Valentines special: Love guide for parents of disabled children

Couples who care for disabled children are at greater risk of divorce or relationship problems because of the added pressures of stress, financial difficulties and tiredness, a survey has found.

In response, a guide has been launched today to help parents strengthen their relationships when the experience of caring for a disabled child becomes too overwhelming.

Family survey
The guide has been developed by the charities Contact a Family and One Plus One who contacted 2,000 parents of disabled children to find out the real effects on family relationships.

More then half of the parents in the survey said they had experienced some or major problems in their relationship after having a disabled child, according to Jill Harrison, Contact a Family’s external affairs director.

Time for parents
An anonymous parent said: “Any difficulties between my husband and I are exacerbated by the additional stress and time lost to caring for a disabled child. Neither of us gets enough time and attention for us as individuals and neither of us has the capacity to give more to the other.”

A previous study by One Plus One, Growing Together, or Drifting Apart?, also found that parents of disabled children were more likely to divorce and less likely to remarry. 

Poorer relationships
Penny Mansfield, director of One Plus One, said: “Our research found that parents of disabled children were more likely to experience poorer relationships. For many this leads to separation and family breakdown, and impacts significantly on their children’s physical and mental health.”

However, some parents felt that the added responsibilities of looking after a disabled child had made their relationship stronger.

“Neither my husband nor I can imagine life without the other – neither of us could cope with the children without the other’s help. There is a bond between us that can never be shared by anyone else,” said an anonymous parent.


* Talking and listening
Your relationship relies on each of you knowing how the other feels, which means taking time to talk about feelings, thoughts, concerns and hopes and needs.

* Intimacy
Touch is important and caring gestures keep you close as a couple. Touch on a daily basis – a squeeze of the arm, a touch on the shoulder, a kiss.

* Building in time
It sounds strange, but your relationship will benefit if you each set some time aside for yourself.

* Sharing the care
Research shows that mothers often take on the main responsibility for a child’s physical care and home care. Think about how you both cope with problems. Recognise that you may have different coping styles.

* The same old argument
For most couples, it is the same old arguments that keep cropping up again and again. If that is you, keep a sense of humour and try and work out a way of dealing with it.

* Positives can cancel out the negatives
People who are good communicators are often good at managing their differences. After all, arguing is a form of communication.

* The whole family
As well as setting time aside to spend as a couple, also set time aside to spend as a family with activities for all.

For more tips, read the guide Relationships and caring for a disabled child

More information

Guide: Relationships and caring for a disabled child

Try Dr Love’s Love Calculator to see how ‘in love’ you are

Growing Together, or Drifting Apart?

Contact a Family

One Plus One


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