Special Needs Couple Gets Married

Blog Life Stories Special Needs

How Can Two Special Needs People Marry?

I was sitting in a downtown Portland, McMenamins, chatting with a friend about my daughter’s recent meltdown and her upcoming wedding. Between sips of iced tea, my friend–a woman who had never met Lindsey–asked, “How can two special needs people marry?” Concern and curiosity tinged her tone. My immediate, defensive response: “They’ll walk down the aisle and say I do.”

But I knew that wasn’t what she meant. She meant, should they marry? Do they have the capabilities to care for one another? Can they manage (emotionally) the responsibilities and difficulties of married life?

All these questions and concerns are valid. Many people are curious about my thirty-two year old daughter and her thirty-four year old fiancé. They worry that these two special adults may lack common sense–not necessarily for average day-to-day scenarios–but for high-stress events or emergencies. And for people with special needs, those events could happen daily. Or they may never occur. So do we forbid our young adults from living as normal a life as possible–just in case the unexpected happens? Or do we try and teach them how to better handle these situations?

I’ve met parents who don’t feel that their special needs child should date, marry, or live apart from them–ever. They prefer to care for their child, never let them out of their sight. And this may be the right decision for that family. But I’ve wondered, do these parents worry who will care for their adult children when they are no longer able? 

Years ago, Lindsey wanted to live in her own apartment and we decided to give independent life a try. The cynic could certainly say, “Yeah, and look what happened.” My daughter willingly ran away with a man twenty-two years older. For four years, he isolated her from family and friends. She went along with the isolation. It was an ugly time. And painful for us. We couldn’t control her actions; we couldn’t force her to come home.

The problem is, whether or not your child is mentally challenged or mentally healthy, if you give him/her the gift of independence, you won’t always agree with the decisions they make. When Lindsey returned home, we were there to help pick up the pieces. We were there to guide her, to help her make better choices–so hopefully, there would never, ever be a next time.

Now my daughter wants to marry. Later this month, Lindsey and Nick will commit their love to one another. Lindsey works a part-time job. Nick drives a car. Lindsey doesn’t manage money well; Nick is learning to write checks. Lindsey can’t cook elaborate meals, but she brags, “I sure got the cleaning gene.” Nick hates to clean, but according to Lindsey, “He cooks pot roast like a TV chef.” Lindsey has two cats: Cuddles and Sally. Nick has a bird.  They both have parents and extended family who will remain supportive and offer advice. We all want to believe this union will work.

As parents, we hope Lindsey and Nick will keep each other company (which may reduce the four to eight phone calls I receive every day.) Together, we hope they gain confidence, make wiser (and more independent) “couple” decisions. Maybe Nick will teach Lindsey to cook. Maybe Lindsey will instill her “clean gene” in Nick. They may have to compromise on spending money. But they will start depending on someone other than us.  And when all this parental support is gone, they will still have each other. We hope they grow old together.

My cousin, Eric, and his wife, Lori, inspire me. Although both have mental and/or physical challenges, they married and have made decades of memories. They ride the city bus, are members of a church; they like to go on cruises. I’ve watched their relationship grow. Lori cared for Eric when he recovered from surgery. Eric helped Lori host a housewarming party when they moved into a new place. Do they experience bad days? Sure. Even the best marriages have them. But Eric and Lori have loved and supported each other for over thirty years. I want that for my daughter too.

So how can two special needs people marry? My answer is still the same. They will walk down the aisle and say I do. I’m sure there are individuals with mental disabilities and challenges who shouldn’t make such a commitment. But no individual or couple should be lumped into one specific group. The decision to form a marriage, a partnership, should be left up to the “special” couple and the people who support them.


Loving Lindsey CoverMy first book, Loving Lindsey: Raising a Daughter with Special Needs will be out September 26, 2017. If you would like to learn more, click here.

SunflowerDo you know any successful mentally challenged married couples/or ones in committed relationships? If so, please share what makes their relationship work. I’d like to pass that advice onto my daughter. And if your special needs adult wanted to marry, but you’ve decided not to encourage, support, or allow it, I’d love to hear why? There are no right or wrong answers–just different ones.

Goodwill helps people earn a living, improve their lives, and strengthen their families and their communities. I chose to recognize Goodwill this month because Lindsey worked there for two years and it boosted her confidence and customer service skills. Goodwill depends upon donations. If you need to clean out your closets and find some goods to give, consider this organization. It helps millions of people every single year. But remember to make your donation before December 31, 2012–it’s tax deductible!

I share many passions in this world: antiquing, gardening, hiking, traveling, taking amateur photographs, writing, sitting on a white, sandy beach with my husband and sipping a frozen margarita—just to name a few. If you enjoy any of these things too, let's connect! The world is better with friends.

  • Debi Friesen

    Love this post as well as all your other ones! God is using you and your experiences and writing ability to touch the hearts of so many people. You are helping us all understand the everyday life and challenges of special needs individuals and their families. Yesterday our pastor was talking about how we are ALL God’s masterpieces! His beautiful creation around us is wonderful but people are His masterpiece. Lindsey and her fiance’ and everyone else are His masterpieces!

