Research shows raising a child with special needs can test a marriage. As a military family you have a strong foundation to work from, but the ability to depend on one another and teamwork are key. With determination, communication and the tips below, you can keep your relationship strong and your family thriving.
- Both you and your partner need to acknowledge and understand your child’s diagnosis from a doctor you both trust. You’ll never be on the same page for care if your spouse doesn’t believe your child’s diagnosis – or if they think there’s an unidentified problem.
- Consider participating in ongoing family counseling to learn better ways to interact with and guide your child as they grow up. Through regular counseling, your family can become a better team – parents, child and siblings, together.
- Don’t only see your spouse as a parent. Remember, your marriage began when you chose your spouse as a life partner with individual qualities that made you love him/her, over and above his/her ability to transport children back and forth to school or medical appointments.
- Spend at least 20 minutes every day in “adult” conversation without once mentioning your children or anything child-related. Talking to each other as fellow adults who love each other can keep your marriage strong and healthy, outside of your shared parenting responsibilities. If one partner is deployed, then become daily pen pals, reserving a third of your letter for non-kid topics.
- Be aware of caregiver burnout – and offer relief whenever possible. Being a military family means that “fair” parenting schedules aren’t always possible, due to deployment and mandatory assignments. One spouse may get the bulk of the caregiving responsibilities. Still, the service member parent must remember that while they can leave their assignments at work, they will never stop being a parent – and they must find ways to support their partner-parent to prevent caregiver burnout that could negatively affect the marriage.
- Keep routines. Routines help increase home stability and predictability for children with special needs, which is especially helpful if there’s a single primary caregiver. If you’re away due to deployment, remember your family’s schedule and do your best to accommodate it with your communications, as well as your reintegration back into the family environment.
- Don’t be afraid to reach out to friends and family. When dealing with special medical and/or education needs, a military couple runs the risk of isolation, which can make marital problems worse. Don’t hesitate to reach out to friends and family for help and a break when you need it. Chances are, they want to help – they just aren’t sure how.
- Use the resources at your disposal. To support overall mission readiness, the Department of Defense provides many resources for military families with special needs. Many of these services are completely free to use and none will negatively impact your military career.
Your spouse will be your strongest ally and your greatest strength while you raise your children and in the many years after. That said, you both have access to extra help to strengthen your relationship and nurture your children through the Office of Special Needs, Military OneSource and many other Department of Defense programs.
To get started, contact your local Military Family Support staff for more information. Also, see how the Exceptional Family Member Program Resources, Options and Consultations, EFMP ROC, can help your family, and try out Military OneSource’s flexible and education-based consultation series Building Healthy Relationships to build your communication skills.