When relationships work well they provide us with protection against all the stresses and strains of family life. But when couples have a child who is seriously ill or disabled there is a whole range of additional pressures on their relationship.
Couples often find that when raising their disabled child they struggle to adapt to new caring roles and have to think differently about their expectations of family life.
Many parents with a disabled child find they are faced with a range of unexpected financial, social and emotional pressures, so it’s hardly surprising that many relationships breakdown. Whilst some couples find these difficult issues bring them closer together, others find it really hard to stay connected.
Parents with a disabled child often describe feelings of isolation, struggling to come to terms with the news of a child’s disability and a lack of time for themselves and each other. It is important to understand that by looking after your relationship you can both feel more able to cope. Sharing your experiences of appointments, your emotions and trying to make time for each other can help to build the strength of your relationship.
If you have a strong couple relationship you can help each other when there are problems balancing work and caring or increased financial worries. Many couples with disabled children say that there is a lack of support and understanding from professionals and the wider family network, a lack of suitable services and they have to fight for those that are available. This means that pulling together as a team is what really helps.
Similarly, when children are seriously ill, relationships come under enormous strain – for all parents the biggest stress will be the anxiety about the child and their condition but there is often a range of other pressures.
When your child is in hospital
Often one of both parents needs (and want) to spend a considerable amount of time in the hospital with their child. Being with your child is important but sometimes parents find it hard to accept handing over care to hospital staff and feel huge anxiety in that they cannot protect their child. Also watching unpleasant procedures and being surrounded by sick people can be very upsetting.
Spending a lot of time in and out of the hospital is hard for everyone in the family but a couple’s relationship is also likely to come under strain from associated financial, emotional and social pressures.
Negotiating which of you will take time off work, use up holiday entitlement and which of you will keep everything else going home can be difficult. Also, there might be unforeseen costs such as traveling to and from the hospital, staying away from home, loss of income, telephone calls and maybe paying for additional childcare for other children.
Friends and family will probably want to help out where they can, but if a child is ill for a long period of time it might be that goodwill dwindles. Relatives can also feel overwhelmed by a disabled child’s needs and feel anxious about how to support you.
Whilst some couples find that such a difficult period will bring them closer together with others will struggle to stay connected, so it is vital to try and look after your relationship and try to give each other support.