We all have a statistic or two we know by heart. Maybe you know the batting average of your favorite baseball player, or the average number of sunny days in your area. Some of us know numbers we wish we didn’t. Ask any parent of a child with autism about the divorce rate for families with special needs kids and they’ll tell you: 80%.
I was thinking about this while reading the book, The Stuff That Never Happened, by Maddie Dawson. In the book, the main character, Annabelle, has an affair when she is just recently married. She is able to reconcile with her husband, but 26 years later runs into her old flame, Jeremiah, who notes that he “turned out to be just a sad but ignorable footnote in the long and happy marriage of Grant and Annabelle McKay.” She tells him that she and her husband didn’t have it easy for a long time, to which Jeremiah responds “Oh, who ever has it easy in marriage? Nobody.”
In fact, recent studies question the alarming statistic. But even if incorrect, it seems to be widely believed, worn as a badge of courage, another reason that things are so difficult for us. I often wonder, and have written about on this blog, whether I blame too much of Moe’s behaviors on autism, when sometimes he just has “three year old.” Could it be the same with marriage? Why would it be so hard?
We disagree. All couples disagree, you say. Yes, that is true. But we (and I can only speak about my own marriage here, though I suspect others would have the same experience) argue about things that we cannot possibly know the answers to, like Moe’s rate of progress, or what a new behavior means. Everything is scary and unknown and there is very little to tell you that you are doing the right things, making it easy to move in different directions.
We blame and feel guilty. No one knows why our son has autism. They say it’s genetic? Well, clearly he takes after your side of the family. They say it’s environmental? Maybe I should have breastfed longer. Of course there is no sense playing that game, but we are only human and want answers. And when there is no answer, it is easy to either look at the other person responsible for that child’s existence.
We’re scared and stressed. Some families of special needs kids live in fear of losing their child to illness every day. We all have fears about the future. We are asked to make decisions about our child’s care, often without much to guide us. Do we try a certain diet/treatment/therapy/school? And when we do find the right diet/treatment/therapy/school, can we afford it? With all of this stress and fear, we might just take it out on each other more than we should.
Autism is all consuming. There are days when we don’t talk about much else, except maybe what is for dinner. We deal with it all day – and sometimes all night. You have to work at any marriage, and that requires energy we sometimes don’t have.
So yes, I think it is hard. Is is harder for us than for someone else? Maybe. But does it matter? In the novel, Annabelle thinks “There are so many ways a marriage can implode…sexual infidelity is just one of them.” In the end, a marriage succeeds or it fails, and the heartbreak is no less if your child has special needs. Jeff and I are coming up on our fifth anniversary, and although this past year has been tough for us, I am pretty proud of the family we’ve become.
If you’re a parent of a special needs child, how is your marriage holding up? What are you tips for success, or lessons learned the hard way?
I received the book, The Things That Never Happened, free of charge from the publisher for the From Left To Write book club. For a great perspective on a marriage with not one, but two, special needs kids, read Rachel Coleman’s (of our beloved Signing Time) blog post Creating the Year 2010. Then plan to spend the next hour reading the rest of her blog.