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A Child’s ADHD Can Stress Your Marriage

Perhaps not surprisingly, research published last year showed that more marriages ended in divorce when the parents had a child diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADHD). The statistic researchers found is eye-opening — such marriages end in divorce at nearly double the rate than marriages that don’t have a child with ADHD. Any mental disorder diagnosed in a child is likely to put additional stress on a marriage. The Washington Post has the story:

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.

“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.”

A long-term relationship such as a marriage is already faced with many obstacles and stressors. Having a child with a diagnosed mental disorder such as ADHD can seem to cause an already-fragile marriage to be pushed over the edge.

This article describes some of the research that’s been done that looks at the connection between ADHD and marital relationships.

In one of the experiments, the researcher videotaped interactions between parents with difficult children and non-difficult children:

Regardless of whether they had children with ADHD, […] the parents asked to work with difficult children were four times as likely to exchange negative criticism and questions, or to ignore each other and trade nonverbal barbs, than the parents in the other group.

And regardless of whether they were dealing with easy or difficult children, parents who had ADHD children at home were three times as likely to be negative toward each other as parents who did not. Put another way, the parents of children with ADHD simply had less ability to respond to challenges with equanimity; they appeared to be psychologically worn thin.

The answer isn’t just in a bottle of Adderall (although it may be a part of the answer). I know I’ve said this before, but parents would help themselves by learning behavioral techniques to help deal with a child with ADHD when the stimulants are wearing off and more can’t be given (e.g., because it’s too close to bedtime). Just because the GP doesn’t prescribe psychotherapy doesn’t mean you can’t seek it out on your own to learn such valuable parenting skills. They are readily taught and take only a few sessions to start picking up and using.

Every child should come with a parenting handbook. However, since they don’t, it’s up to parents to learn these things on their own if they want to keep their relationship as stress-free and healthy as possible. Divorce is by no means an inevitable outcome (despite the statistics), with or without a child who has been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder. But a parent must rise to the challenge, and be prepared to work not only on helping their child with ADHD, but also on their own marital relationship.

Read the full article: Marriages Suffer Under Stress of Raising Child With ADHD, Study Finds (free registration required)

A Child’s ADHD Can Stress Your Marriage

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). A Child’s ADHD Can Stress Your Marriage. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 6 Mar 2009)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.