Can A Child's Behavior Ruin A Marriage?

By
April 1, 2009

For many years, scientists have investigated how parental conflicts and relationship problems, in general, can influence a child's well-being. Much less attention has been paid to the opposite question: How do kids, especially the ones with behavioral problems, can affect the quality of married life?

It has been found that married couples who have a child with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), are nearly twice as likely to get divorced or separated, compared to couples whose kids do not have the psychiatric disorder. The reason appears to be pretty simple: Having a child who is inattentive or hyperactive can be extremely stressful for caregivers and, therefore can lead to conflicts, arguments, tensions and misunderstanding between parents.

The scientists have generally avoided this sensitive topic in fear to be wrongly misinterpreted that they are putting the blame on children for the divorce of their parents. That is why there has always been a very limited investigation on this matter and much more research was conducted on how family conflicts affect youngsters. However, more and more facts and evidence suggest that the lines of influence run in both directions.

The new study, that is actually the first to explicitly investigate the problem, led by psychologists Brian Wymbs and William Pelham, tracked for many years a big number of families with and without kids who have been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. ADHD is a condition that is characterized by lack of attention and hyperactivity, and often accompanied by problems with conduct and oppositional behavior.

The results showed that by the time the kids without ADHD turned 8 years old, 12.6 per cent of their parents got a divorce. The number was 22.7 per cent for parents whose kids were diagnosed with the disorder. Couples with ADHD children also were reaching faster the point of divorce or separation. The experts wrote that when asked, the parents of kids with the disorder expressed very little satisfaction in their marriage, which was full of arguments, conflicts and use of mostly negative verbalizations during the discussions related to the child-rearing.

"We have known for a long time that kids can be stressful for their parents. What we show is they can be really stressful and can lead to marital dissatisfaction and divorce," said Pelham, who works at the State University of New York at Buffalo. "What it means is ADHD should not be treated without involving the parents in the treatment."

The scientist said that his interest in the topic appeared right after he conducted a study that analyzed how children's behavior influenced the desire in their parents to consume alcoholic beverages. For the experiment, Pelham involved a large number of parents that had to socialize with kids who were not their own. Some of the kids were trained to act in a proper way, while others were trained to act as though they had ADHD. The parents were given a break in between the 2 sessions, when they had the opportunity to relax and drink alcohol, and then sent back in for a second session with the same child.

All the adult participants assumed that the study was measuring how parent-child interactions changed depending on alcohol consumption. But in reality, Pelham wanted to find out how dealing with easy-going and difficult children affected the propensity of parents to drink. The psychologist discovered that parents who were randomly assigned to interact with the "ADHD" kids, consumed 40 percent more alcohol during the break than parents who were assigned to good-behaving kids.

Pelham said that although medications are effective in addressing ADHD symptoms, they often fail to work when it comes to relationship issues between parents and children. The reason is that ADHD drugs are stimulants, and are more often given to the kids in the morning before they go to school. The effect of medication wears off by the time children come back home and have most of their interactions with their parents. However, the scientists do not advise to give children more medication because it would deprive them of sleep and keep them up all night.

The study was published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.




Tags: Parenting and Families


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