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.


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.

Reflect and Act

It may help you to reflect (either by yourself or with friends) on the challenges you face in relationships as a result of your child having special health care needs. You can also use these questions to help think of some ideas and strategies to try.

Relationships Reflect and Act Worksheet

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