Caring for a child on the autism spectrum is challenging for even the most loving and committed couples. The constant stress, unexpected financial pressures, lack of downtime and exhaustion can test relationships on all levels. Finding time to be a couple, versus parents of a child with ASD, can be almost impossible. Yet the shared responsibility of caring for a child (or children) on the spectrum can actually strengthen a relationship, if the couple makes their bond as important as the care they provide their child.
It’s about Communication
Key to the relationship is communication. While this may seem simplistic, it’s easy to lose touch with one another in the day-to-day efforts of raising a family. Add to that the responsibility of an autistic child and having a quiet chat may seem like a pipe dream. Yet by keeping the lines of communication open, couples maintain a critical link to each other and to what’s going on in the other’s head.
Without communication, it’s easy for resentment and anger to build, especially if one partner feels the other isn’t stepping up as much. It’s also easy to see life from one perspective. If partners don’t stop to check in with each other, topics that should be discussed may remain unexplored with a rift in the relationship being the end result.
Knowing what to ask may be tricky. For the parent who looks and feels incredibly stressed, an open-ended question such as, “How can I best support you right now?” may be a welcome inquiry. But understand if it takes time for them to answer, especially if they’ve never considered it before. And they may not need anything, just a friendly ear to listen to them or a warm shoulder to lean on.
It Pays to Stay Connected
Never underestimate the importance of touch in staying aligned with one another. Stress and frustration can become a wedge in a relationship, creating distance both emotionally and physically. Reaching out to touch a hand, an arm, give a hug or kiss can help bridge a burgeoning relationship gap.
Take time for yourselves whenever you can. If that means only 15 minutes alone together, take it! There’s no perfect moment, so take advantage of the snippets of time as they present themselves. When you are able to plan a more elaborate date or weekend away, do it. Reconnecting and keeping your love alive will carry over to your family. When caregivers take care of themselves, they become better at the task of taking care of others.