Being a parent of a special needs kid isn't easy (and before I am overwhelmed with a chorus of d'uh's, I'll continue). Sometimes we need to let our partner deal with things while we recover.
But what happens when you're both burned out?
The last year was full of our typical stresses: daily toileting accidents, daily fights about food, dealing with clutter, bedtime wars, school wars, scheduling conflicts and juggling and the dozens of other everyday pinpricks of frustration.
We also had unusual stresses: me returning to work part time, Alex's intense and repeated desire to tunnel through his wall, Dave's cancer (now in remission) and hemochromatosis (now under treatment).
It's left us both incredibly low on reserves of energy and time. There are at least three days in any given week where we both spent every waking moment from pre-alarm to bedtime on work, either for pay or for family. It's exhausting and we are both feeling it.
It's a dangerous situation for the relationship. Tired people are irritable and snappish. Being snapped at when tired provokes retaliatory snapping. It's easy to escalate into a fight just to relieve the sense of futility and helplessness (anger tends to make us feel more powerful in the moment than sadness). Add in the extra challenge of Dave's Aspergers and it is a recipe for misunderstandings and hurt feelings.
We both recognize that the other is burned out. As much as possible, we're trying to be sensitive to each other but sensitivity requires energy, so sometimes we blow it. And then we try to be forgiving.
I won't lie. There are times when we're not close to being even tolerably successful. But I think the fact that we recognize the true cause helps. I'm not fuming that Dave is lazy or a jerk, I know he's overextended and frustrated. He's not seething about my disorganization or absenteeism, he knows I'm overwhelmed and juggling more balls than any human should ever be asked to handle without a circus contract.
We have a therapist who we see regularly who helps us to keep a reality check on our feelings. That helps to keep things from spiraling too far out of control.
It sucks and we shouldn't have to be dealing with all of this, but we are. Spending all our time and energy railing against what should have been will never help us. Anger is fueled by unmet expectations, so adjusting our expectations is the best tool we have in keeping things functional.