How This Autism Dad Stays Married

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I read a list (blog readers love lists) of the six ways Laura Shumaker of claims to have stayed married to her husband for 29 years, while simultaneously being parents of a child with autism.  Her post was titled, “How This Autism Mom Stays Married.”

It’s not a bad list, but it got me thinking.  My list is different.  Now, we’ve been told for years that the added burden and stress of having a special needs child increases the prevalence of divorce.  Beth says she’s looked into this, and it’s a myth.  I think if your marriage isn’t super strong to begin with, maybe the extras that come along with autism or any other disability, for that matter, can push you over the edge.

Here’s Laura’s list:

1. Be nice when [your spouse] gets home from work.

2. Let the  mother sleep.

3. Show gratitude, even when you don’t feel it.

4. Be a good listener.

5. If you must yell … [do so out of earshot of the kids].

6.  Try to be loveable (sic).

Big Calf Guy’s list for staying married, even when you have a kid with special needs OR How this autism dad stays married:

1. Don’t get a divorce.  Sounds stupid, I know, but hear me out.  When I was a newlywed looking for advice from 80 year olds on how to stay married – my favorite piece was simply, “Don’t get a divorce.”  It’s a mindset that reminds me that I’m in this relationship until the end.  I will be half of Mr. and Mrs. Ryan Whitehouse until one of us takes their last breath.  Having that kind of long term commitment helps remind me that this too shall pass, to everything there is a season, and insert cliche here.    The first seven years of our marriage were really hard.  We had three little kids, no money, drool everywhere, I was working 24/7, and tensions were high.  We hadn’t slept since spring of 2002.  The hope that comes with knowing that this is just temporary held us together.  My one piece of advice to newlyweds is, “Hang on until year 8 – things get better.”

2.  Know when to walk away, know when to run.  Sometimes Mom just needs to go sit in a hot bathtub for a half-hour and listen to the radio while Dad runs interference.  Sometimes Dad needs to go take a walk alone, not pushing two kids in a stroller and carrying one on his back in one of those Kelty things.   Knowing this, and recognizing the signs in each other, has done wonders for our marriage.

3.  Go to bed.  I don’t mean sex, but obviously close physical intimacy is important in any relationship.  Knowing when you’re too tired to stay up and carry on is key.  After a long day of packing backpacks, getting the kids off to school, working all day, making dinners, cleaning kids, doing homework, tidying up the house – a nice quiet hour or two in front of the tube can seem like heaven.  But frankly, sometimes you just need to go to bed.  Get a leg up on tomorrow.

4. Know your roll, and shut your hole.  I got this saying from a buddy of mine in college.  I think he got it from wrestling, maybe?  Play to each other’s strengths.  I am never going to remember when we need to be where for which kid.  Can’t do it.  Beth’s never going to think, “maybe we should do some laundry.”  Our usual division of labor is thus:  Mom gets the kids, Dad gets the house.  Someone needs to snuggle and read a book.  Mom’s here.  Someone needs to go run in the woods and stomp in puddles.  Go see your father.  Bath time?  See Mom.  What’s for dinner?  Ask Dad.  These aren’t hard and fast rules, obviously (I love tubby time).   But we naturally gravitate towards these tasks, and the other one has come to know this and respect it.

5.  Find the right partner.  I asked Beth to give me a reason why we’re still married, and she replied, “You’re my lobster (relatively obscure Friends reference).”  We’ve just always been together.  She claims to have known she was going to marry me the instant we met.  We dated for three years in high school, five in college, and we’ve been married for twelve.  Of my thirty-five years, I have been in a relationship with Beth for twenty.  I’m not sure you should drag your feet for a decade before getting married, but making sure you’ve chosen the right life-partner is important.

My reason for living.  "Jake's Team"

My reason for living. “Jake’s Team”

There you have it.  These are just the first five I could think of during my lunch break.  If you have any other suggestions, or can think of a HUGE omission on my part, leave a comment and we’ll talk about it.


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