Tension In Couples

As seen in NY Special Child Magazine and on NYParenting.com

Dear Sharon,

Our 10-year-old son has special behavioral issues. My husband this past year seems to have run out of patience and he loses his temper with all of us more and more. I’m trying to get us into family therapy but he’s resisting. Do you have any advice for us? I feel a huge load is on me all the time and I am walking on eggshells. The pressure is more than I can bear.

Dear Mom,

I am sorry to hear about the tension you are experiencing at home. Unfortunately it is not usual for relationships to become strained when a child has special needs. Parents can easily feel “at odds with each other” and/or begin to “lose it.”

Every parent feels pressure to raise healthy and happy children and the desire to be the “perfect parent” can be a huge load for any mom or dad to juggle. Parents of special needs children carry an extra burden of worry and guilt and can easily begin to blame themselves for their child’s difficulties even when such reactions make absolutely no sense.

By the time a child is ten pressures have often accumulated. Parents can become defensive and/or resistant to help as conditions seem overwhelming even when there are avenues of good support available. I have met with many Dads who carry these kinds of unspoken emotions. Here are some ideas that can help.

All couples but especially parents with special needs children need to find ways to spend time together away from their child. This of course might be challenging to arrange but any attempt to enjoy each other’s company separate from daily home stress can improve communication and counteract negativity.

If parents haven’t “been on a date” for a while I suggest beginning by doing something fun, putting aside difficult conversations for a while. It is important to arrange regular dates, planning things to do that both people enjoy. After parents are more connected it is easier to bring up concerns and find resolutions. The possibility of starting family therapy might be easier to discuss in a loving and relaxed environment.

Although family therapy is often an excellent idea it is not uncommon for one parent to be reluctant to attend. It might be disheartening to seek help alone, but when one parent finds good support it can often reduce pressure and generate ideas that improve tensions at home for everyone.

Attending a group for parents of special needs children can also be very useful. When a mom or dad can tell they are not alone facing significant challenges this can cut through the understandable discouragement many parents of special needs children feel. The groups I lead often discuss the problems you described in your question. Hearing others share similar stories and possible solutions can make a world of difference.

I have know many moms and dads who have been successful in getting support for themselves and finding ways to connect and communicate to ease family pressures. Best wishes as you do the same.