Marriage & Divorce: Special Needs Living

Sheri Reed
winter pine cone

Photo by AshBayGrammy

Raising a child with special needs puts a lot of strain on parents, as well as on partnerships and marriages. Do the daily trials and tribulations of special needs living build a relationship up or tear it down? Or does that depend on the couple?

This week in Special Needs Living, CafeMom aurorabunny, mom to 3-year old Brody, who has autism, discusses the divorce statistics and the weight and bonding power that special needs living puts on her own marriage.

Special Needs Children, Marriage, & Divorce

by aurorabunny

Although some of you might be scratching your heads right now as to what those three words even have to do with one another, this is actually quite an interesting topic to many of us with children on the autism spectrum (and children with special needs in general). I will always remember that one of the first things a "well meaning" friend told me when Brody was first diagnosed with autism was that "80% of marriages where the couple has an autistic child end in divorce, ya know. I saw it on the news." Hmmm. It was lovely to hear that all of a sudden my marriage was utterly doomed when it had seemed just fine the day before. While my friend may have indeed heard that statistic on the news, there has since been a lot of debate and controversy as to whether or not that figure is correct or even close to being correct. 

The aforementioned study was conducted by the NAA (National Autism Association) and an 80% divorce rate among families that include an autistic child was in fact the number that was released to the public and the media. Since then, this number has been called into question but not enough research has been done to provide any real answers. The Easter Seals Association conducted a large survey (not a scientific poll) in 2008 that showed the divorce rate among families that included at least one autistic child to be 39%, which also seems like a wonky number to me considering that the average US divorce rate, special needs children or not, is estimated to be around 48%. Who really knows?

It definitely makes you think though. I actually think I could see reasons behind either one of those numbers being true. There are so many times when I see how autism puts a strain on a marriage; I've seen it in my own. Then, of course, there are just as many moments, if not more, where I see how having a child with special needs can change you for the positive and make a union that much stronger. 

My marriage isn't perfect. In fact, it's far from that. I still don't think that many of the problems in my marriage have much to do with my son having autism, but I could possibly see a few. My eyes were opened to several things that I could improve upon in my relationship, and areas where my husband could improve as well, when I read the book Married with Special Needs Children: A Couples' Guide to Keeping Connected by Laura E. Marshak. I've read my fair share of hokey relationship books, and I can honestly tell you that this ISN'T one of them.

In fact, I would urge any parent with a special needs child to buy this book, even if you think you couldn't possibly have any use for it. Personally it has helped me a great deal. And yet despite that, I still find myself often feeling like I am the marriage partner and parent who most often "rises to the occasion" for my son and deny it as I might, that tends to build up a good amount of resentment over time. There are always exceptions to every rule, but the sentiments that I just expressed have been echoed to me by many other mothers of special needs children that I have spoken with. 

The best I feel that I can do is to just keep working at my marriage and making sure that we make the time to even do that, a point that the book I mentioned above puts a great emphasis on. Maybe the odds are stacked against us and maybe they aren't; I guess for now the studies and surveys won't be able to tell us one way or another. 

How do you feel that having a child with special needs has impacted your marriage? 


Previous Special Needs Living posts from aurorabunny:

Alternative Treatments for Autism: Special Needs Living

Learning to Communicate: Special Needs Living

Thinking About TTC a Second Child: Special Needs Living

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