Healthy Marriage Tips

My visiting mother-in-law walked away uncomfortably as my husband yelled at me. “WHY are you doing this?”

What was I doing? A county coordinator from the 0-3 program had just left our house. She came to take our initial information and explain how the evaluation process worked. She explained the different people who would come to our home, evaluate Kevin and determine if he qualified for services.

healthy marriage tips

What services? Hell, I didn’t know. He was an infant at the time.

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“He’s fine. Why can’t you just drop this?!”

He wasn’t fine. I knew in my gut something wasn’t right. I had to listen to my mom instincts. I wasn’t doing this to be difficult. Oh lord, how I wanted him to be right. How I wanted to be that ‘over-worrying, neurotic, new mom.’

“If he’s fine,” I said, “then we’ll know for sure in a few weeks and that will be it.”

Turns out I was right. Yay, go me. While I have a personality flaw of needing to be right, I wasn’t happy about it in this instance. I’ve since learned to let that go. I’ve learned to let a lot of things go, actually.

When your IEP is Causing Marriage Problems

Do you resent your spouse for not helping you with the IEP? A mom asked that in our Facebook group this week, and within about 30 minutes it had 100 likes and dozens of comments. If it’s a problem at your house, you certainly are not alone! For the purpose of this post, I’m going to use the term “spouse” generically.

I know that families come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, so spouse just means “another adult who is responsible for the upbringing of this child.” It could mean boyfriend, girlfriend, life partner, ex-husband or wife. The list goes on.

A while back I did a post called “the extraordinary burden of IEPs on moms” and it went viral almost instantly. And almost as quickly as it went viral, I got some criticism from men, for only focusing on moms. I stood by my assertion then, as I do now, that by and large most of the “case manager” tasks that come with having a disabled child falls on moms.

Like any other area of parenting, your child’s disability and IEP can become a source of conflict in your marriage.

Resentment, anger, and emotions like that are destructive. If one person in the marriage is shouldering most of the burden, it has to be in a constructive manner. Let’s get started. How can we change this?

Myth about Divorce and Autism

Before I dig into these issues, I want to clear up one thing. There are memes and graphics that float around on social media, something about “80% of all couples with an autistic child end up divorcing.”

I can’t say this loud enough: It’s total bullshit. Those statistics are not true and it’s ableist to perpetuate nonsense like that. Study after study has debunked it.

Define the Problem

I’m serious! Is this really a problem? Do you really want your spouse helping you? Honestly, I can be kind of a control freak about some things, especially issues Kevin. I’m OK with hubby not helping me that much.

Do you want help with the IEP and other things with your disabled child? Or do you want…

  • validation
  • thanks
  • acknowledgment that this is stressful work
  • support

Those are the things I want! I don’t need his help, but I need him to understand that me spending half a day on the phone with insurance companies is equally as stressful as his job some days. Right? (Update: I’ve since changed my tune on this–I do need help.)

Make sure you clarify in your own head what you really want. Maybe your spouse truly is better suited to monitor this stuff, and you really struggle with it. If you are a person who has reading disabilities or executive functioning issues of your own, managing the IEP process can be really tough.

But, before you spend another minute being angry or resentful, make sure you have good reason to.

Ask Your Spouse for What you Want.

If my husband and I had a major blow-up fight tonight and he told me that after 20 years of marriage, he really resents that I never cut the grass, I would be floored! He’s right, I have never cut the grass. However, he’s never asked me to cut the grass.

Just like it’s assumed that I will take care of Kevin’s IEP stuff, it’s assumed that he will cut the grass. Ask for what you want. I just don’t buy into that “well he should know.” No, none of us is a mind reader.

I have also realized, now that my son is a teenager, that caregiving is really wearing on me. I spend so much time caregiving, that I have little energy left to just enjoy my child. And I need to return to that. We are looking into hiring a home health aide.

Define What you Want from Your Spouse

  • I want help with the IEP process: Define it and divide up the tasks. It might be as simple as one person helping you make copies and mail things. Proofreading letters, brainstorming, send the spouse articles to read “Hey, I read this list of 500 SDIs for an IEP, can you go over it for me and pick some out that you think would benefit our son?”
  • Support: attend meetings for moral support, work together so one parent can attend more workshops, help with other tasks to free up your time.
  • Thanks: Ask to go out to dinner that night after the meeting. Or “Honey, I know our budget is really tight this month, but I’d love to just get away for a $35 pedicure the day after the IEP meeting.” The Friday after the IEP meeting, call your girlfriends and tell them you want to meet them for a night of shopping. Whatever it is, do it. And tell hubby you will have a pizza sent to the house to feed everyone else.

