Protecting a Special Marriage

Protecting a Special Marriage

In the world of special needs, there is a great amount of statistics flying around, and one of the most shocking numbers is that an estimated 80-90 percent of marriages involving special needs children end in divorce. Rachel Bernstein, a licensed marriage and family therapist from California, gives parents of special needs kids some advice to avoid becoming a part of this statistic.

“It is really very true that being a parent and also sustaining a healthy marriage is challenging enough on its own, and so when you add having a child with special needs into the mix, it does impact the relationship in a very powerful way,” says Bernstein. Though unsure if anyone has an exact number, she does say the number is disproportionately high for parents of children with special needs.

Bernstein does have a few tips to help “beat the odds”:

  • Make a plan for your marriage. “I find that parents who are very successful in helping their children with their own needs are very mindful of putting together an educational, medical, and therapeutic plan for their child, but I think it’s equally important to sit down with your spouse and make a plan for your marriage,” Bernstein suggests. “The plan includes first remembering why you fell in love with this person, and making sure to notice and acknowledge those qualities in each other at least once a day — this is actually true of any healthy marriage.”
  • Find time every day for each other. Bernstein says, “Find some time, even ten minutes a day, to sit down with each other, smile at each other, hold each other, and I think something that is often underused is to laugh with each other. There is so much a part of this life that can make life feel very oppressive and humorless, and it’s important to remember the fun and joy.”
  • Be a unified team. “There is a lot that you are going to be facing together, and it’s important to not break down that unified team because you’ll be needing it, and you’ll be needing it in each other,” Bernstein advises.

Bernstein also suggests along with this plan, there must be flexibility. While it would be ideal to sit down at the same time every day, plans do change. Bernstein adds, “Know that it needs to have some flexibility, as with most things in marriage, and if it doesn’t happen on a particular day at the same time, that it can happen at a different time or it can happen over the phone, but it still needs to happen.”

Bernstein makes a good point when it comes to marriage in general: “As with anything, if you don’t maintain it, it will no longer thrive. That’s true in nature, and it’s true in marriage.” She suggests that you need to ensure your partner knows that you care, an idea that is magnified when there is a special needs child involved. Berstein says, “When you have a child with special needs, you have a flood of other emotions that come into play. You have a huge amount of worry, and some sadness, and a sense of loss, and exhaustion, and anger–anger at the limitations of the social service system, the anger that can come from blaming each other–or feeling unfairly burdened by this and not getting the support or practical help from your spouse.” It might seem like your spouse does not care because he or she does not show outward signs of emotions, and this judgment or misjudgment can cause friction within the marriage. Bernstein advises taking time to talk about these issues, put them into words, and know that you are there to support each other.

If you are having difficulty resolving issues by yourselves, you will want to consider seeing a licensed therapist. “Someone like a marriage and family therapist,” says Bernstein, “someone who can look at it as a system and diagnose the issues within that system, someone also who has the qualifications to meet with you as a couple and also to see you individually.” Bernstein adds that if some of the issues you are dealing with are individual issues that impact the unit, talking to a therapist can give you a safe outlet and provide you with tools for handling situations effectively.

When is it appropriate to see a licensed marriage and family therapist? “When the feelings are building up inside of you that are pushing you away from each other, then you want to get help,” says Bernstein. She suggests the help of a marriage and family therapist because these professionals “have an understanding of the specific challenges that occur within a family system.”

Whether or not you see professional help, remember to act together as a team and take the time each day to remind each other that you love each other and how you can make your family work.

Photo by

Visit Counseling California for more information about Rachel Bernstein and other MFTs in California.

About Author