How has your child’s disability affected your marriage?

Once upon a time, a long time ago, I joined a support group for mothers of young children with developmental disabilities. I’d never been the support group type, but   figured I needed all the help I could get.


The meeting, led by a kind and Kleenex toting family therapist, was held in the gymnasium of a grammar school in a nearby community. The therapist invited each of us (there were about 10) to go around the circle and tell our names, our child’s age and disability. The first two women sobbed through their introductions, and the third, who like me had a son with autism, blurted out that her husband had just left her the week before.

“Let’s have a show of hands,” she said angrily, “how many of us are still married?” I was only one of two in the group who raised her hand.

“I heard the 80% of couples who have a disabled child split up,” the angry woman continued “I guess we’re proof.”

I was terrified.

I called my husband, Peter, in tears after I left the meeting. He told me not to worry-we’d be fine. “But I think it’s time you found a different support group.”

The years ahead did prove to be stressful, and there were times when we didn’t feel as connected as we would have liked. There were times when I resented him for not doing enough, and he resented me for trying to do too much. We spent a lot on therapies and treatment for Matthew and fought over whether we thought they were working or not (I said they were, he said not so much.)

We rarely went out together, and when we did, the babysitter often called to report “a little problem with Matthew.”

In the end, I think the reason we have stayed together was that we’re too busy keeping things going to think about how we could do it alone. We also loved each  other and joked about what we would say about ourselves on a profile, anyway.

“Citing autism as the reason for a marriage failing can be seen as yet another reason for saying why autism is so awful,” says autism writer and blogger Kristina Chew. She is a professor at Saint Peter’s College and the mother of a child with autism. “Life with autism has made Jim and Charlie and I, and Jim and I, a tighter unit.”

Still, the 80% divorce rate statistic myth is still floating around, but there doesn’t seem to be any actual research to back it up.

I did informal poll on my autism facebook forum. 65 of the mostly women responded and I found some interesting statistics of my own:

14 – were divorced or separated

15 – said their marriage was strained

16  said their marriage had been strained but was now but better/stronger

4  said that autism was a blessing and not a hindrance

2 reported feeling alone in their marriage

8 women worried about their autistic child’s relationship with their husband

8 said their sense of humor had saved them.

I know it has saved me.

How about you?


8 Responses to How has your child’s disability affected your marriage?