There’s a part of me that has always shied away from this sort of post. The superstitious side of me doesn’t want to tempt fate by giving relationship advice. However, the practical side of me knows this is a huge issue for special needs families.
How do you make your relationship last when you’re a special needs parent?
I don’t have all the answers but I’m happy to share the things that have worked for us over the years. Today marks 18 years since I married my husband Nathan. That’s us, dressed in our nautical gear, a few years back. At the end of the month we’ll have been together for 20 years.
That’s a long time with the one person. As my husband often remarks, many prisoners get lighter sentences for their crimes…
So, what have we done to last 18 years of marriage, 14 of those years involving special needs parenting? How have we found the strength to weather the storms and the relentless pressures of raising kids with a variety of diagnoses and additional needs?
How We’ve Made Our Relationship Last
We’ve always tried to manage our own expectations so we could deal with the reality of a long-lasting relationship. We’ve always known it was not going to be easy. We’ve always accepted we would need to compromise and make the best of less than ideal situations. We’ve always understood that life is not perfect and neither are we. This has helped us deal with our kids’ diagnoses and the ongoing responsibilities and obligations that come with that.
This has been a challenge at times, but open communication is the key to any relationship. We’ve always kept talking, even when it’s been hard to say, let alone hear, the words. We aim to end each day having talked through issues so they don’t fester. We also make a point of talking through therapy and specialist decisions so we’re on the same page, which is particularly important as it’s not often we can attend appointments together. Communication is key.
One of the hardest parts of any relationship is bouncing back after a setback or disappointment. It’s so tempting to crawl into a hole and ignore everything, rather than persist and tackle issues head on. Dealing with personal pain, as an individual and as a couple, can test the strongest of relationships. The ability to keep going, despite multiple diagnoses and ongoing stress & strain, is one of the main reasons our marriage has lasted 18 years.
From the beginning, my husband and I carved out time so we could pursue our own interests and hobbies. I’d head out to play tennis and he’d play games with his friends. It’s the way it’s alway been for us. We’ve always been strong partners but we’ve also guarded our independence and have never lost sight of what makes us, us. This gives us the chance to do our own thing, recharge and still be there for each other and for our kids.
Taking time out, individually and also as a couple, has been a big factor in our long relationship. We try to get away by ourselves at least once a year, with movie and dinner dates scattered in between. It’s essential for our own wellbeing and for our relationship, to have time out from the reality of special needs parenting. Without regular time out, I doubt we’d still be together, let alone able to remain on top of everything we need to do for the kids.
Trusting each other, in every facet of life, has been another key to our long relationship. We trust each other in the small and the big things. We trust that we’ll back each other up and give each other the support we need. We trust in the decisions we make for our family (even if we tend to second guess the details of those decisions!) Trusting in each other and sharing a belief we are on the same path makes it so much easier to get through the hard days, together.
We’ve always considered ourselves equal partners in our relationship. We both have strengths and weaknesses and we’ve learned to work together to get the most out of each other and our partnership. Valuing each other in this way has helped us approach everything life has thrown at us in a strong and united way. It’s so much easier to manage challenges, disappointments, stress and strain when you have a partner at your side, ready to go into battle with you.
There’s obviously many other points I could make – maintaining a sense of humour, making a point of saying “I love you” each day, asking for help when we need it, etc. However, these are the key areas which have played a role in our long relationship.
Some days are difficult, others are joyful, some are painful and even more are mundane. Life will never be perfect but if you can partner with someone who can find the absurd with you, who has your back, who you can talk to and who is determined to weather the storm with you, that will make all the difference – believe me.
Happy 18th wedding anniversary to my wonderful partner in crime, Nathan x
How have you made your relationship last?