Keeping your relationship strong when a child is sick or has special needs

What emotions are experienced when a couple is faced with a diagnosis of a chronically sick child or a child has special needs?

This is one of the hardest things a couple can face in their life together.  Childhood illness or a child with special needs can happen at birth, from an early stage in the child’s development, or suddenly during the child’s young life. There can be a range of emotions experienced ranging from denial (this can’t be happening!), to anxiety/depression (what are we going to do? How will we get through this?)  to anger (why does it have to happen to our family?). These emotions are all perfectly normal and can impact on people in different ways, at different times, and  at  varying  levels of intensity. It is important to recognise that we all handle life events in our own way and that men and women can deal with their emotions differently.

What can the effects of having a child who is sick or has special needs? be on a couple and a family?

The effects of caring for a child who is ill or has special needs can sometimes be overwhelming. On a practical level, finances can become strained. If the couple have both been working outside the home; one might now need to give up work in order to care for the child. There will invariably be a range of medical appointments, follow ups, meetings with schools and teachers and others. There may be frustrations with the medical and health services and it may be necessary to advocate for the child’s needs which can be very time and energy consuming and sometimes exhausting.  

If there are other children in the family they will be continuing with their own lives and will still need the attention of their parents. Parents may experience feelings of guilt around not being able to be there for their other children as much as they would have been beforehand.

Parents might also experience a sense of being let down by family and friends who may not provide the support anticipated or expected of them. Sometimes this can result in, a couple arguing with each other as they may not feel in a position to complain to anyone else. Arguments between couples  are not necessarily a problem, especially when they can be  amicably resolved   but if   either person feels they do all the work,  have all the responsibility  or  feel  they are not appreciated, these  feelings  can build up causing a significant  strain on and tension within  the relationship.

Why should a couple focus on their relationship when the child needs so much care and attention?

It can be tremendously difficult to have the time and  energy to be available and attentive to one another when caring for a sick child or child with special needs.  It might even seem selfish or crass to be thinking about the intimacy and warmth of a loving relationship when a child is ill. However, the child can also benefit when couples take time out to be together. Children benefit in many ways when they are cared for in a loving and caring environment where parents are thoughtful and considerate of each other. When relationships are fraught couples can be distant, strained or tense with each other which in turn can  impact on the quality of family life

How can a couple focus on their relationship during a stressful time?

Finding trustworthy dependable, competent people who can step in and take care of your child for an hour or an evening whilst you do something together might seem daunting but, if it can be done, it should be prioritised from time to time.   Keeping in touch, making regular efforts to connect with each other such as sending   texts or making phone calls during the day can help. Talking to other parents who are going through similar experiences can provide a  much needed  network for  listening, understanding ,  friendship, useful  information and advice  and can also help to  diffuse  tensions and frustrations  between a couple.

How can Accord help?

Accord can help couples navigate their way together through the emotions experienced in such circumstances, such as loss, grief, sadness and anger   which may have been buried for years amidst the pressures of their situation. Accord can provide a safe place and an empathic ear to facilitate a couple to talk about and deepen their understanding of their relationship and family life in a non-judgemental open and supportive way.