I often hear how the divorce rate in autism households is supposed to be astronomical (which really isn’t true) and that many spouses can’t handle the stress of living with autism, and bail out.
But hey, I’ve got an 11-year-old with severe nonverbal autism (our only child) and a healthy relationship with my spouse — so I thought I’d share what keeps my marriage strong and sane.
1) Have an “us against the world” mentality.
You and your spouse are both in this together. The rest of your life is probably gonna be a roller coaster of ups and downs… but guess what? A roller coaster is a lot more fun when you’re sitting next to your best friend. And when you come up against battles along the way with doctors, school districts, family members, lawyers, etc., it’s so much easier to have a teammate, a partner by your side. Also, you don’t always have to agree with each other on every course of action when it comes to your ASD kid, but in public it helps to have a strong united front.
2) Have date nights out of the house as often as humanly possible (a.k.a. It’s OK to be selfish).
I can’t stress this enough to all parents but especially to ASD parents. Before you had kids you were a fun vivacious couple, right? Why does that need to change? OK, when you are down in the trenches cleaning poop off the wall you don’t feel vivacious, but the wife and I try to get out together without our kid at least twice a month… sometimes it’s just dinner and a movie; other times we will meet friends out for drinks or go see a concert… Whatever works for you. I wrote in another blog post about the importance of being selfish.
And sometimes if you can’t afford a sitter you need to be ultra selfish and guilt your family into babysitting by any means necessary. There are some months where we considered getting out for a date night an emergency situation, and we tell the family accordingly.
3) Make room for sex.
Yes, the autism is going to affect your love life big time. But there’s gotta be room for it once in while, right? It may not always be the most romantic kind. We often have a lot of wheeling and dealing and negotiating going on, but it’s worth it. And if you can swing it, for us, there’s sometimes nothing better than using a sick day every couple of months (when you’re not actually sick)… and your kid is in school… if you know what I mean…
4) Get a better sense of humor… quickly.
Life’s gonna really suck sometimes. Your kid is gonna do the craziest things! But if you can just twist it on its head sometimes and look at things and see how bizarrely comical they are, it can really help. I mean, my kid is licking the window! That’s freaking bizarre — and funny!
“Does it taste good?” The wife and I have a warped un-PC sense of humor. We curse like sailors and say to anyone who will listen that we will be thrilled if Kyle’s first words are, “What is wrong with you motherf–kers?” I really feel that our warped sense of humor helps us get through some of the dark times quicker than most.
5) Feel better by any means necessary (a.k.a. “Antidepressants” is not a dirty word).
Really, no explanation necessary… Two years ago I finally bit the bullet and realized that I was kinda depressed and asked for help. And the help came in a little pill called “Wellbutrin.” For me, it did exactly what I needed it to do. It gave me more energy, more patience and let me roll with the punches better. I am still me, but a calmer, less intense, slightly more organized me. My wife went on it about six months later, and it has helped us both immensely. I wrote a separate blog post all about this that goes into a lot more details about my experiences on Wellbutrin.
6) Have solo activities that recharge your batteries.
If you can’t get out as a couple as much as you’d like with the help of sitters, then at least make sure that you each have individual non-autism activities that you can do alone or with friends that will recharge your batteries. I like to run and belong to a running group, and once or twice a year I’ll sneak away with some friends for an overnight running adventure (marathon or relay) in another city. I’m also on my company bowling team. My wife has several different groups of mommy friends, and they are often going out for dinner, drinks, dancing, etc. Encourage your spouse and give her the opportunity to take a break away from autism… and a break away from you as much as possible.
7) Readjust your priorities.
Many men feel like being the provider Monday through Friday is JOB #1, and then spending the weekend doing manly weekend work (yard work, repairs, etc.) as JOB #2. They’re therefore not present for a lot of their kids lives/activities. Maybe an adjustment is in order. Maybe skipping the yard work one Saturday and going with the family to special needs gymnastics is more important and would be more helpful to your spouse.
For moms who have Type A personalities — vacuuming and ironing every day isn’t as important as spending more time with your family. Also for you moms that need to have everything a certain way, you may be pushing your spouse away. So what if your hubby puts your kid in mismatched socks or in wrinkled jeans? At least he’s involved and helping getting the kid dressed!
Just two small examples of readjusting your priorities but there are tons of others…
8) Live in the moment. Try not to look too far behind or too far ahead.
Easier said than done, but oh so important. Try to live each day as it happens. Try hard not to compare it to what happened yesterday or what may happen down the road. ASD kids make progress, ASD kids regress. What your kid did yesterday, he might not do today and vice-versa. Also looking too far ahead can get you in a funk. Will your kid be self-sufficient as an adult? Will he need constant care? Looking too far ahead can destroy you and your marriage. Yes, you need to plan for it financially and mentally, but dwelling on it is deadly.
9) Get rid of the “what ifs,” the “blame game” and the “grass is always greener” syndrome as soon as possible.
I still have problems with this one… Not the blame game so much. There’s no one to blame for my kid’s autism — especially not my spouse. But I often get bogged down in the what ifs (What if I had a typical kid? Would he love watching baseball with me?). And I still have a problem with the grass is always greener syndrome.
10) Yell, scream, have fights with your spouse.
Get it all out right then and there when you are mad about something. It is much healthier than letting it stew and then giving them the silent treatment.
11) Get your ASD kid and yourselves as much sleep as possible.
Your kid not getting enough sleep and being up all night is tortuous for all involved. This may be controversial, but I would say to do whatever you can, as early as you can to get your kid on a normal sleep schedule, and when it’s age-appropriate explore the supplement melatonin (a complete lifesaver for us) and if necessary stronger sleep-aids. Sleep is important for your kids, and it’s important for your sanity and for your marriage.
12) Get off the Internet and sit on the couch and watch TV with your spouse.
You successfully got your kid to sleep. Now get off the Internet. Stop researching that latest GFCF recipe. Stop Googling all things autism. Stop trolling Facebook. Stop reading Autism Daddy. Turn off the computer and veg out on the couch and watch TV with your spouse. Or better yet get, go to bed… And get some sleep…or even better yet have some sex…
This post originally appeared on Autism Daddy.
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