    • Debi-thanks so much for the comment. Sometimes, when Lindsey is being a real pill, I forget this. Thanks for your kind and reassuring words.

  • Wendy Stec

    Personally, I found it difficult to understand why someone would question the legitimacy of two special needs adults making a decision to commit to one another by living together as husband and wife, but to join in on the conversation, I thought I would try to understand why they might question it. Naturally, I wanted to look up the definition and see if there were any desriptions that would support this line of thought. I think the definitions below are relevent for any couple that wishes to pledge their love, commitment, and support to one another. As you stated in your blog, any married couple will face challenges, hurdles, and times of doubt, and in the end, the few that go the distance will most likely have made it because of the support of their friends and family. Without a doubt, Lindsey and Nick will have days that will challenge their senses and push them to the limits of self control, but with the support network of their family, friends, and community, I’m sure they’ll beat the odds. Love can exist without marriage, but when two people love each other and want to care for one another on a daily basis, the option of marriage should be available to all. This quote from Moulin Rouge dosen’t necessarily apply to marriage…but it’s my favorite and I think it applies here. “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love, and be loved in return.”
    Thank you Linda for sharing your insights and experience.

    mar·riage [mar-ij] Show IPA noun
    1. a. the social institution under which a man and woman establish their decision to live as husband and wife by legal commitments, religious ceremonies, etc. Antonyms: separation. b. a similar institution involving partners of the same gender: gay marriage. Antonyms: separation.

    2. the state, condition, or relationship of being married; wedlock: a happy marriage. Synonyms: matrimony. Antonyms: single life, bachelorhood, spinsterhood, singleness; separation.

    3. the legal or religious ceremony that formalizes the decision of two people to live as a married couple, including the accompanying social festivities: to officiate at a marriage. Synonyms: nuptials, marriage ceremony, wedding. Antonyms: divorce, annulment.

    4. a relationship in which two people have pledged themselves to each other in the manner of a husband and wife, without legal sanction: trial marriage.

    5. any close or intimate association or union: the marriage of words and music in a hit song. Synonyms: blend, merger, unity, oneness; alliance, confederation. Antonyms: separation, division, disunion, schism.

    • I loved reading your thoughts Wendy and am so glad you are my friend. Keep your comments coming!

  • Great answer Linda! Love you and wish Lindsey and Nick all the best on their wedding this week!

    • 🙂 I’ll let them know of your good wishes Jo Ann!

  • Hallette Hanson

    Linda, I personally do not know any special needs children or adults, so I speak from my heart.

    If Lindsey has the support you describe, I think she and her fiance will be way ahead in the adventure of marriage. Marriage is challenging no matter what your mental capabilities. What is important is that the two people coming together love one another and in this case, have a strong family community to rely on as they grow together. It’s so important as you continue in life to have the one person you can always rely on and who is truly committed to you.

    So I wish Lindsey the best in all things. Challenges will come as they have in the past, but the strength of her relationship with her new husband and her family and friends will get her through these challenges.

    • I agree Hallette. Thanks for your insights and comments. And you should know. You just celebrated forty-some years of marriage. Congrats to you and your husband.

  • The thing about the belief that people with intellectual disabilities can’t handle the stresses of relationships of married life, or independent living (alone or in a couple), or whatever life experience anyone is currently trying to argue that they shouldn’t have…is that we all know people without any sort of disability that has trouble handling those things, but no one would argue that they shouldn’t have the right to do them. Plenty of people out there lack common sense and would have trouble knowing what to do in an emergency. Plenty of people don’t have what it takes to make a marriage or relationship work. I don’t have the “clean gene” and I have a devil of a time balancing my checkbook! But no suggests on the basis of those things that I should live with family for the rest of my life.

    I can understand the temptation for parents to protect their children with special needs, even into adulthood as much as possible. But, after a point, who is it really serving? When it prevents the person with the disability from participating opportunities to learn new skills, develop new relationships, and have new experiences, then life for them is likely going to significantly *more* difficult once the parents are gone. And that’s why we need to keep insisting on service provision and funding to assist families with skill-building and personal development for their children, by the way…but that’s another soap-box. 🙂

    What’s most important is that Lindsay and Nick love each other. Congratulations to them both. 🙂

    • Thanks Sarah for reading and commenting. I like how you think! I’ll tell Lindsey of your good wishes.

  • Nanda

    Linda, I love your openness and courage! I think you are so right, because you are not only thinking about what is good for Lindsey now, but also for her future. Being free to take risks is the only way we can grow and learn. I wish all the happiness for this new sweet couple and I wish I was there with you to celebrate!

    • Thank you Nanda. And I will pass your good wishes onto the happy couple!

  • Wow, I love this post. Just found you through the link-up on Love That Max…
    I also wish for a life of independence and love for my daughter (although she’s only 6 now), and can totally understand all the fears surrounding it. I hope I’m giving her the tools now for a life on her own, but also hope she’ll want to live next door…LOL Thank you for this.

