Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 45, Issue 7, pp 1997–2007 | Cite as

The Power of Positivity: Predictors of Relationship Satisfaction for Parents of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

  • Naomi V. EkasEmail author
  • Lisa Timmons
  • Megan Pruitt
  • Christine Ghilain
  • Michael Alessandri
Original Paper


The current study uses the actor-partner interdependence model to examine the predictors of relationship satisfaction for mothers and fathers of children with autism spectrum disorder. Sixty-seven couples completed measures of optimism, benefit finding, coping strategies, social support, and relationship satisfaction. Results indicated that parent’s positive strengths predicted better personal relationship satisfaction. Moreover, parents’ benefit finding, use of emotional support, and perceived social support from their partner also predicted their partner’s relationship satisfaction. The results of this study highlight the importance of focusing on positive factors that can enhance relationship quality. Implications for the development of parent-focused interventions are discussed.


Autism spectrum disorder Mothers and fathers Relationship satisfaction Dyadic data analysis Social support Coping Benefit finding 



We would like to thank the families of the Florida Centers for Autism and Related Disabilities for their time.


  1. Assad, K. K., Donnellan, M. B., & Conger, R. D. (2007). Optimism: An enduring resource for romantic relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 93, 285–297. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.93.2.285.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Baeza-Velasco, C., Michelon, C., Rattaz, C., Pernon, E., & Baghdadli, A. (2013). Separation of parents raising a children with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities, 25, 613–624. doi: 10.1007/s10882-013-9338-0.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bayat, M. (2007). Evidence of resilience in families of children with autism. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 51(9), 702–714. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2788.2007.00960.x.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Benson, P. R. (2010). Coping, distress, and well-being in mothers of children with autism. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 4, 217–228. doi: 10.1016/j.rasd.2009.09.008.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Benson, P. R., & Kersh, J. (2011). Marital quality and psychological adjustment among mothers of children with ASD: Cross-sectional and longitudinal relationships. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 41, 1675–1685. doi: 10.1007/s10803-011-1198-9.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bitsika, V., Sharpley, C. F., & Bell, R. (2013). The buffering effect of resilience upon stress, anxiety and depression in parents of a child with an autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities, 25(5), 533–543. doi: 10.1007/s10882-013-9333-5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Boyd, B. A. (2002). Examining the relationship between stress and lack of social support in mothers of children with autism. Focus on Autism and other Developmental Disabilities, 17, 208–215.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bradbury, T. N., Fincham, F. D., & Beach, S. R. H. (2000). Research on the nature and determinants of marital satisfaction: A decade in review. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 62, 964–980.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Campbell, L., & Kashy, D. A. (2002). Estimating actor, partner, and interaction effects for dyadic data using PROC MIXED and HLM: A user-friendly guide. Personal Relationships, 9, 327–342.Google Scholar
  10. Carver, C. S. (1997). You want to measure coping but your protocol’s too long: Consider the brief cope. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 4(1), 92–100. doi: 10.1207/s15327558iijbm0401_6.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Carver, C. S., & Antoni, M. H. (2004). Finding benefit in breast cancer during the year after diagnosis predicts better adjustment 5 to 8 years after diagnosis. Health Psychology, 23(6), 595. doi: 10.1037/0278-6133.23.6.595.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Carver, C. S., & Connor-Smith, J. (2010). Personality and coping. Annual Review of Psychology, 61, 679–704. doi: 10.1146/annurev.psych.093008.100352.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Carver, C. S., Scheier, M. F., & Segerstrom, S. C. (2010). Optimism. Clinical Psychology Review, 30, 879–889.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Carver, C. S., Scheier, M. F., & Weintraub, J. K. (1989). Assessing coping strategies: A theoretically based approach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 56, 267–283.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). Prevalence of autism spectrum disorders among children aged 8 years: autism and developmental disabilities monitoring network, 11 sites, United States, 2010. (MMWR Surveillance Summaries 63(2): 1–22). Retrieved from
