frustrations and challenges we inevitably experience. Quieting ourselves before Him allows us to pursue closeness with Him. Pursuing oneness with Him helps us ultimately achieve oneness with each other.
Rest is also physical. Caring for another person can be exhausting. When our children were little, Joe would often come home exhausted after a long day at the office. I was often tired, too, having cared for the home and children all day. It became a pattern for us to offer each other a few minutes of time to relax at different points during the evening. Joe might take a 15-minute power nap, check his e-mail or go through the mail while I watched the children. After dinner, Joe might watch the children and fold laundry while I enjoyed a bubble bath and a good book. Time for refreshment, relaxation and rest leads to a better mental and emotional attitude and something to offer to each other at the end of the day. Taking advantage of these opportunities often led to more positive communication, whether verbal or sexual.
Keeping romance alive requires good communication. Not just organizing the family calendar and schedule of events; not just discussing the "business" of the family; but the kind of communication that brings a married couple closer together as companions and lovers. Sharing our innermost thoughts, frustrations, hopes and desires with each other keeps communication open, honest and vibrant. This kind of transparency reinforces a committed relationship – one that fosters safety and security. Transparent conversation translates into companionship, which translates into passion! But it takes time and effort. It must be a priority.
The pressures and challenges of caring for someone with special needs leads to the dilemma of how to keep passion alive and sexual intimacy vibrant. Maintaining passion and intimacy can be in any marriage, but without effort and planning, it likely won't happen. Adding the variable of constant care for a special needs individual requires even more planning. A weeklong vacation on another continent might sound great, but a couple hours sipping coffee at a local shop might have to suffice. A fancy dinner out and an uninterrupted movie might give way to takeout and a rented movie.
Check these ideas off your list as you have opportunity, then try adding some of your own:
- Sit on the porch or couch and talk about the future.
- Plan a make-believe trip you'd like to take together someday.
- Laugh together over lighthearted events.
- When you have a private moment or the chance to get away, make an effort to be intimate. Do whatever it takes to make it happen – regularly.
- Have a favorite meal (or one delivered) over candlelight after your children are asleep.
- Watch a favorite show in bed. When it's over, spend 10 minutes cuddling and see what happens.
- Kiss for 30 seconds after you pray together. Every night. We dare you.
- Learn to play golf, even if poorly. Enjoy the quiet and beauty of the outdoors … and each others company!
- Play a card or board game. The winner makes plans for the two of you for the rest of the evening – and the loser still wins!
- Go to the park. Take a walk, jog or simply sit by the water.
- Go shopping together for ingredients for a new recipe you'll prepare together. Feed each other a few bites as you talk about favorite dating memories.
- Arrange for someone you trust to care for your children while you plan a weekend retreat or a week away. Just don't forget to come home!
Sometimes the simpler activities are the most fun. Enjoy planning these special times together to keep the passion in your relationship. Nurturing the marital relationship is an essential element in helping couples "go the distance" in marriage.