For Better or Worse

Every year at the beginning of October I breathe a huge sigh of relief and inwardly celebrate.  Our marriage survived another September!  Once again, I find myself counting the days until that glorious time when I exhale and try to regain my sanity.  Unfortunately for my husband, I am next to impossible to live with at this time of year.  Sometime around mid-August the back-to-school anxiety starts to creep in, and Jon starts eyeing me suspiciously because he knows that his usually calm, collected wife is about to turn into a monster who is full of anxiety, stress and can blow at any second.  Fun, huh?  My husband is really a saint.  I actually apologized to him the other night before bed for having to live with me, because even I don’t like living with me at that time.  I am a VERY lucky girl.

Sadly, we have the great misfortune of having our wedding anniversary fall during this maelstrom of awfulness.  Today we celebrate 14 years of marriage.  (It also happens to be Money’s anniversary too! So happy 19th, Money and Mr. Money!) Again, I really am a lucky girl that Jon sticks these Septembers out because I am pretty sure at one point in our lives I loved September.  It is a beautiful time of year to get married.  We used to be able to travel and rates were cheap because school’s back in session and you can get great deals.  Now I often find myself telling engaged friends, “Stick with April or May; when you have kids you will never, ever be able to celebrate your anniversary if you get married in September.”

It is true.  We don’t get to celebrate it at all.  Jon’s working late tonight.  Quinn has soccer.  One year we attended Back to School night.  Plus I am unreasonable and grumpy. Who wants to take an evil witch out to dinner?  Not me.  It just doesn’t happen.  I’m thinking that we’ll start celebrating our half-anniversary from now on.  March 12th, it is on!

Despite the rocky back-to-school time, when I find myself snapping at everyone for no reason or randomly calling out yet another thing that I forgot to take care of, we are very happily married.  We are not only still in love, but we actually like each other.  I really enjoy my husband’s company.  The more time we spend together, the happier we are. So what’s the secret to all this wedded bliss, you ask?  I’ll give you a very short answer.  I have no clue.

I intended to write this really thoughtful piece on marriage and autism and how to survive, and dole out some great marriage advice, except there is one problem.  I have no idea what I am doing.  I don’t know why our marriage works.  It probably works because my husband is the most patient man alive, and he puts up with my insanity.  I can hardly hand out the advice:  You want a good marriage? Find a guy like my husband.  Although, that is a good place to start.

I have never read a self-help book about marriage.  We have never been to couples counseling.  We don’t sit around and pass the ‘talking stick’ back and forth and have meaningful discussions about our feelings.  We watch Will Ferrell movies or football when the kids go to bed. We really don’t do a whole lot of digging around in our marriage.  Jon’s a guy.  He doesn’t want to talk about it.  I am getting better about letting him know exactly what I am feeling, instead of doing the silent treatment if I am irritated about something (You ladies know what I am talking about.). So there’s that, I guess. We both apologize if we do something wrong.  I don’t hold a grudge.  And we make each other laugh… a LOT.  That is it in a nutshell for us — which seems like really lame marriage advice.

I decided to pick the brains of the other Thinking Moms to see what they had to say.  Fact is, we are all in our own little worlds when it comes to marriage and divorce, which is part of this picture, too.  What works and goes on in one person’s marriage would not fly in someone else’s home.  And, yes, divorce is a very necessary conclusion for some couples.  Let’s face it, some marriages were not meant to be, and when you have a child with special needs, already strained marriages can quickly and easily become divorces, and often do.

When you have a child with special needs in your family, there is a shift that happens. It alters the dynamic in a way that a typical family doesn’t experience.  There are bigger and greater worries about your children.  Finances become strained.  The future seems like a very scary place at times.  School causes a great deal of stress.  Vacations can be difficult.  Getting out for a date with your spouse can be next to impossible.  Time is sucked up with IEPs, therapy, homework, research, and sometimes little is left over at the end of the day.  Sleep?  I won’t even begin to talk about the level of exhaustion that comes along with it.  So, yeah, most special needs families hit some rocky patches in the marriage department.

So here’s what some of the Thinking Moms had to say about marriage (and divorce) and the special needs family:

– Carve out time for each other.  Don’t forget who you were when you initially fell in love.

– Sometimes the problems aren’t about autism.  Be able to look at things objectively and ask if the problems would be there whether autism was in the house or not.

– Work as a team every day.

– Let your husband in on all that you are learning in your daily research. Give him a job. Include him so that he doesn’t resent you, or the fact that he doesn’t know what’s going on and where the money is going.

– Resist the urge to blame.

– No matter how much you don’t want to talk about it… talk about it.

– Autism can either bring a marriage closer together or tear it apart.

– Take time to get out of the house alone.  When we aren’t rushed, and can THINK for10 minutes, we can usually figure things out, talk and laugh.

– Autism didn’t end my marriage.  It forced us to stay together to give my son a fighting chance.  I’d have divorced in 2003 if not for that damn diagnosis.  Apparently marriages built on autism aren’t stronger than marriages destroyed by it.

– We do date night every Saturday.  It is hard work, and an effort to get a sitter.  It is expensive, too.  But being away from all of it – even for dinner and a movie – is important.

– We’ve gone through a lot, not like other couples have, but we had our fair share of disagreements and disappointments over the years.  We both have grown and changed and regressed and blossomed, individually and as a couple.

– Create your own roles in your autism journey so you can work as a team.

– Autism will bring an already shaky relationship to the breaking point.  If you are not united before autism, there is no way you will survive.

– Remember that your spouse is hurting just as much as you are – listen to him/her and support each other.

This is far better advice than I could have ever given you, and I am sure that many of you have some great wisdom to share.  Please do!  Even the best of marriages can use a tweak or two or some help getting through one of the rough patches.

