Raising a Child with Special Needs Changes Marriage Teamwork

How Raising A Child with Special Needs Changes What Teamwork Means in Your Marriage

All the experts say it- in order for your marriage to be successful, you need teamwork.  Even the syrupy inspirational mantras about marriage seem to embrace and idealize the concept of teamwork. Teamwork is one of those unimpeachable, can’t go wrong “best practices.”

When a special needs child is welcomed into the family, there are a unique set of obstacles and circumstances that can quickly challenge the effective practice of teamwork. These stressors can range from simple exhaustion to feelings of overwhelming fear and abandonment. While teamwork continues to be a valuable asset, it is also important to recognize that the implementation of effective teamwork might shift a little.

The following are some realities about raising a child with special needs that do not always respond to traditional teamwork

1. There is not always a good or right answer for every problem

All children with special needs have unique strengths and challenges that affect their physical, emotional, and cognitive health. Parents want to help their children in the best way. Unfortunately, there is often not one best way, and no matter how hard the team works to find solutions, there might not be acceptable answers for every problem.  In addition, team members may disagree on treatment options.

The team may be forced to make decisions without the conviction afforded by the unanimous support. In other words, the team may be divided, perhaps even unhappily divided. This is okay. Teamwork is not all or nothing. The key to this type of problem is mutual respect.  As long as partners respect each other, disagreement can be accepted and understood.

All children with special needs have unique strengths and challenges

2. You both are going to have individual feelings about their child

Some of these feelings your partner may share and others they may not. In fact, not only may you not share the same feelings, but you may not be able to understand why you or your partner feels a certain way.These conflicting and difficult to understand feelings will influence your ability to be a “good” team member. You may want to do the right thing for your child and team, and for whatever reason, end up doing something you regret.

Just as team members do not need to think the same way, they also do not need to feel the same way.  Teamwork does not require a one feeling fits all mentality. In fact, we should expect to have different, or conflicting or problematic feelings. The way a team needs to handle this is by communicating and listening. When it is your turn to listen, it helps if you avoid judging.

You both are going to have individual feelings about their child

3. You are going to want your teammate to fix the situation

You are going to need them to fix it. They will want you to fix it as well. It is going to hurt, when they can’t and you can’t. Your team may feel like it is failing, especially when you are not sure how to help someone you love so much.

In this situation, you may need some space from your team in order to manage your pain and confusion. It may be helpful to lean on friends, family or professional help. This does not weaken your team. It allows the team to gather sources of support and bring them into the practice of good teamwork. You will need to learn to accept that your team will have its ups and downs, and this is ok.

Wrapping up

When loving and raising a child with special needs, you may need to adjust how you implement teamwork in your marriage. Your expanded understanding of teamwork will enable you to be more flexible and patient, as well as less judgmental.


Joanna Lhulier
Licensed Psychologist, Psy.D
Dr Joanna Lhulier is a Licensed Psychologist. She provides individual and couples therapy to adolescents and adults. You can explore more about her here.