We've lost our quality time as a couple
in Parents with disabled children: managing your time

New babies are very demanding of parents in the beginning, and babies with a disability can be even more so. Depending on the disability, parents may be required to spend extra time and energy trying to help them and nurture them. All this time spent helping your baby obviously couldn’t be put to better use and, in many cases, there’s nothing that can be done about it. But you may find yourselves being so busy that you’re not getting much quality time together, which can in turn have a negative impact on the relationship quality.

Estimates suggest that more than half a million children in England alone have a disability [1], so lots of parents across the country are also facing this extra strain. 

Why might we have less quality time?

This is largely a practical matter - if you’re really busy looking after your baby and supporting them through a disability, then that’s just the way it is. But sometimes there are other reasons that quality time together gets lost. Consider if any of these apply to you:

  1. A large part of quality time is talking through the things that matter. But during more difficult times, such as being told that you’re going to have a child that has a disability, some people use keeping busy as a coping mechanism, and the conversation might feel just too difficult to have. For some, this news can be really hard to process, and you or your partner may be experiencing a certain degree of denial. Rather than face the problem and discuss your fears and expectations for the child and family life, you might instead be busying yourself away with other tasks.

  2. You and your partner may have had certain expectations in mind when it came to starting and raising a family of your own. When you discovered your child will be born with a disability, this perhaps changed some of those expectations. This internal struggle of expectation versus reality might affect you emotionally, which could in turn affect how you interact with your partner.

  3. Children quite rightly become the priorities of their parents. And when a child has a disability or vulnerability, they often warrant even more focus and attention. While this is the heart of any good parent, it can sometimes cause their relationship to descend down the list of priorities. In other words, the quality of the couple’s relationship becomes less important.

How can I help myself and my partner?

You and your partner might find it difficult to discuss how your baby’s disability or health complication might negatively affect your family dynamic and how you will work together to support them. By burying the issue, tiptoeing around it, or even pretending it isn’t there, you’re at risk of leaving yourselves unprepared. It takes courage to talk about the issues that frighten us, so maybe try writing down what you’re feeling first and reading it to your partner.  As things progress, try to have regular discussions and start making preparations together.

The existing research on couples raising a child with additional needs says that: “Couples caring for a disabled child are at greater risk of marital problems and divorce.” While this relates to married couples, it’s likely of course that the findings also relate to those in long-term relationships. It simply serves  to show that any extra challenges to your lives as parents will challenge your relationship too, and therefore it’s important to value your couple time, even if, day-to-day, it doesn’t take priority over your child’s needs.

If you and your partner are talking about the difficulties you will face, you are more likely to have realistic expectations and be able to deal with difficult situations when they come up [2]. For this reason it’s really important for parents to work on talking openly and positively about their fears and expectations [3].

References 


[1] Glenn, F. (2007). Growing together, or drifting apart. London: One Plus One.

[2] Pancer, S. M., Pratt, M., Hunsberger, B. & Gallant, M. Thinking ahead: Complexity of expectations and the transition to parenthood. J. Pers.68, 253–279 (2000).

[3] Stamp, G. H. The appropriation of the parental role through communication during the transition to parenthood. Commun. Monogr.61, 89–112 (1994).

[4] Shapiro, A. F., & Gottman, J. M. (2005). Effects on marriage of a psycho-communicative-educational intervention with couples undergoing the transition to parenthood, evaluation at 1-year post intervention. The Journal of Family Communication, 5(1), 1-24.

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