For me, I will give Jon a huge hug when he comes home tonight and tell him how much I have loved the last 14 years.  No one can make me laugh the way that that guy can.  And maybe we’ll start planning our 14 ½ anniversary celebration.

~Sunshine ☼

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11 Responses to For Better or Worse

  1. My husband and I have been married 25 years and autism does challenge a marriage but it can also solidify you as a couple. Autism is too big for one person too handle alone and have your child succeed despite all odds. We are still on this journey with two of our children affected. My middle daughter is “gifted” although she suffers from the gut dysbyosis part of autism. I remember the many days after her vaccines she received to start school how she would be screaming on the floor totally balled up in serious stomach pain. I would call the “Dr.” Finally a complete work up was done at Children’s Hospital in DC and nothing was found. Her “Dr” made me believe my daughter had a psychological problem.
    Thanks for sharing your words of wisdom. There is no doubt your words will be a source of comfort to parents who are just starting on this journey.

  2. olyfred says:

    I enjoyed your article/post. We have four children with Autism and several comorbid medical issues with each. Before children my wife had a “break” and is on disability. I was diagnosed with HFA (High Functioning Autism) over a year ago. One year we averaged 3 visits/week to the doctors not including therapy.

    Our two youngest, twins, just started pre-school and although we have hit a rough patch with three kids being sick I know my wife is relieved to have all of the therapists out of our home. 🙂

    We have lost two homes, gone through bankruptcy and several moves. We have had our share of trials and no matter what, even when we have come close to divorce, we have stuck together. It is not an easy road but I have found that accepting that no matter the circumstances in your life it will not be what you envisioned when you started on the path.

    Too many people have illusions of grandeur for their life and when it fails they want something new. I am grateful that I recognized early on in our marriage that it wasn’t going to be what I envisioned but that if I could accept the change and modify my goals/vision that it would be as good if not better than I had envisioned.

    One final point, communication is key in a good relationship. This doesn’t mean that you have to talk about your feelings or “pass the stick” but that you find what works for both parties to get their needs met. Setting up pre-determined methods that will work for certain types of situations will ease a lot of frustration on both sides.

    My wife could not stand, early in our marriage, when I would walk away from a conversation. It was my coping mechanism. We have since worked out better methods but it is important to understand each other’s needs and don’t try to fix on the fly but when you are calm and rational to have a system.

  3. LaTisha says:

    I feel so honored to know you. To think you take time out of your life to staple caution tape and yellow helmets with me. Man, I think I love you!

  4. Christine says:

    Your marriage sounds SO much like mine that I could have written this article. My husband and I have been married for 14 years. Thank goodness we had 7 years together before autism came into our lives. One of the secrets to our success is that I am the CEO of my son’s recovery. I often tell my husband, “I am so happy that you don’t feel the need to burden me with your opinions” (of course with a big smile on my face)!! I also think that a lot of the things I love about my husband stem from the fact that he has his toe in the waters of autism (he has dyslexia). For example, he has very little ego. If he is wrong, he tells me. If I am cranky, rather than jump on the defensive, he gives me space until I apologize. Additionally, his joyful spirit that I fell in love with has not been crushed by the weight of autism in our home. I count on this when I am struggling with despair!

  5. Theresa says:

    Here are some practical tips that have helped me. When your spouse gets out of line, and it does happen when you have Autism, and they blame you and get nasty have a camera or video camera handy at all times. As soon as the behavior surfaces from the husband start taking pictures and video. This usually stops them dead in their tracks. I did this before there was even youtube. You can post on youtube, threaten to post on you tube, or show other people in their lives. You don’t have to say anything at all. Usually someone does not want photos or video of them doing nasty things. I would start taking pictures as soon as the ugly face starts. I have used this technique on my neurotypical son when he was younger. At the same time though, and this is difficult, you have to praise them for any insignificant thing they do right even if inside you want to do the opposite.

  6. Marco says:

    “- Autism will bring an already shaky relationship to the breaking point. If you are not united before autism, there is no way you will survive.”
    Truer words never spoken!
    At AO I went bowling with the Dads and one fellow divorced father told me he looked up the statistics on autism and divorce.
    apparently within a year of the Dx about 80% break up. This is up from the usual 50+% that get divorced. Then once the first year passes, the numbers go back to the “heads or tails” chances. Only the strong 20% make it through the transition.
    I was already dreaming of divorce before the Dx. In fact the day my son was born I already knew it was over…and said so in what I think was an “inner monologue” said out loud. oops!
    But two years later the Dx came in like a Tasmanian devil. Her shortcomings were magnified by her inability to meet the demands of biomed, and that was it. It became all about my son’s recovery. She became invisible and soon left unceremoniously and unnoticed.
    From what I have herd many mother warriors have gone through this.
    I envy you and Money more than you can imagine. I envy your husbands even more. I didn’t get married because I wanted to get divorced, and I know it broke my daughter’s heart.
    Unfortunately I think your advice is not going to change much for those still married. If they are in a marriage like yours, they will smile and plan the next date night. If not, they will once again thing of their kid’s needs and put off the inevitable.

  7. We’ve both learned not to pick too much or dig too deep. Just getting through is challenging enough! There will be other seasons when we can do these things, but this isn’t it.

  8. jan houston says:

    I hope you have a great night, may you find laughter and joy!

    My husband and I have been married for 19 years. I cannot imagine my life without him. When autism threatens to engulf and drowned me, Keith is the buoy that holds me up.

    Happy Anniversary!

  9. karen says:

    On that beautiful day 14 years ago, when everything was shiny and new, you danced to a song that endures when things aren’t so shiny. “Have I told you lately that I love you, there is no one else above you, you full my heart with gladness, take away all my sadness, ease my troubles, that’s what you do.” Love you, Mom

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