Please welcome Lateefah Wielenga, PhD! Dr. Wielenga, founder of The Counseling Kitchen, is a life, couples and business coach based in Long Beach, California. Today, she writes about maintaining a strong “couplehood” in the face of family challenges. Thank you, Dr. Wielenga!
Right now you may be experiencing one of the most difficult challenges of your life. You thought everything was perfect, until you were presented with something you thought you were not prepared to handle. You didn’t expect this. Not this. You never thought in your wildest dreams that your child would be born with a developmental disability. I can imagine some of the thoughts that have possibly crossed your mind; the pain you and your spouse or significant other have endured; the questions and the uncertainties you are experiencing. Although you have been forced to face a huge obstacle in your life – your relationship – if you shift the way you perceive the current circumstance, you can turn the obstacle into an adventure. Think of this time in your life as a different kind of adventure. Always ask yourself what it is you are supposed to be learning. Be curious and eager to learn and know you are growing in this area of our life. Be open to all of the possibilities and always communicate honestly with your spouse. There are many things you cannot control in your life, but you can control your thoughts, your actions and how you treat yourself and others. Looking at it this way is less threatening and keeps you in control of your personal power. During any unusual experience you face, you never know what lies ahead. Treat this adventure as you would any other. Let this be the experience you and your partner choose to encounter together, as a cohesive unit.
When beginning this journey it is very important to first see your child’s disability as an external entity, something that lives outside of you and your family. Viewing it this way will help you to remain focused on the necessary things that need to be dealt with, keeping you away from the three fears that are waiting to wreak havoc. The three fears are disguised as Blame, Frustration and Anger. There is no one to blame for a child having a disability. When dealing with the unfamiliar, there is no place for frustration because we expect the unexpected. And anger has no place in your lives at a time like this, as all of your energy is required to deal with the needs of your child and perhaps other family members. Now is the time when you do not want to be divided because you are stronger for your child as a unit. At times like these, it’s almost impossible not to tap into your spirituality, and when you do, you will probably begin to see this as a gift.
There will be times when you feel sad and get down on yourself. When that happens, an effective way to shift your mood is to write a list of things you appreciate. Favorably starting with what’s right in front of you, your spouse or significant other. You are not in this alone and your partner is available to help you. They know the sadness as well. With the three fears out of the way, you and your partner can put your heads together and begin to deal with what is front of you. The child with the disability is still your child and needs you just the same. Your husband or your wife needs you now more than ever. You both are experiencing a very challenging time. Now is the time to be there for each other. It is imperative that you make time for just the two of you at least one day a week. You need quality time together as a couple. A doctor’s appointment is not quality time. Going to the Regional Center is not spending quality time together. You are the same people you were before you were forced to take this adventure. Now is a great time to communicate and cultivate that deep connection you’ve always had.
- Going to a movie together
- Having dinner out
- Taking a nice long walk together
- Remember what it is about your partner that you love and like.
- Be thankful you are in this thing together
- Watch the words you use when talking to and about your partner.
- Try not to take things personally because “it” is never about you.
- Don’t assume anything, always ask for clarification.
- Do the best that you can each day.
Cultivating a stronger bond with your partner creates a better environment for your child to thrive.
Six tips to a successful relationship:
- Listen to your partner
- Give them the benefit of the doubt
- Do not blame or judge
- Surprise them when they least expect it
- Be kind
Lateefah Wielenga, PhD
The Counseling Kitchen