Special Needs Child Means Marriage Has Special Needs

I am a married mom of a child with significant special needs. My husband and I have been struggling a lot lately because we both work full-time jobs and then spend most of our free time caring for our home and our son.

This article originally appeared in Macaroni Kid on April 10, 2019 by Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS; Health Affiliates Maine

Question:I am a married mom of a child with significant special needs. My husband and I have been struggling a lot lately because we both work full-time jobs and then spend most of our free time caring for our home and our son. Caring for our son is a full-time job alone. We love him dearly, of course, but he requires constant care, even needing care during the night. We literally have no time to ourselves or for each other. We are fighting a lot and about things we never used to, especially who is doing more around the house or for our son. Date nights are nearly impossible as we do not have family close by and we could not leave our son with someone without significant training. We need ways to work together without fighting and to reconnect. Do you have any suggestions?


Thank you for writing and asking your question. Many people don’t realize the difficulties involved in families with special needs children. You are not alone, even though it may, many times, feel that way. I’m glad you are reaching out before the stress of caregiving and the fighting does damage to your marriage. Often couples wait to get help only after significant damage has been done to the relationship. Not knowing the age or type of special needs of your child, I will provide a spectrum of suggestions in hopes that you and other parents will find one that will help.

  1. Tap into Respite Services (Info taken from OCFS and NAMI sites). Respite services are available to families with children with disabilities through three regional agencies in Maine. Respite can take place in your home, in the home of the respite worker, or in the community. Though the service is funded by the Office of Child and Family Services (OCFS), each agency determines the eligibility, decides on the allocation, and arranges for respite services. National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) also has Family Respite services; there is information at this website. NAMI Maine Family Respite exists to assist families by enabling a much needed break in the responsibility of caring for a child with significant developmental delays, and behavioral or emotional disorders.


  1. Get creative about together time. Use your vacation time or lunch time to take dates with your husband while your child is in school or services. Make it a once-a-week priority.
  1. Seek help from a telehealth counselor or in-home counselor. A counselor can help you to find ways to work together without fighting and to reconnect—and if leaving for this service is impossible, the service can come to you.  Many counselors offer secure therapy services through telehealth and many insurance companies reimburse for this service.
  1. Make a purposeful effort to appreciate each other in big and small ways.  Show appreciation and respect for each other by recognizing effort—for example, noticing when unasked-for help is given, when interventions with your son were tried, when needs were anticipated and attended to. This will go a long way in making your situation more tolerable.
  1. Become an advocate for yourself and your son. You may be eligible for a variety of services which may help make yours and your son’s life easier. Inquire at agencies about what services they offer. Research online. The Maine Parent Federation is a good place to start. Visit them online at www.mpf.org.  
  1. Subscribe to news feeds. They can give you up-to-date information, ideas, and support.
  1. Look for ways amid your busy life to show your love and affection for each other. You are in this together, a team; you are each other’s best means of support. Work at keeping that in focus.

Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS is a professional counselor and the Outpatient Therapy Director at Health Affiliates Maine, a mental health and substance abuse treatment agency serving adults, adolescents, children and families. For more information or if you or someone you know needs help, call us at 877-888-4304 or visit our website www.healthaffiliatesmaine.com and click on “Referrals.”

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