It’s a common belief that nowadays half of all marriages end in divorce. But, according to a recent article by Insider, the actual math breaks down the divorce rate at only 30%. Still too high, in my opinion, but I also recognize that there are very valid reasons to divorce, especially if someone is escaping a dangerous person and situation.
Marriage is hard work. I think everyone can agree on that. So today I want to talk about a healthy marriage. Now, my husband and I are not perfect. In fact, we are a far cry from perfect. But the reason we are still together and have not called it quits, despite the many many times we could have, is because we fight. We fight FOR our marriage. We fight to stay together. And sometimes that fight is more one-sided than others, but the end results are still the same. We are still together. It has been a long and hard 7 years of marriage but we are really trying to keep it a lasting one.
Between the normal stressors of coupled life (work, finances, sex, etc.), things get messy. Anytime you share your life with someone else things are going to be hard. Especially once kids become involved. Now you have to co-parent and raise these children with someone else who was raised differently than you were making their point-of-view on how to handle certain situations different from yours. That can cause even more stress and lead to more arguments.
Now, let’s throw in a child who is not developmentally on track. You now have a special needs, neuro-diverse child. And depending on the parents, there may one that is in the denial phase a little longer than the other or who takes on the role of main provider and spends more time working so that the other parent can be in charge of all of the extra doctor’s appointments and therapies that will inevitably come with having a child who needs the extra care.
That adds even MORE stress and issues in a marriage. It can be very isolating not having your life partner there with you every step of the way, whether that be emotionally or physically there in-person at all of the appointments and sessions. And if you are anything like me, you will take on all of that as if you are the only person in the world who can handle it and it will consume your brain 24/7. No matter the amount of emotionally support my husband offers, him not being able to be with us for all of the doctor and therapy sessions is hard. And don’t get me wrong, I am BEYOND appreciative of the sacrifices my husband makes by being the sole provider for us and working over-time so that we can live a comfortable life without fearing how we can afford next month’s mortgage. But, being the only parent who is completely involved in all aspects of our son’s neuro-diversity is hard. It becomes very stressful as our daily schedule is maxed out and I have to coordinate childcare whenever possible for our little guy so that our oldest can focus better and I’m not being torn between getting Oliver off of things he isn’t supposed to be climbing and having to hold Killian back from punching his therapist because he is mad that she put him in time-out for continuing to not follow the safety rules in OT (legit story from yesterday).
I’m sure that it doesn’t come as a surprise that families on special needs kids have a higher divorce rate. Some even say that it is a staggering 80% divorce rate! But do you know what that rate actually is?
One study by Whymbs and Pelham showed the divorce rate among parents of kids with ADHD was nearly twice that of couples in the general population (22.7% of parents of children with ADHD had divorced by the time the child was 8 years old, compared to 12.6% of parents in the control group). If the parents of a child with ADHD were still married by the time their child reached the age of 8, their subsequent divorce rate was no higher than that of controls.
A study by Urbano and Hodapp compared divorce rates among families of children with Down Syndrome to families of children with other birth defects and families of children with no identified disability. Divorce rates were lower among couples with a child with Down’s than in the other two groups. When divorce did occur in the Down Syndrome group, it was more likely within the first 2 years after the child’s birth.
Hartley et al examined rates of divorce among families of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and parents of children with ASD had a higher rate of divorce than the comparison group (23.5% vs. 13.8%). The rate of divorce remained high throughout the child’s early years, adolescence, and early adulthood for parents of children with ASD, whereas it decreased following the child being 8 years old in the comparison group.
Baeza-Velasco et al examined the occurrence and timing of separation of parents raising children with Autism Spectrum Disorder followed over a 10-year period (n = 119). They compared the clinical characteristics of children and sociodemographic variables between parents who remained together versus parents who separated. The results showed that after 10 years of follow-up 74.8 % of the couples remained together (n = 89), representing a separation rate of 25.2 %. This rate remained stable over the study period. There was no significant difference in any of the clinical and sociodemographic variables between comparison groups. They suggest that “raising a child with autism does not often lead to the dissolution of the parents’ relationship, as is commonly believed.”
