Annie Beth recently asked me if I might be willing to respond to the concern of a mother who’d written in to a Spina Bifida Support Group. She and her husband were “fighting all the time” and having a hard time dealing with a new diagnosis in addition to her daughter’s Spina Bifida. After writing her a message that I hope was an encouragement, I decided to take some time thinking about how to encourage you, our readers and community at Signposts on this issue.

Although the exact figures are unclear, statistics seem to consistently indicate that there is a greater risk of divorce for parents who have special needs children. Some of us are aware of this, some of us aren’t. Either way {this is important} don’t believe that this makes you a statistic. As mentioned in this article at Disaboom, it’s unclear exactly how reliable the statistics are. But, recognizing this possible trend is a useful part of beginning to recognize the patterns that make marriage more difficult when children with special needs are involved.

No matter what the statistics say, YOU have a choice. You can choose to fight in your marriage, or you can choose to fight for your marriage. Making sure your marriage isn’t neglected is an important part of the process of fighting for it.

Here are some tips for making your marriage a priority and keeping it that way.

1. Believe the truth that it’s nobody’s fault.

In many cases, it is often difficult for parents to get past the desire to ‘blame’ themselves or each other for the fact that their child is sick or has a disability. Remember that neither you nor your spouse ever wished this on your child — you didn’t maliciously insert ‘bad code’ into your child’s DNA. Like a lot of aspects of life, this is something that just happens. If it feels like a horse you’ve fallen off of, you have to make the decision to dust yourself off and get back on.

(In the rare cases where disability was caused by bad decisions (i.e., drinking heavily while pregnant, doing drugs, etc.) get to a place of confession and forgiveness. If anyone needs to admit they made a bad choice, do it. If you need to forgive yourself or your spouse, do it. Remember that it is done.)

2. Put your marriage first. (And your kids second.)

There is often much more guilt involved when parents of a child with a disability or illness leave the child with other caretakers. It’s hard for most parents to drop their child off at preschool or day care or a babysitter’s, but if a disability is present, even more so.

But often, it is the parents of children with special needs who most actively need to seek out and guard time away from the children. Believe it or not, children consistently feel more secure in a family where they are certain Mom and Dad love each other than where they’re just certain Mom and Dad love them.

Sometimes this can seem impossible. You think, is there anyone who could take care of our kid(s)? But might you have friends who would be willing to watch your child(ren) once every week or two, and you could watch theirs on the alternate week? Are there family members who might be willing to help — if you’d just be willing to ask?

Besides making sure you get time together, just the two of you, you might also consider whether or not couple’s counseling would be a good idea. Are there walls you keep hitting that you can’t seem to get past? The outside opinion of a pastor or counselor, or even another couple you trust who have more experience than you, might help you navigate the rough waters and find a way to smoother sailing.

3. Keep an Eye on the Love Spiral

The Bible instructs us to love one another hundreds of times, and with very good reason. Inside marriage, love often feels like a spiral. If one person begins to build the other one up, the other eventually catches on and starts loving the first more. The other’s acts of kindness and love toward the first spur that person on to greater love and the spiral keeps circling, in an upward direction.

Un-love also spirals. Mistreatment, harsh words, lack of concern for the other in general, these things also spiral, but in a downward direction. You hurt me, I hurt you, you hurt me because I hurt you…it can go on and on unless someone says Enough! Let’s work this out or Enough, let’s call it quits.

Remember that you can choose to turn things in the right direction at any time. I attend a Women’s Bible Study on a weekly basis, and we recently had a visitor to the group who came to share with us, having been married over fifty years. We were excited to ask her questions and gain insight into the success of her marriage, since she had a wealth of experience behind her.

One of the things that stood out in my mind more than any other was her repeated reference to this Scripture:

“If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” {Matt. 16:24, NKJV}

Choosing to love the other person, even when we feel it’s not fair, our needs aren’t being met, we’re working so much harder than they are, is choosing to follow the example of Jesus. Even though we could never do anything to earn His love, He freely gave up heaven, came and lived and died — for God so loved the world.

4. Make a commitment that divorce is not an option.

For better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, you made a commitment when you married your spouse. A lot of people think divorce is going to solve the problem, and are sorely disappointed when they find out it actually causes more problems.

Sometimes the other partner just needs to hear you say “I’m in this forever” or “I meant what I said in the vows I made with you on our wedding day.” Don’t be afraid to be the first to say “I want to fight for our marriage. I don’t ever want to give up.”

5. Choose to fight fair, and Choose what to fight for

I feel sure you know what I mean by this statement: choose your words carefully. Don’t say things that will deliberately incite anger in your spouse. Don’t bring up old stuff that is long-forgiven and forgotten. Don’t say “I told you so.” Deal with the issue at hand in a calm manner — this is where the right kind of fighting comes in. Instead of fighting against your spouse in order to win the argument, think of it as working together to get to a resolution. You truly are fighting together, against an enemy who does not want to see your marriage succeed.

There is an attitude shift that takes place when you decide to fight for your marriage. You are willing to let slide little comments that might otherwise turn into big spats or all-out wars. You are willing to prefer the other person’s needs over your own, to show love and kindness to the other person, even when you don’t feel like it and even if you don’t feel like they deserve it.

You and your spouse will better be able to handle the special needs of your child — better able to bring each of your children up in a loving home, full of acceptance, if you are able to love one another.

Tomorrow I’ll share the Top Ten Tips given by the special woman I mentioned earlier who visited our Bible study group. With fifty years of experience under her belt, it’s worth coming back to read what she puts on the list. (A few things really surprised me!)

In the meantime, do you have thoughts to share about what is working (or perhaps isn’t working) in your marriage? Perhaps some special insight that might be useful for other parents of children with special needs in similar situations?

Please share in the comments!

Caroline Collie loves to write, to read and to laugh. She and her South African Hero Hubs live in North Carolina with their two young boys. When she’s not mommying, baking, or serving as the Site Manager here at Signposts, she writes on her own blog,