"What kind of vacation would you take if you could?" our family counselor asked. It sounded like a simple question, but even with our combined IQs, my husband and I couldn't manage an answer. Stress had clearly taken its toll.I paused, then pondered. "It would have to be where the kids all agree. … "
"No, not with the kids," he interrupted. "A vacation just for you."
My husband and I hadn't enjoyed an overnight getaway alone together in 15 years. Like so many couples raising children with special needs (two of our three have autism), our kids' needs always came first in everything from our finances to our time, while our marriage had become a distant second.
"If you want to have the emotional energy to ensure your children feel more loved, you need to give your marriage permission to be important," our counselor advised.
There is little doubt that making marriage the top priority is difficult. Between medical bills, therapy and 24/7 care, parents of children with special needs are often emotionally, financially and relationally depleted. So what can we do?
Make time for regular communication
Create regular routines to connect with your spouse. Adrian and I talk and pray before the kids wake, and we set aside 10 to 15 minutes after our kids are in bed to debrief from our day. During these times, we listen to each other, sharing the good and the bad, while also building each other up. We express a dream or hope, and voice something we appreciate about each other.
Lighten each other's load
Learn to share in the tasks of special-needs care so neither parent becomes burdened as the sole "expert" on your child's disability. For example, Adrian takes off work when possible to attend school meetings or medical appointments, and we post medication routines in the kitchen so both of us can share in that crucial task.
We have discovered the value of a weekly, stress-free "us" night, when no problem topics are allowed—even if all we do is sit on the porch and enjoy coffee under the stars. And overnight getaways (with help from family, friends or respite care) are our new priority.
We don't always do these things perfectly, of course. (We have only just taken our first getaway!) But it's not about perfection. With God's help, we are creating a healthier, stronger marriage.
If you or someone you know needs marital help, Focus on the Family has resources and counseling to assist. You can contact us Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. (Mountain time) at: 800-A-FAMILY (232-6459) or help@FocusOnTheFamily.com.