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Marriage under pressure: when your child has special needs

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By Kristin Stanberry

Track two: when actions and feelings don't match

Often, a person's behavior reflects what he feels inside. But if you and your partner are stressed and have lost touch with each other, one or both of you may behave in a way that hides your true feelings. From there, communication often breaks down and your marriage suffers. There are steps you can take to understand each other better.

Understanding your partner

If your partner's behavior frustrates or confuses you, there may be a "disconnect" between outward behavior (Track One) and inner feelings (Track Two). One woman recalls how her husband's silence bothered her as she struggled to help their son who has AD/HD. She thought back to another time when her husband seemed aloof and unconcerned. It was before she had surgery. "He didn't seem to care about my operation. Months later he admitted how afraid he had been that something would happen to me during surgery. He couldn't tell me at the time."

That memory prompted her to ask him how he really felt about the current situation with their son. Professional counseling helped him sort through and express his emotions. "It turned out my husband felt guilty because he couldn't solve all of our son's problems," she explains.

This story is not uncommon. Like many men in our culture, her husband needed encouragement to verbalize his feelings. And when he did speak up, he expressed a sense of inadequacy for not being able to protect his wife during surgery, or end their son's struggle. Men often prefer to look for immediate solutions rather than learn to understand and manage a problem over time.

Finally, consider the different emotions you've felt about your child's LD. Your spouse may be processing his feelings in a different way. And his past experiences may influence his reaction to your child's LD.

Helping your partner understand you

Sharing information honestly and in ways that are comfortable will help you and your spouse understand each other better.

If your partner seems to have a hard time hearing you talk about feelings, try writing him a note to express yourself. This will help you focus on what's important and give him time to consider your concerns without having to respond right away.

Looking to the future

Working to repair and strengthen your marriage can be hard work. The path to a better marriage is seldom smooth; you'll encounter bumps and detours along the way. But if you and your partner agree on your overall goal, the journey will be a bit easier. "Some of the couples I counsel make a clear commitment to stay married," a therapist relates. "Once they set that as their goal, then the other pieces fall into place."

Your marriage is a union of two people with individual needs. Your child and family situation are also unique to you. Working together, you and your partner will find the best path to take. The reward comes when your understanding and love for each other deepens. There's a good chance your marriage and family will not only survive — but also thrive — from the challenging experience you are going through.

Kristin Stanberry is a writer and editor specializing in parenting, education, and consumer health/wellness issues. Her areas of expertise include learning disabilities and AD/HD, which she wrote about extensively for Schwab Learning and GreatSchools.