By Angela Warner
As we know all too well, it’s Autism Awareness Month. After a wonderful conversation my husband and I had this morning with his sister, I decided that I needed to raise awareness within the autism community on a subject that is rarely talked about. Us, the parents, and how our marriages can and do suffer from the pressures of having a child or children with autism, and what we can do to hold it all together.
The conversation this morning was all about autism, and what my sister in law could provide for a friend whose child has autism, and whose marriage is struggling. Dave and I have been thrown the double whammy of surviving the bad statistics for divorce in both the military (65%) and autism (80%) communities. As we were having a three way conversation, Dave and I both jumped at the opportunity to take it from Autism Awareness Month to Autism ACTION Month. Pun intended.
The first words out of my mouth??? Tell them to have sex.
Why??? Because it works. Trust me, I know. Being the mother of four children and married for 10 years at that point (of the “have sex” conversation you’ll read about), you would think that this simple thought and Action would have crossed my mind. Nope, not so much. After autism diagnoses’, deployments, treatments, therapies, the addition of our fourth child, and endless months of fighting pushing us to the brink of divorce; that kind of Action was the last thing on my mind.
On the brink of divorce, but still very much in love with my husband and what we had, I extended my arms for help. There’s this wonderful Warrior mom, you may know her name… yeh… Becky Estepp with TACA, and fellow military spouse I might add, she told me to have sex. I’m thinking to myself that this is nutzo advice; I almost don’t even want to talk to Dave. I am sure he felt the same. But then I think what we both already knew… we have four kids, two with autism, divorce is not an option, and will ultimately do none of us any good. We made a commitment that included the words “for better or worse”, and I know we both meant what we said March 22, 1997. Ok… mom of steel when necessary, we’re in the worse and it sucks. We’re gonna get to the better of it all.
Unbeknownst to me, Dave was doing some reading of his own at the very same time. Within a week of my “have sex” conversation with Becky, Dave and I are again arguing in the kitchen late at night, long after the kids have been put to bed. All of a sudden he strips off his clothes, and looks at me with all seriousness and says, “I was reading the other day that it’s really hard for someone to yell at you when you’re naked”. So there he stands, looking back at me, in his birthday suit. I don’t think I have to tell you what happened next. And ever since that night, Action has continued to happen, intimacy has returned to our marriage, we both agree that we feel closer now than we ever have, and even with the crapisodes (thanks Kim) and craziness of it all, we are having fun again.
Now, don’t get me wrong, we still get very irritated, and occasionally argue. He works, I work (volunteer), we have four kids… it’s tough and far from perfect. We try to spend more time balancing each other and our family to ensure that everyone’s needs are met. Some days are more challenging than others, but the flow of things has been so much better. The dialogue that is continuing has grown our marriage in ways that I can not articulate fully other than to share… we ride. You can see a clip HERE. We’ve been doing this for years, but it has taken on new meaning since then. The second burst you hear in the video is us up to 60 in less than a block. I feel the need for speed. Yes, I will admit, we’ve done over a buck (100 mph) a couple times. It requires great trust and wills. Done. For us it’s a terrific form of stress relief. Lots of body contact…. There’s no need to speak, only laugh, and hang on! For example, the video clip led to an hour and a half ride, and as we neared the end doing about 40 0r 45 Dave decides to tickle my knee (yes I’m one of those whose knees are very squeezably ticklish), so yes that means he is driving one handed and if I freak then we’re going to wreck. Well what do you expect I did? I laughed and was steel, as we all are.
Another thing came over me this year. I’ve always been into all kinds of sports, and we’ve always had a SuperBowl party, but this year brought a refined love of football. I was always a Broncos fan. Dave has been a continued Steelers fan. Welp… I changed sides this year, watched a few games without hubby, and actually reported to him plays that were happening while he was at work. I don’t know, I think its Troy Polamalu’s fault (strong safety for the Steelers Defense). I told Dave I wanted a Troy jersey for Mother’s Day, and he gave it to me for Valentine’s Day. I cried. I did.
In turn, Dave has been reading what I tell him is really important, and he has supported our family. When I talk to him now about anything, we connect. There may be some Action as well.
For all the men out there who are in the supporting role and facilitating everything, I would encourage you to do the same. I consider myself a feminist and a traditionilist. Roles get reversed, and I fully appreciate this. I’d like to see some dialogue from your perspective. Put it on paper man, or I’m gonna have to order another Polamalu something. Is it football season yet? Damn!
We need to pay attention to ourselves and share our stories. We need to be prepared to help those behind us not only treat their children, but save their marriages as well. Don’t you agree? Ante-Up.
Angela Warner runs the site Autism Salutes.