Navigating the Storm: The Impact of an Autism Diagnosis on Marriage

by | Dec 14, 2023

I’m yet to find a parent that hasn’t said at some point during their parenting journey that there have been times where the actual job of parenting was extremely hard.  Exhausting.  Overwhelming.  Unforgiving.  Parenting takes every ounce of energy you have to run the job effectively.  But why is it so hard, so exhausting, so overwhelming, so unforgiving?  Because you care.  You as the parent of this beautiful child, care more than you can ever possibly imagine.   You care with every fibre of your being.  You care because you love them and only want the best for them.

Now throw as autism diagnosis into the mix and you will find that those feelings of hard, exhausting, overwhelming and unforgiving multiply 10 fold.  When we’re in that extreme state of stress it can be very hard to be a level-headed thinker.  To think with clarity and calm.  Feelings come into the mix, hormones change, adrenaline skyrockets and the once happy marriage you had can now seem on shaky ground.

Parents are put under huge amounts of stress and pressure, trying to cope with not only with the shock of the diagnosis, but also how, their vision of the future is impacted.  Every parent will grieve differently.  Some are in denial and others are desperately trying to keep busy so that they don’t have to face the reality of the situation.

In any case, there can be times where there is a communication breakdown.  A time where you feel like you’re doing all the hard work, where your partner gets off lightly, and that simply isn’t always the case.

Here are some tips I have found useful:

– Make time to talk to each other. I know you’re beyond exhausting and all you want to do is watch Netflix or numb out on your phone, however, I want you to allocate 10 minutes to start with, and just chat with each other.

– Use the following topics for your 10-minute chat. What went well today?  What was challenging today?  How can I help?  What do you need in order to show up again tomorrow?

– Recognise and validate the parent that is the primary caregiver and navigating NDIS, Speech Therapy, OT, Psych and more.

– Bring in all the help you can get. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends.  In the beginning while the grief is fresh, you will need to lean on your outer circle to help.

– Don’t be afraid to ask your outer circle for help such as cooking a meal, picking up some groceries, popping over for a chat. This can alleviate you having to cook which may mean you do have time for the 10-minute chat with your partner.

– Use paper plates. When we’re in a state of fight or flight, we can barely keep on track of appointments let alone feel like we’ve got enough energy to clean all the dishes from that evening.  Make life easier, use paper plates and throw them away afterwards.  It is absolutely necessary to make things as easy as possible in the beginning.

– Map out what self-care looks like to you both and actively book in time whereby you can both achieve that self-care during the week.

– Celebrate the small wins together. You are both each other’s biggest champions because you’re living through the same experience together.

The autism diagnosis will either bring you closer together or tear you apart, so be mindful of who you were before the diagnosis.  What your marriage looked like beforehand.  Remember to give each other grace as you navigate this unknown territory together.

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