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Emma Sterland
BY Emma Sterland

17 Ways Special Needs Parents Can Strengthen Their Relationship

Love is in the air this week, but when you’re the parent of a child – or adult – with special needs, keeping a relationship strong can be difficult at times. Having a child with a disability or chronic illness can put a significant strain on your partnership.

The following tips have been sent in to Scope by parents and carers of people with special needs. If you are caring for a child with special needs, we hope some of these suggestions may help you survive the challenges.

1. Keep Talking

It’s very easy to get stuck in a rut where all of what you talk about is the kids, appointments, work and domestic stuff. Make sure you keep talking about all the other interesting things that once bought you together and interests you share. Don’t let that go!

2. Trust Your Partner To Parent

Trust your partner to parent. Sometimes we shut them out and do things ourselves without giving them a chance.

3. Do Something Nice Every Day

When we married, my husband and I vowed that we would endeavour to do something nice for the other person every day, small tokens like making a drink or running a bath. In turn, the other person would always appreciate this effort and thank them, not taking it for granted.

4. Make Time

Try to make time as a couple, even if it’s only to have a chat over a cup of tea once the children are in bed. Talk and listen to each other. Washing up can wait!

5. Make Light

My husband and I play a game where we place bets with each other which of our 3 disabled children will wake/kick off etc at what times. The ‘winner’ gets a treat from the other partner. Sounds silly, but making light of intensely stressful situations really does help us cope.

6. Keep Communication Open

Have an agreed plan of how to manage your child and keep communication open between yourselves.

7. Think Positive

Learn how to think positive in moments of stress.

8. Issues

Make sure you both understand your child’s condition and what it means, so you can talk about how to approach issues. When one of you works full time and the other goes to all the appointments, it’s easy for the working partner to feel pushed out and in the dark. That can lead to them giving up trying, so the full-time carer feels unsupported.

9. No Blame

Communication is the key to everything. Understanding that sometimes we get it wrong and not blaming each other.

10. Share It With Your Best Friend

You have to learn to laugh through the stress together or it will crush your relationship. There are ups and downs daily. Communicate everything … fear, anger, humour. Cry, laugh, love, share with your best friend.

11. Play To Each Others’ Strengths

Play to each others’ strengths. I’m good at paperwork. Hubby is great at housework. So I sort school letters, DLA forms, statements etc. Hubby vacuums, mops etc.

12. Respect

Respect is very important. Respect your partner’s opinions even if you don’t share them. That will allow you to move on through disagreements and focus on the positives.

13. Leave A Note

Leave messages around the house for each other to find, reminding the partner how they are appreciated/loved … or sending a text message.

14. Let Them Help

Let your partner help when they can. Yes, they may do things differently, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

15. Communicate Your Feelings

Dealing with the stress involved with having a child (special needs or not) amplifies any problems that already exist. Every day I thank my lucky stars that my wife is with me and that my daughter is well … and I tell them both as often as I can that I love them and appreciate all they do. My tips would be communicate, listen and support.

16. Ask Yourself …

‘What is the one thing I can do this week that will make my partner feel special?’ and plan time in the diary to do it.

17. Sleep On It

Sleep is very important. If you are both sleep deprived, arguments are much more likely to happen. Try taking it in turns to get up at night so one person always has a full night’s sleep.

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Emma Sterland

Written on February 14, 2013 by:

Emma Sterland helps run the online community at Scope, a national UK-based disability charity, offering support for disabled people and their families. All the tips used in this post were contributed by members of the online community, and can be seen in the tips section of the community .
  • Julie

    Great article! We too have a son with special needs (and two “typical” kids) and I know that it is so hard to keep your relationship going when you are being pulled in 100 directions. Thanks for giving us some ground work to keep our marriage alive while also raising a child with special needs. Date nights look differently because you can’t just hire the teenager down the street, Many times you are up and ready to go and all of a sudden something happens and you are no longer able to go due to a need of your special needs child. It makes that spouse time together few and far between but so important when you finally get that time!

  • Alice

    Thank you for this. I’m going to print it out. we have twins with severe autism and I forget about the “doing nice things” part of our marriage a lot of the time. I am more of a drill sergeant/ task master, I think. Luckily we can both see the humor in a lot of the crazy situations.

  • Samsmom

    Thank you so much.

  • Great article Emma. Sometimes it’s the small things that we all overlook. Everybody overlooks compassion!

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