A strong desire for love and marriage does not skip over those who have developmental disabilities. In fact, the longing for a supportive and understanding spouse is a common prayer request expressed by people who may have limitations, but fully experience the pain of loneliness and unmet physical desires.
So, how can a church counsel and encourage those with developmental disabilities to pursue Godly relationships and friendships? What are some of the limitations to be aware of?
The principles and purpose of marriage are quite clear in Scripture. Marriage is a wonderful gift from God—a relationship in which a man and woman can enjoy deep intimacy through an exclusive covenant. In light of what Scripture teaches about marriage, here are a handful of questions to consider when counseling adults with developmental disabilities on marriage:
- Does this couple understand issues related to commitment? The term “lifelong” may be too difficult to fully grasp, but have they demonstrated they understand the concept of “long-term” in other areas such as school, jobs, friendships, etc.?
- Has the couple displayed a willingness to work through the complexities of relationships? No one is completely prepared for marriage or all the issues that may arise within that context. However, a couple should understand the basic complexities of relationships and demonstrate a willingness and ability to work through differences, conflict and strife, misunderstandings, and pain.
- When addressing marriage, Scripture speaks of “leaving father and mother.” This does not require total independence, for every couple benefits from a level of parental support. There is, however, a certain amount of emotional and physical independence necessary for a married couple to bond and become interdependent with one another. While some allowance should be made for couples with developmental disabilities, the same question remains: Can this couple be married without being fully dependent on their parents?
- Marriage is a big step for any couple. When a developmental disability is involved, parents often have much more authority and influence in the matter. Are both sets of parents in full agreement and willing to support the marriage of their children?
- Have issues of birth control and childbearing been discussed? Does the couple want to have children? If yes, does the couple have the cognitive ability to safely bring a child into the world, care for the child, and provide for the child?
- Are both individuals committed to Christ? Do they regularly participate in church activities and have a network of support to help them through difficult times?
Every couple’s situation is unique and must be treated as such. If you know any couples with developmental delays that desire to be married, I encourage you to begin praying for God’s clear wisdom and discernment for those couples. And, as you do so, let this be an opportunity for the church to come alongside these couples to provide support, guidance, and discipleship.
Crystal Keating serves with the Response Department at Joni and Friends, providing encouragement and practical resources for people affected by disability. She has advocated for true life in Christ to women with unwanted pregnancies, homeless families, and neglected children since 2000. She is also a graduate student, studying marriage and family counseling.