  • Lovely to discover your blog. What an amazing post, congratulations to your daughter on her up coming marriage x sounds like they will have a wonderful partnership xx
    My child is only seven but I hope more than anything that he will find a partner who loves and supports him xxx

  • Congrats to Lindsey! 🙂 She is gettting out there and living life. Don’t we all make mistakes? That is how we learn. ( And congrats to mom for not locking her in a closet. j/k)

    My DD is just stepping into the teenage years. Since she is about 2 years behind emotionally and socially I am thinking dating and boys will probably come in her later teenager into adult-college years. I have always imagined her living in a “tiny house” in the backyard. If prince charming comes along he can move in. 🙂

    I think the number one most important thing we can do for our kids is role model healthy relationships. If they see a healthy marriage then they will more likely have a healthy marriage themselves. If parents have divorced then being honest with the child and themselves is a good way to role model.

    The more life skills that your child can acquire the better off that they will be with whichever path they take in life. Learning conflict resoultion and problem solving skills not only help in the work place but also in marriage.

    I think also it depends on how a person defines marriages and the roles of each party. Some people look at people with disabilities and can’t see that they have anything to give to a marriage. Of course, we know that they are totally wrong.

    I am glad I hopped over the Love That Max link up this weekend. I look forward to reading and following the rest of your blog.


  • Patricia

    Nick’s mom here…how wonderful Linda! I’m glad I found your blog. Even though I’m sort of “in” on some of their story, it’s great reading.

    Every time I see Nick he tells me how much he loves Lindsey and how he misses her when she’s not there. “The house is just too empty without her, Mom.” Just what we want them both to have: love, companionship and a life-long partner.

    Happy travels!

    • Everytime I see them I find them to be quite happy, which warms my heart. Glad you found my blog Pat.

  • LynnK

    I know it’s been about two years but I’m really excited to read these posts. I don’t think that your reaction was defensive in any way. For the most part all the disabled folks that are married or in a committed partnership that I know outlast the the average folk’s marriage usually by decades.

    • Thanks. I certainly hope this proves true in Lindsey and Nick’s case. You are kind to leave a comment.

  • Rebecca Horne

    The concern seems to stem from a misguided idea about what marriage is. I’m guessing people who suggest they shouldn’t marry are envisioning marriage as the point where you break away from your birth family and start your own–bootstrapping yourselves up without outside support, relying only on each other.

    “How can they marry?” means “how can they live on their own, without outside support, supervision and guidance?”

    But who says marriage needs to be that? Even if two people really did need to live with one of their families, or separately–each with their own support network– or in whatever configuration works best for them, there’s no reason that arrangement can’t include marriage.

    There are no rules about what relationships have to look like! You’re allowed to build relationships that fur your own life!

  • Pingback: Couples with disabilities: 5 love stories to celebrate | handef2003()

  • Cathy

    I have read all of the comments and I appreciate them all. We have a developmentally disabled adult daughter (28) who has generalized anxiety, prone to depression/worry and OCD. She takes several medications. She does not work and receives SS benefits. We’ve talked about some type of employment training but have not followed through yet. She has informed us that she has fallen in love with our next door neighbor’s adult son, whom she visits on a regular basis. She has changed her mindset from not being at all interested in a relationship to caring for this man (32). He has remained friends with her despite her declining a relationship with him in the past. He lives at home as well and what we know is that he has a skin condition and other health issues. We are very concerned because he does not work to support himself though he drives and has friends he sees. He takes our daughter to movies and to their friends’ house. My husband and I do not want to encourage a relationship in this case. Our daughter has said she would get a job (concerning because she is not highly functioning and needs constant help in taking care of herself). However, we feel it is not right for her to support the two of them. I would be interested in responses to our situation. We are looking out for her best interest. Thank you.

    • In Oregon, I have been told over and over that my daughter has the right to pick a partner–whether it is a good or bad choice. (and her friends, too!) I don’t know the laws of your state. My daughter is extremely stubborn. Her most recent “LOVE” was a homeless man with a felony and schizophrenia. It was a bad deal and we told Lindsey she should not be involved, but she would not listen. Eventually, she did. If you have any ability to reason with your daughter, continue trying to reason. On this last homeless”boyfriend” I talked to him, sharing our concerns and why this wasn’t a good situation for our girl. (He could never come to her apartment because of his felony or she could be evicted). Maybe talking to the neighbor and telling him how concerned you are may end the relationship OR it could strengthen it big time. Relationships, i.e. parental and /or romantic are so delicate to maneuver. I wish I had better info/ideas for you, but in the special needs arena, we are all taking it day by day, one minute at a time.

      P.S. I write this from a position of living through my daughter running away with a much older man for 4.5 years–she marriage that I wrote above ended after about 2 years for many reasons (and you can check out my blog pieces if you want to know more). From what I thought, she has been happily single for the past few years, but when someone pays ANY positive attention to her, she falls in love. I hope that isn’t the same case for your daughter. It is hard on us, her parents, to help her pick up the pieces after her breakups. She is a lovely young lady and I wish (with all my heart) she would meet someone who would love and cherish her as much as she does someone else.