Happy Wives and Happy Husbands: Actor-Partner Associations Among Mothers and Fathers of Children with Autism

Friday, May 16, 2014
Atrium Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Atlanta)
N. Ekas, L. Keylon and M. Pruitt, Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, TX
Background:  Raising a child with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a stressful experience for parents and results in lower well-being (Ekas et al., 2009). The stress that parents face can manifest in ways that affect them individually and as a couple. Studies have found that relationship satisfaction is an important factor in understanding parents’ experiences and is impacted differently for mothers and fathers (Hartley et al., 2011).  Since relationship satisfaction is an important predictor of parental adjustment it is important to examine factors that enhance satisfaction. One potential factor is benefit finding, which has mixed effects on positive outcomes (Samios et al., 2011). Parent depression may also impact the quality of parents’ relationships (Kouros et al., 2011). 

Objectives:  The purpose of the present study was to further understand the factors that influence relationship satisfaction in couples raising a child with ASD by examining the effects of both depression and benefit finding.  The current study also examines these factors not in isolation to the impact on the individual but also on the impact on the other partner’s relationship satisfaction.     

Methods:  Seventy-two heterosexual couples participated in the current study (94% married). Parents were predominantly Caucasian or Hispanic. The average age of fathers was 38.25 years while the average age of mothers was 42.63 years. All parents reported their child had a diagnosis of an ASD. Parents completed questionnaires assessing marital satisfaction (Couples Satisfaction Index), depression (Center for Epidemiological Studies - Depression), and benefit finding (Benefit Finding Scale). 

Results:  Because the data consisted of individuals nested within dyads (i.e., mother and father) we used Hierarchical Linear Modeling. The Actor-Partner Interdependence Model (APIM; Kenny et al., 2006) was used to examine the effect that an individual’s independent variable has on their own dependent variable (actor effect) as well as his/her partner’s dependent variable (actor effect). Two separate APIM models were tested to examine the effects of benefit finding and depression on relationship satisfaction. Results indicated that an individual’s benefit finding was positively associated with their relationship satisfaction (b = .92, SE = .19, p < .001) as well as their partner’s relationship satisfaction (b = .56, SE = .19, p < .01). An individual’s depression negatively predicted their relationship satisfaction (b = -1.23, SE = .32, p < .001) and their partner’s relationship satisfaction (b = -.61, SE = .32, p = .06). 

Conclusions:  Previous research has found relationship satisfaction to be adversely affected in families of children with an ASD. Given the dyadic nature of relationships, we focused on how mothers and fathers impacted each other. Our results indicated that being able to find benefit in their child’s disability was associated with higher levels of relationship satisfaction for themselves and their partner. On the other hand, depression negatively impacted relationship satisfaction of the individual and their partner. The findings of this study have important clinical implications with respect to understanding the dyadic nature of relationship satisfaction and how we might improve levels of relationship satisfaction among families experiencing high levels of stress.

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