There is no way to sugarcoat that parenting a child with a mental health disorder (such as anxiety, OCD, depression, etc.) puts a significant strain on one’s marriage. This can occur for many reasons. First, the mental health issue can be exhausting for parents. Tears, meltdowns, tantrums, and obsessive rituals can become so time-consuming and energy-draining that it leaves parents with little in the tank to put back into their marital relationship. Second, parents may not be on the same page regarding the diagnosis. If both parents cannot agree on what is going on with their child, no treatment approach is likely to be effective. Thus, the strain on their relationship grows heavier. Finally, some differences in approaches to discipline and communication with your children are normal.
Children with mental health issues thrive on consistency and predictability. If both parents cannot reach an agreement about how to handle outbursts and discipline issues, it can cause a major strain on their relationship and impede any progress their child is capable of making. Harold Koplewicz, M.D., contends, “Anxious or impulsive children become more anxious and impulsive when they get conflicting signals about what’s expected of them — and what they can get away with — from parents and other significant adults in their lives. They worry more, act out more, have more tantrums.”
In order to keep the marriage relationship strong while navigating the challenges that come with parenting a child with a mental health disorder, parents can implement a few practices into their routine.
4 Key Strategies to Strengthen a Marriage While Parenting a Child with a Mental Health Disorder
- Set aside a short time every day to focus just on each other. Perhaps this looks like putting your child to bed an hour before you go to bed. Maybe you make dinner together and chat. My husband and I take turns sitting with each other while we go about our evening routine and chat. He owns a construction and renovations business. He may be working on a bid while I sprawl out on a blanket in his office and chat. I might be working on my next blog while he sits beside me and tells me about his day. We make time for each other, and we look for opportunities to grab a few minutes while our children are occupied with other things.
- Ensure that you are both on the same page regarding diagnosis and treatment for your child. If one parent is unsure, get a second opinion. Your child will make little progress, and your marriage will suffer if you are unable to provide consistency because of discord regarding an issue as important as getting the right diagnosis.
- Get on the same page (or at least in the same book) regarding discipline. Children that are subject to mental health concerns need consistency even more than the average child does. If one parent is overly permissive and the other overly authoritarian, the child will suffer. Also, the relationship will suffer, as the parent who tends to be more “strict” will grow to resent not being the “fun” parent. It is critical that your child views you and your partner as a strong team.
- In addition to setting aside time each day to focus on your relationship, do not forget to set aside larger chunks of time for date nights or even just veg out on the couch without children interrupting nights. You get out of marriage what you put into it. If you neglect to give your marriage some time and attention, it will suffer.
Parenting a child with a mental health disorder is HARD! Specific issues, such as outbursts, difficulty with social skills, etc., can alienate other families, making parents feel especially isolated. In times such as these, it is easy for parents to turn on each other. Taking time to strengthen the marital relationship can help parents navigate the specific challenges unique to parenting a child with a mental health issue in a healthier manner.
If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.
About the Author: Brandy Browne is an early childhood educator, family coach, and blogger (see www.unstucks.com for more details) focused on breaking the cycle of generational trauma and building resilient families. Her graduate education focused on parenting and childhood/adolescent development. She resides in Oklahoma with her husband and three children.
Koplewicz, H. (2020). Don’t let a child’s disorder destroy your marriage. Child Mind Institute. Retrieved from https://childmind.org/article/dont-let-a-childs-disorder-destroy-your-marriage/
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