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How to Rescue a Special Needs Marriage


By Dyana Robbins


Previous articles I have written have focused on the great blessings that can grow from a special-needs marriage and how to create an environment for your marriage to thrive. This final article in the series offers some help for marriages poised to fall.

Our marriages endure more pressures and strains as we parent special-needs children or have disabling conditions of our own. We need to look for marital danger signs and interventions to turn our marriages around. The information is drawn from my personal experience and time working as a counselor with families seeking help.



Recognizing the Danger Signs

To launch a rescue of any kind, one must recognize and define the danger. Here are some signs that your marriage is suffering:


  • Effective communication has ceased or is limited to only a few “safe” topics.
  • The marriage has a “business-like” feel to it. You are getting the work done but fun, easy companionship, shared goals, and activities are lacking.
  • You no longer seek one another first for sharing griefs, joys, or events of your day. Your first thought is to contact someone who will better understand you.
  • You are sharing a deeper emotional connection with another person of the opposite sex.
  • Sexual intimacy has waned or stopped. You might be having fantasies of an extra-marital affair or lack sexual desire at all.
  • You cannot imagine a future together.
  • One or both of you has escaped into something else. This might be video games, hobbies, social media, work, or substance abuse. This escape temporarily shields you from the pain of the failing relationship and demands lots of time and attention.
  • You have become polarized into different realms of existence due to disability, emotional avoidance, exhaustion, or revenge.
  • You focus on the children disproportionately because it holds you together. Life revolves around them. This tendency can be particularly strong when a child with a disability is in the home.



That is Us…What Can We Do?

First, I hope that you will believe that your marriage does not have to fail even if you have traveled far down that road. I’ve witnessed marriages turn around from affairs, addiction, alienation, and even abusive patterns.

While this article doesn’t provide counsel for your specific situation, it does provide principles and steps that you can apply to your marriage. Most often, you will need support in making the changes, but you can always start today with what you alone can do. The scope of this article does not specifically address the safety requirements for those in abusive situations, so if you are in that position, please seek help to secure your safety first. Without safety precautions, accountability and a willing partner, applying these principles to an abusive relationship would not be advisable. Now, let’s look at how we can turn things around:


1. Be Honest
One of the first things to go when our marriages struggle is honesty. Honesty with ourselves, our spouse, and those around us who can help decreases. The pain is deep and often humiliating. We hide, rationalize, and minimize the problems so that they seem manageable. Healing requires that we expose the wound and let it be treated.

2. Find the Right People to Help You
This might be friends, ministers, counselors, or other professionals. The right people will have the following characteristics in common: 1) ability to listen and identify problems accurately, 2) ability to speak truth lovingly to both of you, 3) wisdom and experience helping others with marital problems, 4) compassion, and 5) appropriate confidentiality.

3. Seek Help and Support Even if Your Spouse Will Not
I hope I am clear in saying this is not gossiping or complaining about your spouse to people who cannot help heal your marriage (especially your children!). This means seeking help and support from those who will safely listen, counsel, pray, intervene, and support your marriage as appropriate. Many marriages have turned around from one spouse changing their role and contribution to the problems.

4. Seek Healing over Validation
It may well be that one of you has done more damage to your marriage than the other. The desire to be validated as the one who is “right” can be very strong. This desire wars against the things that actually do heal your marriage. Turning your marriage around relies not on assigning appropriate blame, but on identifying problems, their solutions, and offering mutual forgiveness.

5. Humble Yourself
It hurts to hear how you have disappointed your partner. It hurts to speak of how they have hurt you. It hurts to talk of gasping dreams and desires. Pain is inescapable: We have a choice between the fruitful pain that healing requires or the agonizing pain of doing nothing. If we have to feel pain, let it come from laboring towards healing, not in passively letting our marriages fail.

6. Commit to Loving Acts Towards Your Spouse
This does not mean being a doormat. This means showing love in practical ways that matter to your spouse. While this doesn’t fix everything, it does create an environment for hearts to soften and for hope to rekindle.

7. Create and Commit to Regular Time for your Relationship
Special-needs marriages have little free time, but we must create a margin to work on our marriages and prepare to do so for the long haul. We often expect our marriages to heal more quickly than they withered. This is rarely possible. However, with time to implement the above steps, have fun together, and explore new possibilities, your marriage can experience renewal.

8. Put Faith Front and Center
When both spouses are Christians and have a troubled marriage, it is common to hear that they have floundered somewhere in their walk with Christ. This is not always true and we should be careful not to judge without knowledge. That said, it bears earnest consideration when we find our marriages desolate.



The Gifts of Forgiveness, Restoration, and Hope

When we wander from Christ, our marriages are vulnerable. Sin has room to grow. Repentance and forgiveness become strangers to us. Love and charity wane. Before long the burdens and inconveniences of our relationships weigh heavily as we shoulder them alone. Our souls become greenhouses for discontent and strife. We finally look up when our misery has become unbearable and ask “Why?”.

The wonderful promises we have in the gospel apply even here. If we accept grace, repent, and forgive, He is faithful and just to forgive and cleanse us. Where we have failed; He will be unfailing. Where we can’t love; He will pour His love out over us. Where our hope has died; He can resurrect it.

Our faith in Christ will sustain and comfort us as we labor in a marriage that struggles and isn’t meeting needs. It even gives us the strength to offer what we have received from our spouses as we work towards healing. There is great hope in faith that cannot be seen in our circumstances. Focusing on Christ allows us to see the possibilities for healing and renewal in our marriages.


Reprinted with author’s approval. The original article was published on Dyana’s blog Ambling Grace



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