Namkung et al prospectively examined the risk of divorce in 190 parents of children with developmental disabilities compared to 7,251 parents of children without disabilities based on a random sample drawn from the community and followed long-term for over 50 years. They found the “risk of divorce increased among families WITHOUT a child with intellectual disability as the families became larger” but remained steady with increased family size among families of a child with intellectual disability. Overall, they saw no significant difference in divorce rates among families with and without intellectual disabilities (22% vs 20%, respectively).
Freedman and Kalb stated:
Despite speculation about an 80% divorce rate among parents of children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), very little empirical and no epidemiological research has addressed the issue of separation and divorce among this population. Data for this study was taken from the 2007 National Survey of Children’s Health, a population-based, cross-sectional survey. A total of 77,911 parent interviews were completed on children aged 3–17 years, of which 913 reported an ASD diagnosis. After controlling for relevant covariates, results from multivariate analyses revealed no evidence to suggest that children with ASD are at an increased risk for living in a household not comprised of their two biological or adoptive parents compared to children without ASD in the United States.
Here’s an interesting quote from Dr. Brian Freedman, lead author of the study:
“Results from the analysis found no consistent evidence of an association between a child having an ASD diagnosis and that child living in a traditional verses nontraditional family. Once we control for co-occurring psychiatric disorders, our results show that a child with an ASD is slightly more likely than those without ASD to live in a traditional household. This somewhat counter-intuitive result is likely due to particularly low probabilities of living in traditional households for children with those other disorders, regardless of whether or not they have ASD. In fact, exploratory analyses suggest that having ADHD, Externalizing, and Internalizing disorders are more strongly related to the probability of not living in a traditional household than is ASD.”
The data from the Wisconsin study would appear to suggest that the presence of older children who can help parents with the day-to-day responsibilities of supporting siblings with severe disabilities may play an important role in maintaining family stability. While the data from which the results of the study were derived came from an earlier time in society when families in general were more stable.
A Diagnosis Of Autism Is Not A Prognosis Of Divorce is a great article that talks about the myths and realities regarding marriage of ASD parents.
So while, the odds of divorce may be higher with a special needs child, it is by no means a death sentence. It is just another great opportunity for you and your significant other to improve communications and work as a team. We have had to seek out marriage counseling to help us in the beginning of our diagnosis journey. We had to learn key phrases to use when we argue or communicate with each other. My friend, and church pastor, was an amazing help for my marriage when a time came that I wanted out and wasn’t sure our relationship could survive any longer. He thankfully coached me on how to speak to my husband in a way that would not aggravate the massive blow-up that our marriage took. He met with the both of us and helped us be able to see things from the other person’s point-of-view. He helped us see that neither of us was right or wrong. We had both done things to cause the end result to occur. One tiny thing had snowballed and turned into me taking the boys and staying with my parents for a week. Joel was a fantastic mediator and took the side of marriage. Not once did he take mine or my husband’s side. He spent several hours sitting with us one night helping us speak to one another in a manor that was respectful and not hostile. He helped my husband see why I had taken the drastic measures of leaving and he helped me see why he had reacted and spoken to me the way he had that caused me to leave. He made sure that we learned and were using the words “I am on your team,” “We are in this together,” and “I am not your enemy.”
Despite our flaws, one thing we do is fight. Fight for our marriage. Some days its harder than others. But we have agreed that we are a team and we won’t give up on each other or our marriage.
Whether you have a neuro-diverse or a neuro-typical child, or even if you and your spouse don’t have kids at all, I implore you to fight the odds. Seek out counseling and work to improve your marriage. Obviously, if it is an abusive relationship, then by all means, get any help you can to get out and get to safety. But for those who are in a relationship that is healthy but really struggling, find a counselor, go on dates, rediscover your love for one another, and fight to be together.
We are defying the odds.
-The Lazy Mama