My husband and I just celebrated 21 years of marriage. As parents of special needs children, I think we should get credit for dog years, you know, where each year is worth 7? It sure feels like it some days.

Special needs parenting can do a real number on a marriage, we’ve endured multiple hospitalizations, devastating diagnoses, and year after year of sleep deprivation; things that can destroy individuals and families, but somehow have emerged stronger and better for it. In reflection, I think there are a few things that drew us together instead of pushing us apart. We did these things just trying to get by, I suspect that there’s a method to our madness, so I am sharing a few habits that have helped us.

Say “thank you.”

Recognizing and acknowledging kindness and favors seems simple, and in a marriage they can easily be ignored, but being purposeful about gratitude gives momentum to the small favors we do for each other daily.

Take turns taking breaks.

We don’t very often get to go out together, but we can each give each other turns to go enjoy time away from the house. He gets his fishing trips, I take our daughter to concerts, and we both run and bicycle. We both get time outside the house to breathe.


Exercise is good for you, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Our bodies are designed to move, and produce chemicals that calm us, especially with exertion. And I’m not going to lie, my husband still rocks my world with his strong, manly physique.

Stay in together.

Like I said, we don’t get out much, but that doesn’t stop us from making tea and watching a documentary or sitting on the deck after tucking the kids in. We don’t even have to talk, sometimes just putting down our phones and being still together is unifying.

Dwell on the positive.

Tension is our constant companion, with a steady influx of medical bills, heavy decisions to make, and sleepless nights it can be hard to see all the reasons you love your spouse. I find that I must purposefully make little of the frustrations and make big of the joys. I focus heavily on the many things that make my husband and excellent spouse, father and man of integrity rather than the irritability that arises when life is stressful.

We are more important than either of us.

This statement sums up everything above. What I have listed is what works for us, I would imagine that other couples will take and leave different suggestions, but the bottom line is that we focus on us over either individual.   We realized that as challenging as caring for our marriage can be the stress would be exponentially worse if we did not purposefully care for it. Keeping our marriage strong gives us the foundation we need to fight our many battles, and is a necessary investment for us and our children. With both of us fully bought into the maintenance of our marriage, when one of us grows weary the other carries the yoke for a while, giving us both room to take breathers.

Special needs parenting has added dynamics to our marriage that we never anticipated when we said “I do.” It would be easy for us to just throw in the towel and declare the commitment more than we bargained for on that beautiful June day. I am daily thankful that we have chosen, and continue to daily chose to love each other deeply and in so doing cover a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:8 paraphrased).

Alethea Mshar

Alethea Mshar is a mother of four children; an adult child who passed away of a drug overdose, one typical daughter and two sons who have Down syndrome, one of whom has autism spectrum disorder and complex medical needs. She has written "What Can I Do To Help", a guide to stepping into the gap when someone you know has a child diagnosed with cancer, which is available on Amazon, and is publishing a memoir titled, "Hope Deferred". She can be found on Twitter as leemshar, and blogs for The Mighty HuffPost as Alethea Mshar, as well as her own blog, Ben's Writing Running Mom on She is also on Facebook as Alethea Mshar, The Writing, Running Mom.