Maintaining Healthy Relationships

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"At times my spouse and I are out of sync with our feelings and reactions."

Participants in the Building on Family Strengths Project shared that parenting a child with special needs can affect relationships with spouses, friends, family and co-workers. Some parents shared that they have less time and energy to give to relationships. Others have experienced a lack of understanding and support. Differences in coping strategies can also put a strain on relationships. Families found that some relationships changed in positive ways, while some relationships ended.

Strategies

Getting connected to other parents of children with a similar diagnosis was a key strategy many parents found helpful. Other strategies included:

  • Communicate mindfully - Focus on communicating more clearly; practice good listening skills; sit down with co-workers and explain what's going on.
  • Support your end of the relationship - Take people up on their offers to help; invite others to share their stories; accept repair attempts; let go of hostility; listen to other people's problems.
  • Nurture your spouse/partner relationship - Plan a "date night" with your spouse; have coffee together or meet for lunch; tape appointments when your partner can't attend; use local college students or nursing students for childcare; try not to look to your partner to meet all of your needs; seek out friends for additional support.
  • Shift your perspective - Be mindful of how you look at the other person in your relationship; appreciate the strengths and differences in people; think about the questions "How can they know if they haven't lived through it?" and "How can I help them to better understand?"
  • Take care of yourself - Acknowledge the difficulty of your situation; seek satisfying activities; carve out time for yourself; have an outlet for self-expression; call a friend.
  • Be part of a community - Cultivate a network of new friends; find organizations of parents who have children with special needs; be with people that "get it."
  • Advocate - Try to be more direct about your needs and actively seek to have them met; have honest conversations with others; educate family and friends about why you do things the way you do.

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