One of my favorite bloggers asked me to write a guest post for her and I was happy to oblige. I asked her if she wanted something specific and groaned under my breath as she answered. “Can you write something about making your marriage work? You and Julie do such an amazing job with each other”…
Thanks. Can’t you get a chick to write that?
Who on Earth would want my opinion on that?
But, she was right. I read these alarming statistics about divorce and autism. I’m friends with several single moms (and dads, yes they do exist) raising at least one child with special needs. I’m friends with several married moms and dads that, sadly, have very little to do with each other, or with their child’s diagnosis.
In our house, we’ve flipped the script. We decided to cross cast the roles that were available for the show. After our daughter was born (2010) and our son (2006) was starting his therapy journey, it became evident that one of us would need to be at home. Julie had the much better job (and future within), so it was going to be me.
Thing is, I kind of suck at this. In addition to attending almost 3 years of daily therapies and schools and play dates and birthday parties and the such, I now had the responsibilities of the classic “housewife”… namely cooking and cleaning. Cooking? Meh? But cleaning? Next please.
Suddenly, life became unfair (from my point of view). She got to go out and work this fun, rewarding, and stimulating job, making a name for herself. And my success was now deeply coinciding with how well my children were doing… and one of them is autistic!
If I were the one out working ridiculously long hours, society would see me as a hero! Look at how well that dad provides for his family! He must really love his wife to work so hard!
Worse yet, the comments she gets… “It must kill you to be away from your kids so much”, “How can you leave your kids with a man who still thinks farts are funny”.
We spend a lot of time teaching “perspective-taking” with our son. We constantly drill him with questions like “how does he feel” and “what does she think” and “what do you think he should do” and “how does that make you feel”.
Perhaps we should all drill ourselves.
None of those things bother me. I painted a picture of an absent, workaholic mother, and a bitter, stay-at-home loser father.
The truth is that both of us are pretty happy in our roles. We’re both pretty good at telling each other when we are either envious or, more importantly, NOT envious of these duties.
“I have to file an MSJ, so I’ll be working late tonight”
“Sucks to be you. I’m cleaning up the bathroom, again, because someone can’t learn to shit in the potty”
“Sucks to be you”
Where I really score a double-win is with our special needs child. I think we’ve done a wonderful job splitting duties… almost diabolically so.
Yes, I do almost all the therapies and the schoolwork and the such, but my wife does all the organizing. She sets the appointments. She writes the emails. She fights with the regional center. The really important stuff, we do together. What we’ve established is a great “good cop/bad cop” scenario. I go to the meetings and raise my voice to the point that they want to talk to the mother, the reasonable one. Little do they know, that reasonable one is so much smarter than the other, so much more of an advocate, and very involved and versed in what we need for our son.
And I go to her first when we need it. Very few decisions are made without lengthy (God are they lengthy) discussions about what we both think. We make an unspoken pact to make a decision, and don’t allow ourselves to second guess it once that decision has been reached mutually, because that can lead to a lot of doubt and/or blame… which ain’t healthy for anyone.
This was supposed to be about making a healthy marriage last in the time of autism, so I guess I should give some advice? I feel like the oldest couple at a wedding being asked what makes marriage work. So, my advice…
I have no effin’ clue. I can tell you why I have a good marriage. I can tell you why either Julie or I don’t leave in the face of adversity, but I don’t know if it applies. When people ask me “how do you do it?” I always have the same answer. You just do. Julie and I know no differently. Our family is just that… OURS. Does having a son with autism make our lives harder than yours? Does having a stay-at-home-dad make our life more challenging than yours? Does having mom at work for hours and hours make our life more lonely than yours?
Of course not. It’s just what it is.
Here are the things we do well in our marriage:
Advice for men:
Remember, your wife loves and hates her “role” as much as you do yours. Respect that!
Women think differently than you do. They react emotionally. They come home to a dirty house disappointed in you. They grow further disappointed that you couldn’t figure out that’s why they were disappointed on your own. So instead of getting pissy back (cause we ain’t ever gonna’ understand them), simply ask “what would you like?” and do it. Cuts the second half of that argument out completely.
Women like to be complimented… especially when they don’t have to fish for them. You should wake up every morning and say “You look beautiful” or “Your MSJ was brilliant” or “I really like the living room furniture you picked out last Christmas”. It will make their day.
Advice for women:
We are immature. We all think farts are funny, like beer, and a good off-color joke. Accept that. It ain’t gonna’ change.
Before you get disappointed because we couldn’t figure out how you were feeling on our own, tell us. Really saves a lot of time. Before you leave for work say “I would like you to take all that crap to the Goodwill today” instead of being disappointed that we didn’t figure that out on our own when you get home and there’s still a pile of crap in the front closet.
We really like you telling us what you like in bed. I can guarantee it will not disappoint us (unless it involves George Clooney… feel free to keep that to yourself)
Lives change. Roles change. Circumstances change.
I want you to remember, every day, what made the younger version of yourself want to be with your spouse for the rest of your life.
Chances are, despite whatever dynamics have occurred, it’s still there.
I started dating my wife in 1997.
In 2005 I married her.
I married the nicest and most empathetic human being I had ever known. I truly felt lucky to be with her.
When Jack was a baby (2006) he came home from the hospital with a pretty bad case of jaundice. My wife and I took him to the pediatrician as brand-new first time parents and were told to put him on home phototherapy.
Those were the two longest days of my life. We stayed up worrying for him. It was the first time I ever truly had to put the needs of another in front of mine.
But my wife had been doing that since she married me…
And I finally understood the beauty of true empathy.
I have been married to the father of my children for nearly 20 years. Although in many ways we have an excellent partnership, lately I've been feeling very alone in the details of raising our 2 teen boys on the spectrum. It seems that these teen years have them butting heads with their father more often than not. It has been very strenuous on our entire family.
I was looking for answers and quite frankly, and Jordan came to mind. He and his wife Julie have younger children, and haven't been married as long as we have. However, they seem to have an excellent partnership. I wanted to see what he could share with those of us who are struggling through this journey of marriage and raising kids with special needs.
He did a brilliant job!
I hope that you will read this and share it with your partner in life.