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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 Amy Vickrey, MSE 

At first glance, we might seem like a typical American family. My husband is a veteran and we have 2 busy, active boys. However, we have challenges that range from food allergies to special needs and even health issues. Traveling can be tricky. Flying? No thanks, the suitcases aren’t big enough! Here are some ways we have found to make traveling and vacationing a little easier.


Packing Snacks
The first thing we plan for is snacks for the trip and any food products that might not be available where we are headed (I have one child who can only eat 1 brand of waffles and they are from a local grocery chain so we always stock up before a trip). While we might buy some snacks or drinks on the road at places we stop, this ensures that there is safe food for those of us with food allergies on the road.

Having a Space of Our Own
This past October, we traveled to beautiful New Mexico to see family and enjoy the sights. We opted to rent a house for those 4 nights we would be in Las Cruces through Airbnb. This gave us several advantages:

  • We paid a lot less for the large space we had
  • We had a full kitchen and could cook meals to save money and ensure food safety
  • We could keep a regular routine for my son who has Autism

Overall, the ability to have a space of our own and keep our own schedule was wonderful!



Visiting Tourist Spots During the Off-season

While we were there, we took advantage of the fact that most of the other children were in school and visited some cool museums and zoos. There were few crowds which meant my oldest didn’t get so overwhelmed. It was also nice weather so while we had to watch out for too much sun, it wasn’t so hot that we couldn’t enjoy ourselves.The animals at the zoo were active and playing in the cooler weather too.

 

Using Internet Resources
There are many internet resources for finding allergy-friendly places to eat these days. With cell phones, it is easy to check for allergy-friendly restaurants on apps such as Find Me Gluten Free and to check for reviews. There are also chains that are working hard to train their employees nationwide in allergy-safe practices that we follow. However, before I go to a restaurant I am not familiar with, we call and ask questions about what kinds of things are on the menu, the handling practices, etc. 

One way I know a place is training their employees well is when the person who answers the phone (usually a hostess or cashier) can answer my questions confidently or be willing to ask questions when they are not sure. 

I also try to pack a quick snack just in case we have to make a last-minute decision not to eat someplace as I have gotten to a restaurant that passed the phone call only to discover I was misled on the phone. 

Calling Ahead
One really cool thing we did was to attend the International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque. It was my oldest son’s sixth birthday, so we went all out and bought tickets for one of their breakfast service areas. This was great because it included a shuttle from the parking lot and to the shopping areas (my husband has issues with walking distances). 

When we first started planning, I called and talked to the head caterer to let them know we were coming and to see what accommodations could be made for food. They were great and we were even able to take our own allergy-free brownies in with us to celebrate the event! Also, the quieter, calmer atmosphere that was offered to us allowed my son to enjoy the balloon fiesta without getting overwhelmed.

 

While a lot of planning went into this trip and parts of it were a lot of work, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build family memories. My boys still talk about the balloons and the time with Grandma and their uncle. 

While we hope to do it again, I know the memories we built will last them a lifetime and since NO ONE GOT SICK it was even better!!

 

 


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Dyana Robbins

As much as special-needs parents understand caring for others, cultivating compassion in our children can be difficult. Sometimes, conditions like autism or mental illness make compassion challenging to develop. Other times, children can become self-centered and focused as they grapple with the pain of their struggles.

Here are some practical strategies to develop this vital characteristic in our families:

1. Intentionally point out and discuss the needs of others

Young people may require direct teaching in this area.  When my sons were toddlers, we had a poster with kids displaying various facial expressions.  Each expression had an emotion attached to it.  We rehearsed this almost daily to help them interpret non-verbal cues, but also to cultivate empathy.

When they were a bit older, we began coaching them in social interactions by telling them how their behavior was impacting their friends or likely perceived in the community.  This direct teaching was used for both positive and negative interactions.  In many ways, I acted as a narrator for their lives during this stage; explaining the world around them and how they were operating within it.

As they have grown, we discuss news events, life events in the people around us and their own experiences in ways that point to not only facts but likely emotional responses that co-occur.  This practice has challenged us to perceive likely needs and emotions that we can respond to as we engage with these situations.

2. Travel, Serving, and Giving

Despite the limitations our families experience, there are ways we can help our children see beyond our walls.  Even trips to the library or stores provide a myriad of ways to really see those around us.  If you are able to travel more broadly, cross-cultural experiences will greatly hone your family’s compassion as you experience being “the others” while being immersed in the struggles of other cultures.

Serving others is possible for almost every child.  Finding ways to do this as a family cultivates compassion in each member.  Food banks, Operation Christmas Child, visiting nursing homes and volunteering in our neighborhoods provide ample service opportunities.  Prayer for others’ needs is always possible even when we are homebound.

Our family’s favorite service place, besides church, has been a local ministry to the homeless called the Mercy Tree.  This wonderful ministry provides lunch in a local church, devotions, laundry service, showers and transportation to those without homes.  As we cook for our friends and eat together, we understand more of a world we have never experienced and our ability to love in those places broadens.

 

 

3. Share great stories!

Powerful stories that transcend their time always include adversity that their characters overcome.  We can link the characters’ struggles to relevant experiences in our lives or those of others.  This helps us not only understand pain, but what is required to face and overcome the type of struggle depicted.  These stories are blueprints to guide us in helping others.

4. Practice gratitude and compassion at home

  • Tell your spouse frequently what you love and appreciate about him/her in front of your children
  • Around the dinner table, have each family member share thankfulness about the person next to them
  • Keep a thankfulness list in a central location and encourage everyone to contribute
  • Each month, assign one family member to select a person or family to serve in some way
  • Invite others into your home
  • Love each other well
  • Find penpals from other countries and exchange letters

 

I hope that some of these strategies encouraged you to find new ways to encourage compassion in your family.  Besides the joy it will bring your children, fostering compassion expands their relationships and equips them to better relate to their communities.

 

 

 


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This article was reposted from www.amblinggrace.com with permission from the author.