Married, With ADHD: Relationships Suffer Under Stress of Raising Child With Disorder, Study Finds

Washington Post March 3, 2009

For many years, scientists have explored how parental conflicts and other marital problems can affect the well-being of children. Far less attention has been paid to the opposite question: How do children, especially difficult children, influence the quality of married life? Couples who have a child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are nearly twice as likely to divorce or separate as couples who do not have children with the psychiatric disorder, according to a definitive new study that is the first to explicitly explore the question. The reason appears simple: Having a child who is inattentive or hyperactive can be extremely stressful for caregivers and can exacerbate conflicts, tensions and arguments between parents.

The research topic is sensitive because it can be easily misinterpreted to mean that scientists are blaming kids for the marital woes of their parents; that may be one reason researchers have generally avoided the topic and limited their investigations to how parental conflicts affect children. But increasingly, the evidence suggests that the lines of influence run in both directions. The study, led by psychologists Brian Wymbs and William Pelham and published last year in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, longitudinally tracked a large number of families with and without children diagnosed with ADHD, a disorder characterized by inattention and hyperactivity and often accompanied by conduct problems and oppositional behavior. While 12.6 percent of the parents of children without ADHD were divorced by the time the children were 8 years old, the figure was 22.7 percent for parents of kids with ADHD. Couples with ADHD kids also tended to reach the point of divorce or separation faster.