The Impact of a Disabled or Special Needs Child on Your Marriage

Your marriage will be tested

marriage disabled child
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When you first learn that your child will have special needs and require care throughout life, you will likely be emotionally overwhelmed.  Having a child with a chronic illness, disability or other severe condition makes you face certain harsh realities. Unfortunately, your lives will never be the same and your marriage will be tested. 

Coping With Stress and Change

A key to coping with all this stress and change is to try to accept it and to regularly express your feelings and thoughts to one another.

Chronic illness or a disability does not necessarily destroy your marriage, but it will shift the balance in your marital relationship.

You and your spouse will be adjusting in different ways, and often at varying paces. Sometimes your spouse will want to talk about the situation, and then other times may need time alone.

Dealing With Your Feelings

Feelings of sadness, worry, denial, anger, embarrassment, fear, confusion, guilt, concern, resentment, and shock usually occur before a sense of acceptance enters your hearts. The stages of dying and death are often experienced because you have lost the dreams you had for your child, and you have lost your old life. It is natural to go through these phases. The danger is when you get "stuck" and refuse to recognize your loss and move on.

Impacted Areas of Your Marriage

Some areas that will be impacted in your marriage relationship are:

  • Finances
  • Self-esteem
  • Sexuality
  • Spirituality
  • Social life
  • Future planning
  • Parenting style
  • Recreation

Things You Can Do to Strengthen Your Marriage

  • Talk openly about problems and issues when they occur.
  • Allow friends and family to provide extra support.
  • Seek professional help before your marriage is in jeopardy.
  • Realize that chronic illness will disrupt the course of your marriage now and then.
  • Reaffirm your marriage commitment to one another.
  • Be patient with one another.
  • Take time to pursue the things that renew you as individuals.
  • Develop a strong family support network.
  • Celebrate each milestone.
  • Together, learn all you can about your child's disability.
  • Remember to take care of your relationship. Make time for the two of you to be alone everyday - even if it is a walk around the block. Some time away together is important also.
  • Sort out what is important and what isn't important to the two of you. Really look at your values and your hopes and dreams for your life together. Discuss what you can still accomplish.
  • Look at what professionals believe make a strong family. The list includes communication, listening, affirming, respecting, trusting, having fun and a sense of humor, and knowing when to seek help. These strengths need to be worked on in a couple's marriage relationship, too.
  • Seek out local support groups in your area for other families coping with the same condition. It helps a lot to not feel alone in your experience. Go together!

Change Is Not Always a Negative Experience

Although your marriage is forever changed, the change doesn't have to be negative. Many couples share their sense of joy, awe, and thankfulness as they speak about their special child.

Because they were able to communicate and openly share with one another, their marriage was also enriched.

Having an ill or special needs child represents a loss of control. It takes time to reach acceptance and a willingness to adapt. One of the main challenges that disability or illness place on marriage is to find a healthy balance of dependence and independence.

It is essential for you to talk about your individual needs and how they are affected both practically and emotionally. Look at whose life is changed the most or the least and in what ways. Reach for each other frequently and often when feeling distressed. Always respond to your partner when he or she reaches for you as well. Continue to face this and any other obstacle that come your way hand in hand.  

*Article updated by Marni Feuerman