Rudolph Dreikurs, the famous Adlerian psychologist, wrote a book entitled Children: the Challenge. At various points in our lives, my wife and I have looked at each other and whispered these words to each other in the emergency room and in the principal’s office. Under the best circumstances, raising kids is at least a challenge and often a daunting and harrowing task. When we have a special needs child the pressure increases.
We deal with irrational feelings of guilt, anger, and confusion. There are many moments of frustration with the medical establishment. At such times, it is a great blessing to have someone to share the burden with, another head to consult, another viewpoint, a nexus of support.
This article is about how to reduce the risk of divorce caused by the increased pressures that one feels when your child has a chronic or serious illness or special challenge. Unfortunately, the stress of having a child or children with special needs puts a great strain on the primary relationship and divorce is common. This article is about how to reduce the risk of divorce caused by the increased pressures that one feels when your child has a chronic or serious illness or special challenge. Much needs to be done to help single parents who are facing the biggest challenges. But for now, we will focus on what you can do to nurture your primary relationship, your marriage or partnership, as a way of helping yourself and your whole family.
To accomplish my task, I must say a little about myself. I am a marriage and family therapist and professor currently running a research institute to train couples therapists. My motivation has always been primarily to help children. It is my belief that the best thing we can do to improve the lives of kids is to keep the executive branch of the family healthy. Thus, I am involved in promoting premarital counseling and helping distressed couples. Two years ago, my son was diagnosed with MS. I recognize, in a small way, what many parents are coping with when their child becomes ill. This strain certainly affects relationships and especially stresses the marriage.
I consider myself to be a “divorce buster.” I believe that most (although not all) marriages can be fixed and that most people are better off emotionally and financially when they repair their current relationships rather than terminate them. I believe that many couple relationships are in “neutral,” neither going forward nor backward. We spend very little time in maintenance and do not make our most valuable relationship a priority.
Recently, a Chattanooga research institute asked 600 Hamilton county residents about their top priorities in life, and this was published in the State of the Family 2003 Report. The results are as follows:
- Getting ahead in life
While it is encouraging to note the importance of children, faith, and family in the top three, marriage takes 9th position behind money and hobbies.
I believe these priorities are misplaced when we look at the importance of our marriage relationship in terms of its effect on our children. Children whose parents are together are physically healthier and perform better in school with fewer absences than children from divorced families. Certainly, single parents can provide good parenting for their children. But if we want to increase the likelihood that our children will succeed, one of the best things we can do for them is pay some attention to our primary relationship. By so doing, we will also help ourselves and our spouse. We will widen the channel for mutual support and provide a stronger foundation for the challenges ahead.
What can you do to improve your marriage?
Here are some suggestions that you and your spouse or partner can look into, and also some suggestions about what you can do on your own to improve your marriage.
- Get on the Smart Marriages listserv: www.SmartMarriages.com Smart Marriages is a pro-marriage organization that hosts an annual convention for lay people, ministers, therapists and educators. This email newsletter has inspiring and interesting items about marriage and relationships that can keep you motivated to enhance your marriage.
- Attend a marriage encounter weekend. Many churches, synagogues, and other organizations sponsor marriage improvement workshops. Search the Web for an appropriate venue.
- Read Michele Weiner-Davis’s book Divorce Busting. Michele gives advice about how to focus on what is working in your relationship and build on these strengths. One chapter talks about what one person in the relationship can do to spark change. You can read this book with your partner, and together you can gang up on your problems. Michele also has a website (www.divorcebusting.com) with a newsletter.
- Surprise your partner. Instead of your usual complaints, try complimenting him or her on something good. After all, is pointing out faults working?
- Get marriage counseling. Look for someone who specializes in working with couples. It is not so important whether someone is a counselor or a marriage and family therapist, but the person should be licensed and have expertise in marriage counseling.