Monday, January 14, 2013

The Apple Doesn't Fall Far From The Tree: The Challenge of Genetics in Special Needs Marriage

Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.
~2 Corinthians 13:11, NIV~

There is an ugly monster which lurks underneath the surface of special needs parenting that no one seems to talk about.  Thousands of studies on a number of different diagnoses make the case for conditions from ADHD to autism to learning disabilities to mood disorders all having a genetic component to them.  While that can be helpful to families who struggle with wanting to know how or why a disorder has occurred, it can also point to why couples experience difficulty in their marriage.

The fact is that a child with special needs may also reveal an adult with special needs that had previously gone undiagnosed.  And this can be a valid source of friction.  While it may not be intentional, one spouse can suddenly find brewing under the surface a level of resentment towards the other spouse who is the genetic carrier of the disorder.  Add to that the sudden awareness that the typical spouse is now also responsible for the care of an adult with special needs, and the relationship can really find itself on rocky ground.  The unaffected spouse can also find themselves more exhausted as they suddenly come to worry that the other spouse is unable to control or improve behaviors that were originally thought merely to be annoying or due to thoughtlessness.

So, how is a couple to survive and hopefully, thrive in such an unexpected tangle?  When life gets complicated by a parent and child both being diagnosed with a similar social, cognitive or emotional disorder it is time to take a huge "rest stop" for the family to reassess things.  These are the occasions in life to revisit God's foundations.  "Love one another," "Live peaceably with one another," and "Encourage one another," are all commands of God's to cling to at a time like this.  View yourselves as a team, and learn how to play the part that each of you have been given by God.

Talk back to the negative thoughts.  The world does not think the way God does.  Plenty of well-meaning people will be there telling you to walk away from your marriage.  This sort of poor advice only serves to feed the wayward thinking, "I don't deserve this,"  "It will never get better," or "I didn't know my spouse would be like this when I married them."  If you are the unaffected spouse, it is time to remember that you married the other person for better or for worse, in sickness and in health.  That includes the health challenges that originate in the body organ of the brain.  Evict any thoughts that lure you into behaving in a way contrary to the way you would like to be treated.

Make concrete plans to adapt in an organized fashion.  No matter what the diagnosis, structure is inevitably a helpful tool.  Commit as a couple to abide by the structure of therapy, classes, medication schedules and any other accommodations that need to be made to succeed at managing a household with both an affected parent and child.  While it may take time for the spouse with a diagnosis to accept that they need to make changes around that diagnosis, some patience and outside help are definitely in order.

This is where ongoing support and help are a must.  Proverbs 15:22 tells us, "Plans fail for lack of counsel,     but with many advisers they succeed." (NIV)  Seeking pastoral care, getting family and individual counseling, as well as finding respite are all vital to the strength of this type of family.  It absolutely helps to have others to talk to who are going through similar things. Normalizing our challenges can bring such a sense of relief.

Finally, remember our God is bigger than any difficulty we could face.  Sometimes it may feel like there is no way out of the darkness of such persistent challenges, but our God is the God of the impossible situation.  These things are too heavy for we humans with our limitations.  Yet nothing is beyond the amazing, creative ability of our Sovereign Lord.

PRAY:  Lord, we are imperfect people living in a imperfect world.  Help us to love one another, encourage one another and see each other through Your eyes.  Thank You for making us a family.

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1 comment:

  1. Barb, thank you for your vulnerable, honest comments! I suspect this is a broader issue than is spoken or identified.