Dear Dr. Yael,
I am writing to you about how to decrease the stress in my marriage. We have a special needs child who is one of our six children. The other children are Baruch Hashem health. They seem amazing to this child who has Downs syndrome. However, they are constantly protecting him from other children who make fun of him. I have two issues, 1. My husband feels that he does not get enough attention and that I am busy with the children. This causes stress in my marriage; 2. I worry that my other children will ultimately suffer from protecting their brother. Please help me protect my marriage to help us deal with the stress in our lives.
I appreciate you writing this letter which can benefit many people who deal with stress in their marriage. Let me review some basic ideas to help your marriage. Then I will give you tips to deal with your children.
It is easy to get overwhelmed by our children, especially when a special needs child is involved. Does your husband help with the children or is that more of your domain? Can you include your husband more in childcare? This may make him feel more a part of the family and also can free you up to give him more of your time and attention. It may also be helpful to try some or all of these following ideas:
- Try to always make your husband feel that he is the most important person in your life. A strong marriage builds healthy, confident children. Sometimes this is just a matter of how you approach situations. This may not take more of your time, it’s just an approach that makes your husband feel important and valued vs. second to the kids. Even just making sure you say hello to him when he comes home from work can go a long way to making him feel special. Perhaps you’re in middle of bedtime or something else that can take your attention away, but it is vital that you recognize your husband when he walks in the door ideally in person, but even a cute text can be effective (e.g., yay! I just heard you come in. I’m upstairs with the kids, but your dinner is on the table and I’ll be down as soon as I can. Can’t wait to see you!). We all want to feel valued and greeting your husband with a genuine smile and good word when he walks in the door can go a long way.
- It is crucial to try to find time in your busy life to have fun with your husband. Going out at least once a month and having a date night with your husband will solidify your marriage and give your husband the attention he is craving. Perhaps you also need adult time or “me time” and this can help you refuel as well. If you need alone time, it is very important to make time for that as well, so that you can continue to give to your husband and children. You cannot expect to give and give and never refuel. Refueling with things you enjoy will only make you a better wife and mother.
- Don’t get upset about unimportant things in your marriage. Before getting upset ask yourself “Is this a halachic issue or a serious hashkafa issue that it pays to argue about?”
- Try to speak with great derech eretz, respect, to your husband and communicate with clarity. Misunderstandings often cause tension. If there is a misunderstanding, apologize and explain so the fight doesn’t continue.
- Always try to tell the truth and be honest with your husband. If something is bothering you, it is important to discuss it with your husband in a loving way instead of pretending everything is fine, as pretending can only hurt your marriage.
- Try to be loving and demonstrative to your husband and children. Warmth and love build relationships.
- Focus on your husband and your children’s strengths. We are all more effective in our relationships when we play on our spouses and children’s strengths. Criticism causes people a lot of stress.
Regarding worrying about your children who are protecting your special needs child, you need not do so. Children who grow up in a positive environment with a special needs child often become more caring, sensitive adults. Protecting their brother actually brings out good middos in your children. So as long as you give all your children love and attention, having a special needs sibling may actually make them more amazing, caring adults. It is important to make sure none of the children get “lost in the shuffle,” when there is so much going on. Nevertheless, if you make sure to meet each child’s needs and give them all love and some one-on-one special time, your children will likely grow up to be incredible people. Hatzlocha with your challenges and try to focus on all of your brachos!