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Book Review: Married With Special-Needs Children

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Book Review: Married With Special-Needs Children
Cover image courtesy of Woodbine House

The Bottom Line

By Laura E. Marshak, Ph.D., and Fran Pollock Prezant, M.Ed., CCC-SLP; 296 pages. Subtitle: A Couple's Guide to Keeping Connected

It's commonly thought that a high percentage of marriages of parents with special-needs children end in divorce, but this book proposes that it's not necessarily so -- and certainly doesn't have to be. Without minimizing the difficulties of nurturing a marriage while nurturing a highly needy child, the authors point out ways to sustain and strengthen the ties of love, not just of duty, that bind spouses together. It's an encouraging, even inspirational, read.

About the Guide Rating

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  • Full of practical advice for couples, whether they're functioning well or falling apart
  • Encompasses all types of disabilities: medical, developmental, behavioral, learning, psychological
  • Values marriage as a relationship worth saving and nurturing
  • Gives plenty of voice to the real experts -- special-needs parents themselves
  • Writing is smooth and easy to read, with chapters of manageable size


  • Might have been helpful to put concrete suggestions in boxes for easier reference
  • Puts a lot more value on therapy than some may find useful
  • Design includes gray bars over subheads that strain my old eyes


  • Chapter 1: The Structure and Foundation of a Good Marriage
  • Chapter 2: No Longer Cruising Down the River: The Early Stage of Adjusting to a Disability
  • Chapter 3: Practical Solutions to Practical Problems
    Chapter 4: Communicating and Problem-Solving as a Couple
  • Chapter 5: Romance and Sexual Intimacy
    Chapter 6: Negotiating and Implementing Livable Roles
  • Chapter 7: Stress Management and Coping Strategies (or Don't Forget to Breathe!)
  • Chapter 8: Heartfelt Conflicts: Opposing Views on Protection, Expectations, and Helping Your Child
  • Chapter 9: Supports Outside of Your Family
    Chapter 10: Serious Marital Troubles
    Chapter 11: A Marriage Transformed
  • Chapter 12: Divorce Considerations
    Chapter 13: Remarriage: The Need to Do It Differently
  • Chapter 14: Learning from Long-Term Marriages
    Chapter 15: A Closing Thought
    Appendix 1: More Advice from Parents
  • Appendix 2: Experiences Transformed Into Poetry
    Appendix 3: Participant Responses to Selected Survey Items

Guide Review - Book Review: Married With Special-Needs Children

Finding a book about the impact of a special-needs child on marriage and family life that doesn't make you want to hide in a dark room with a box of chocolates and a bottle of wine and cry your eyes out is something of a challenge. So many special-needs memoirs document strains and splits in relationships; so many advice books focus relentlessly on the crushing grief, grief, grief that never ends. If you're not already depressed by the difficulty of the life you're living, those books will do the trick. Married With Special-Needs Children is a rare exception that says "Grieve if you need to, don't if you don't, respect your spouse's coping methods, and move on, people, move on."

That's a nice message to hear, especially since it's voiced by parents of children with special-needs themselves, represented in liberally applied quotes all through the text. It's like a great support group that you can pick up at your leisure, full of wise people who've made mistakes and found solutions and want to share them with you. The authors -- one a counselor, the other a speech-language pathologist -- distill these parents' thoughts and experiences into useful strategies, tips, and subjects for conversation. That they do this without seeming like therapeutic know-it-alls is also quite a welcome development.

Each marriage, of course, is unique, each combination of spouses displaying strengths, weaknesses, and sharp differences that only become harder to take under the spotlight of special-needs parenting. But almost any husband and wife will find something to relate to here, and some recognition that he or she is not the only one who's felt that way. Whether your marriage is seriously in need of CPR or just a little breathing room, you'll find this guide well worth reading.

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