Journal of Child and Family Studies

, Volume 28, Issue 10, pp 2673–2689 | Cite as

“The Stress of the Situation has Changed us Both”: A Grounded Theory Analysis of the Romantic Relationship of Parents Raising Children with Autism

  • Keely H. Hirsch
  • Jill D. PaquinEmail author
Original Paper



Extant literature on family life and autism demonstrates that parents of children with autism experience significantly more parental stress when compared with parents of typically developing children, as well as parents of children with other types of disabilities. In two-parent households, however, how having a child with autism specifically impacts the parents’ romantic relationship with each other is less well understood. The present study aims to better understand how family life that includes parenting a child with autism impacts the romantic relationship of parents; what particular challenges this poses for these parents; and what specific resources, tools, and skills parents bring to bear on negotiating these challenges.


This study uses a grounded theory approach to gain an in-depth, phenomenological perspective on family life with autism, from the perspective of nine (n = 9) parents participating in interviews with the study’s primary investigator. A research team approach was used in the development and analysis stages of the project.


Analysis of the nine interview transcripts with parents of children with autism revealed 45 master categories, grouped into 14 key categories, which were further grouped into four constructs: (1) Parents’ Expectations of What Family Life Would Have Been Like Without Autism, (2) Perceptions of Family Life, (3) Perceptions of Challenges that Autism Brings to the Family, and (4) Coping Strategies. An emergent theory is articulated concerning how these constructs are interrelated, including the role of specific facilitative factors, barriers, and coping strategies present in the lives of these parents.


Through a grounded theory analysis, the present study demonstrates that parents’ expectations for and perceptions of their child with autism has an effect on their ability to cope and to co-parent, and that these experiences, in turn, influence their relationship with their partner.


Autism spectrum disorder Family life Parental romantic relationship Marital satisfaction 


Author Contributions

K.H.H.: designed and executed the study, analyzed data with a research team, and wrote the paper. J.D.P.: supervised study development and execution, served as auditor for data analysis, and edited final manuscript for publication.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional research committee (Chatham University Institutional Review Board).

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Kaiser Permanente, Santa ClaraSanta ClaraUSA
  2. 2.Chatham UniversityPittsburghUSA

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