Having a child with autism can be tough on a marriage. Besides the emotional and financial strains that come from providing for a child with autism, there’s a huge time commitment involved with therapies and medical appointments. All that responsibility and pressure can make it difficult to have time or energy left for romance. So what are moms and dads to do? We asked parents on MyAutismTeam how they “keep the romance alive” in their marriages. These are their tips, most of which apply to any busy parent!
1. Plan date nights.
Take the time to line up a sitter or respite care at the beginning of each month to make sure you get out. No planning ahead usually means no date! As one mother on MyAutsimTeam shared, “My husband makes it a point for us to have date night at least two times per month. Sometimes we only go out for pie and coffee. It’s not much, but it makes me feel like a million bucks.”
If you’re having trouble lining up a sitter, several parents on MyAutismTeam have had success using sites like SitterCity.com to find sitters who are familiar with autism. With 1 in 54 boys being diagnosed with autism in the U.S., it’s no surprise that there are a lot of sitters experienced in caring for people with the condition.
2. Try the weekday lunch date.
If getting a sitter is difficult or too expensive, try meeting up for lunch while your child is at school—or have a late breakfast date before heading into work. As New Mexico mom Sharon Esch explains, “My husband and I have a weekly lunch date while my son is at school. It’s great because we don’t need to get a sitter, we have time to talk to each other about adult things, and we are not falling asleep!”
3. Set a dedicated bedtime for your child.
This is the secret weapon that far too little parents use: Create a fixed bedtime for your child that leaves an hour or two in the evening for you to spend with your spouse. “Our son has a designated bedtime at which he goes to sleep every single night. Non-negotiable,” says Debbie Caruso of Massachusetts. “We have a night-time routine that starts around 7:30 with bath, books, a favorite calming video and sleep time. ” Word to at-home moms: rest up! Says Caruso, “I nap while my son naps, so I can still have energy left when my hubby comes home.
4. Flirt! (Remember that?)
Re-introduce flirting with your spouse, recommends Terri Eagen-Torkko from Michigan. ”Write love letters while you’re in the waiting room during therapies. Send flirty text messages. Every day, tell [your spouse] that you love them and why.” To take advantage of those times for intimacy, she continues, “teach the kids that a closed door means knocking AND hearing an answer before entering!”
5. Have moratoriums on autism talk.
Parenting a child with autism can be all-consuming; it can easily take up every minute of daily conversation with your spouse if you let it. Kansas father Martin Cunningham says it’s critical to occasionally set autism aside so you can have time to “remember the reason you married your spouse in the first place.” He recommends that couples take a few hours every week for “conversations with each other, and with friends, that have nothing to do with autism.” Adds Chris Tryon, a father of two in New York, “Keep up with your friends! You need to keep sight of who you are apart from your child.“
6. Create structure for your child on weekends.
Shifting from the structured school day and therapy schedule to an unstructured weekend can result in exhausting parenting work that leads to no relaxing time with your spouse. Many parents schedule activities such as taekwondo, gymnastics, or swim lessons to start the weekend off with structure–and hopefully gives them some time for each other later in the day. In her blog post How this autism mom stays married, noted autism writer and MyAutismTeam mom Laura Shumaker shares that her husband got up every Saturday morning, made pancakes with her boys, and then watched Disney movies with them. He did it to let her to catch up on sleep, but regular weekly traditions like that can create its own predictable structure for a child on the spectrum.
7. Give your spouse time to him or herself.
Sometimes the best thing you can do for your romance is to ensure each spouse gets time to him or herself. A 2009 study showed that Autism Moms have the same levels of chronic stress as combat soldiers. Whoever the primary caregiver is in the household, make sure that person gets some time to recharge! Laura Shumaker shares that she and her husband cover for each other on parenting duties each week. “My husband has played tennis every weekend [possible] for the past 28 years, and I get out to exercise, shop, see friends, or have one on one time with my other boys.”
8. Remember, you’re in this together.
“One sure way to destroy romance in a marriage is to extend the fighting we must constantly do (on behalf of our children) to the spouse”, says Martin Cunningham, a father and husband in Kansas. “It’s too easy to view our spouse’s perspective as adversarial when it does not match our own. It takes a special intent and energy to remember that they want to help and, more often than not, a tremendous effort to maintain open communication about those differences.”
Laura Shumaker suggests couples taking extra pains to keep things civil. “When I’m stuck at home all day and am STIR CRAZY, I resist the urge to say “Your turn!’ and race out the door the second my husband gets home.” She explains that they hug and kiss, and have a moment to acknowledge each other before she says, “I’m going nuts. I think I’ll go to the bookstore for a little bit. Is that OK?”