Have Healthy Marriage Solutions.

I’m a solution-oriented person by nature. I want to fix things. Have some ideas and solutions ready.

Rather than just confronting your spouse with “I am really stressed out over this IEP meeting!” have some ideas ready too. Most people respond better to negative situations when something specific is asked of them, rather than a general complaint.

Instead of “I have all this IEP stuff to do and YOU NEVER HELP ME!” try “On Saturday, I’m going to take the laptop to the library so that I can work on Jacob’s IEP stuff in peace. I’ll be gone from 12-3, so you’ll need to take Jacob to tee-ball and Sarah to gymnastics.”

Recognize each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

We all have things we’re good at, and things we’re not so good at. When you think about the IEP process, who is best suited for this task? And, since it is time-consuming, what other areas can we “hire out” to give Mom more time for IEP stuff?

For example, I often use ShopRite home delivery for groceries. By paying for that one simple task, every time I do it, I gain 2-3 hours in my life. So while you might initially balk at paying someone to deliver your groceries, when you break it down by the hour, I’m paying myself less than minimum wage to do it myself. Amazon Prime delivers my dog food for free, so that’s another 1/2 hour chore that I save each month.

Give older kids chores such as folding laundry and the dishwasher, whatever is appropriate for them. If lack of time is something that stresses you, find a way to give yourself that time.

Be on board with your Vision.

Your disabled child needs a vision statement. You have to both be on board with what you see for the future, and you have to involve your child to the maximum extent possible. Regardless of whatever work and IEP arrangements you work out together as a couple, you have to both be headed in the same direction.

Is this the hill you’re gonna die on?

Like everything else in life, you’re going to be presented with options. How far are you willing to take this? Is it worth divorcing over? Life is a bunch of give and take, and more so when you’re married.

There are certain things and annoyances with my husband that I have just had to let go. I can nag, I can give ultimatums, I can carry around resentment. But at a certain point, you have to reach acceptance or move on. Of course, I acknowledge that I have my own little annoyances that he has come to accept.

Ask yourself- “Can I live with {this} the rest of my life?” What is your answer to that question?

Recognize that your spouse probably does lots of things that you do not do. Every time I want to get mad at a pair of dirty socks on the bedroom floor, I remind myself that I do not shovel the driveway, clean the gutters, put the pellets in the water softener, change the oil in our cars and many other chores in our household that keep it running smoothly.

It only matters to your family.

Ignore in-laws, naysayers, anyone who is criticizing you, if it works for you. What matters is your family in your household. So if a cranky mother-in-law says, “Hmph, he really should be helping you with this” let it go. My household works for me. And we’re happy, healthy and secure in that.

Time for professional help.

You’ve talked, you’ve asked and nothing has changed. You are still stressed out all the time and your resentment is bleeding into other areas of your life. Recognize when you cannot manage this on your own and seek out a church marriage retreat, marriage counseling, religious counseling or whatever might work for you.

Because even if you’ve said to yourself “I cannot live with this any longer” you owe it to your kids to give it one last shot. Hopefully, it won’t get to that. I’ve seen many strong, single parents who do this. But, you both said for better and for worse, and here you go, here is some “worse.”

Try to work it out. It can be done alone, I personally think it’s got to be easier with a partner, and I don’t know what I’d do without mine.

Single Parents and Siblings

Many families are single-parent families by choice, some not. I don’t want to pretend like I know what it’s like to be a single parent, so I’m not going to give you some patronizing advice. I just wanted to acknowledge that yes, I am aware that you exist. The only suggestion I have is to further integrate your extended family into your disability household the best you can.

I also am not going to get into the whole sibling thing, because there are entire courses and programs (google: sibshops) built around that.

My spouse is in denial about our child’s disability.

This one is tough. It’s a whole ‘nother ball of wax. I’m sharing an article below that is really good. But being in denial about who your child is, that’s a separate issue. And likely one that should be handled before you can even get to the healthy marriage stuff.

And this is a long but good read:

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