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Keep Your Relationship Strong: 8 Tips for Military Parents Raising Children With Special Needs

Happy family with differently abled son

Research shows raising a child with special needs can create stress for couples. As a military family you have a strong foundation to work from, but teamwork and the ability to depend on one another are key. With determination, communication and the tips below, you can keep your relationship strong and your family thriving.

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  1. Both you and your partner need to acknowledge and understand your child’s diagnosis from a doctor you both trust. You’ll never be on the same page for care if your spouse doesn’t believe your child’s diagnosis – or if they think there’s an unidentified problem.
  2. Consider participating in ongoing family counseling to learn better ways to interact with and guide your child as they grow up. Through regular counseling, your family can become a better team – parents, child and siblings, together. Flexible, non-medical counseling is available at no cost through the Military and Family Life Counseling Program and Military OneSource.
  3. See your spouse as more than a parent. Caring for your child is an important role for both of you, but remember, your marriage began when you chose each other as life partners with individual qualities that made you fall in love.
  4. Spend at least 20 minutes every day in “adult” conversation without once mentioning your children or anything child-related. Talking to each other as fellow adults who love each other can keep your marriage strong and healthy, outside of your shared parenting responsibilities. If one partner is deployed, then become daily pen pals, reserving a third of your letter for non-kid topics.
  5. Be aware of caregiver burnout – and offer relief whenever possible. Being a military family means that “fair” parenting schedules aren’t always possible, due to deployment and mandatory assignments. One spouse may get the bulk of the caregiving responsibilities. Still, the service member parent must remember that while they can leave their assignments at work, they will never stop being a parent – and they must find ways to support their partner-parent to prevent caregiver burnout that could negatively affect the marriage.
  6. Keep routines. Routines help increase home stability and predictability for children with special needs, which is especially helpful if there’s a single primary caregiver. If you’re away due to deployment, remember your family’s schedule and do your best to accommodate it with your communications, as well as your reintegration back into the family environment.
  7. Don’t be afraid to reach out to friends and family. When dealing with special medical and/or education needs, a military couple runs the risk of isolation, which can make marital problems worse. Don’t hesitate to reach out to friends and family for help and a break when you need it. Chances are, they want to help – they just aren’t sure how.
  8. Use the resources at your disposal. To support overall mission readiness, the Department of Defense provides many resources for military families with special needs, including EFMP & Me. This online tool helps you find the resources and information you need, when you need it. Many of these services are completely free to use and none will negatively impact your military career.

Your spouse will be your strongest ally and your greatest strength while you raise your children and in the many years after. That said, you both have access to extra help to strengthen your relationship and nurture your children through the Office of Special Needs, Military OneSource and many other Department of Defense programs.

MilSpouse Toolkit

From building stronger relationships to improving your well-being, Military OneSource can help. Expert consultants can give you the support you need and connect you to resources designed for military spouses and families.

To get started, visit the Personalized Support for Military Spouses page on Military OneSource, or call 800-342-9647 to connect with an expert consultant. OCONUS/International? Use one of these dialing options. For support related to your family member with special needs, see Military OneSource special needs consultations Finally, try out Military OneSource’s flexible and education-based consultation series Building Healthy Relationships to build your communication skills.

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