At a glance
A child’s issues can overshadow a couple’s relationship.
When parents different ways of coping, it can put stress on their relationship as a couple.
A child’s issues can bring some couples closer as they learn to work together.
Meeting the needs of a child with learning and thinking differences often means that your relationship as a couple takes a backseat. Less time for each other and differing opinions on how to help your child can create a lot of stress. Understanding how your child’s issues impact you as a couple may help you keep your relationship strong.
How a Child’s Issues Impact Parents
Parenting is a tough (but rewarding) job no matter what. Parenting a child with issues makes it even more challenging. It can often feel...
- Relentless. Kids can’t “turn off” their issues, so you’re always “on.”
- Consuming. Staying on top of your child’s issues requires a lot of energy, attention and organization.
- Unpredictable! What you do to manage your child’s behavior one day may not work the next.
- Exhausting. Running to appointments and keeping up with a child who may be overactive can be draining, even if you and your partner are trading off some or all of your child’s care. It’s likely you’re both tired.
When so much of a couple’s energy is devoted to their child, it’s no surprise that there’s less of it to available nurture their own relationship. On top of that, many couples approach their child’s learning and thinking differences differently. This can cause friction in a relationship.
Studies show that when a marriage is already weak, the added stress of raising a child with learning and thinking differences can cause it to falter. On the other hand, a relationship that’s already solid may become stronger if a couple works well together to meet their child’s needs.
Here are some of the most common challenges couples face when they have a child with learning and thinking differences.
Relationship Challenge #1: Different Coping Responses
Finding out their child has a learning or thinking difference can hit parents hard. Typically, they go through a grieving process that has six stages. The stages includes shock, denial, anger, guilt, acceptance and, eventually, moving forward.
In an ideal situation, both parents move through this process at the same rate and support one another as they go. But in reality, that’s not always the case.
For example, if Dad comes to terms with his child’s issues sooner than Mom does, it can leave Mom feeling lonely and sad. Meanwhile, Dad might feel resentful that he’s beginning to think about treatment and seems to be on his own. This makes for a rocky beginning to a long and ongoing journey.
Relationship Challenge #2: One Parent Takes the Lead
Often a child’s primary caregiver is the one who first sees signs of a learning or thinking difference. And so that parent may take the lead on having the child evaluated.
If the other parent is less available for specialists’ appointments, he may only hear about the experience through his partner. That can make him feel left out. He may not feel like his input matters, since he’s not around to speak with his child’s resource team directly.
The primary caregiver may feel that it’s not fair that she’s almost entirely responsible for finding resources for their child. Over time, she may resent her partner for not being more involved. Or she may have trouble letting that partner get involved in the process since she’s used to making most of the decisions.
Relationship Challenge #3: Difference of Opinion
Sometimes, parents disagree with one another about their child’s diagnosis or treatment. For example, one might take doctors’ advice more seriously than the other.
Or maybe they agree on the diagnosis but disagree on discipline. One parent may think the other is being too easy on their child. Not being on the same page isn’t just frustrating for the couple. It’s also problematic for the child, who may find lack of consistency confusing. That can cause a number of other behavior problems.
Relationship Challenge #4: Money Pressures
Parents may agree that a tutor, therapist or some other service outside of school might help their child. But paying for it all can add up and put a strain on even the strongest relationships.
Relationship Issue #5: Everything’s About Their Child
Some parents may feel that their entire relationship revolves around managing their child’s issues. Getting your child to appointments and school meetings takes a lot of time. And once the kids are asleep? Bedtime conversation may turn to what’s on the agenda for your child tomorrow.
Your child’s issues can’t help but impact your relationship at some point. Fortunately there are lots of things you can do to ease the stress. Connecting with other parents can make you feel less alone. Building a support network may relieve some of the pressure. And making time to reconnect can help you see that your relationship is bigger than your child’s issues.
The unpredictable nature of learning and thinking differences can be taxing on parents’ relationship.
Parents who are on different pages about their child’s strengths and needs may struggle.
Building a support network can take some of the pressure off parents.
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About the author
About the author
Lexi Walters Wright is the former Community Manager at Understood. As a writer and editor, she helps parents make more informed choices for their children and for themselves.
Molly Algermissen, PhD is an associate professor of medical psychology at Columbia University Medical Center and clinical director of PROMISE.