  16. Davis, N. O., & Carter, A. S. (2008). Parenting stress in mothers and fathers of toddlers with autism spectrum disorders: Associations with child characteristics. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 38(7), 1278–1291. doi: 10.1007/s10803-007-0512-z.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Dehle, C., Larsen, D., & Landers, J. E. (2001). Social support in marriage. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 29, 307–324.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Ekas, N. V., Lickenbrock, D. M., & Whitman, T. L. (2010). Optimism, social support, and well-being in mothers of children with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 40, 1274–1284. doi: 10.1007/s10803-010-0986-y.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Estes, A., Olson, E., Sullivan, K., Greenson, J., Winter, J., Dawson, G., & Munson, J. (2012). Parenting-related stress and psychological distress in mothers of toddlers with autism spectrum disorders. Brain and Development, 35, 133–138. doi: 10.1016/j.braindev.2012.10.004.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Faso, D. J., Neal-Beevers, A. R., & Carlson, C. L. (2013). Vicarious futurity, hope, and well-being in parents of children with autism spectrum disorder. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 7(2), 288–297. doi: 10.1016/j.rasd.2012.08.014.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Funk, J. L., & Rogge, R. D. (2007). Testing the ruler with item response theory: Increasing precision of measurement for relationship satisfaction with the couples satisfaction index. Journal of Family Psychology, 21(4), 572–583. doi: 10.1037/0893-3200.21.4.572.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Gau, S. S., Chou, M. C., Chiang, H. L., Lee, J. C., Wong, C. C., Chou, W. J., & Wu, Y. Y. (2012). Parental adjustment, marital relationship, and family function in families of children with autism. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 6, 263–270. doi: 10.1016/j.rasd.2011.05.007.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Gordon, C. L., & Baucom, D. H. (2009). Examining the individual within marriage: Personal strengths and relationship satisfaction. Personal Relationships, 16, 421–435.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Harper, A., Dyches, T. T., Harper, J., Roper, S. O., & South, M. (2013). Respite care, marital quality, and stress in parents of children with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 43, 2604–2616. doi: 10.1007/s10803-013-1812-0.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Hartley, S. L., Barker, E. T., Baker, J. K., Seltzer, M. M., & Greenberg, J. S. (2012). Marital satisfaction and life circumstances of grown children with autism across 7 years. Journal of Family Psychology, 26, 688–697. doi: 10.1037/a0029354.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Hartley, S. L., Barker, E. T., Seltzer, M. M., Floyd, F., Greenberg, J., Orsmond, G., & Bolt, D. (2010). The relative risk and timing of divorce in families of children with an autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Family Psychology, 24, 449–457. doi: 10.1037/a0019847.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Hartley, S. L., Barker, E. T., Seltzer, M. M., Greenberg, J. S., & Floyd, F. J. (2011). Marital satisfaction and parenting experiences of mothers and fathers of adolescents and adults with autism. American Journal of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, 116, 81–95. doi: 10.1352/1944-7558-116.1.81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Helgeson, V. S., Reynolds, K. A., & Tomich, P. L. (2006). A meta-analytic review of benefit finding and growth. Journal of Counseling and Clinical Psychology, 74, 797–816. doi: 10.1037/0022-006X.74.5.797.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Kenny, D. A., Kashy, D. A., & Cook, W. L. (2006). Dyadic data analysis. New York, NY: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  30. Klausli, J. F., & Owen, M. T. (2011). Exploring actor and partner effects in associations between marriage and parenting for mothers and fathers. Parenting: Science and Practice, 11, 264–279. doi: 10.1080/15295192.2011.613723.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Laurenceau, J. P., Barrett, L. F., & Rovine, M. J. (2005). The interpersonal process model of intimacy in marriage: A daily-diary and multilevel modeling approach. Journal of Family Psychology, 19, 314–323. doi: 10.1037/0893-3200.19.2.314.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Lee, G. K. (2009). Parents of children with high functioning autism: How well do they cope and adjust? Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities, 21, 93–114. doi: 10.1007/s10882-008-9128-2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Lickenbrock, D. M., Ekas, N. V., & Whitman, T. L. (2011). Feeling good, feeling bad: Influences of child perceptions and marital adjustment on well-being in mothers of children with an autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 40, 1274–1284.Google Scholar
  34. Littman-Ovadia, H., & Nir, D. (2014). Looking forward to tomorrow: The buffering effect of a daily optimism intervention. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 9, 122–136. doi: 10.1080/17439760.2013.853202.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Ludlow, A., Skelly, C., & Rohleder, P. (2012). Challenges faced by parents of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Health Psychology, 17, 702–711. doi: 10.1177/1359105311422955.
  36. Mavandadi, S., Dobkin, R., Mamikonyan, E., Sayers, S., Ten Have, T., & Weintraub, D. (2014). Benefit finding and relationship quality in Parkinson’s Disease: A pilot dyadic analysis of husbands and wives. Journal of Family Psychology, 28(5), 728–734. doi: 10.1037/a0037847.
  37. Neff, L. A., & Geers, A. L. (2013). Optimistic expectations in early marriage: A resource or vulnerability for adaptive relationship functioning? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 105, 38–60. doi: 10.1037/a0032600.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Patrick, S., Sells, J. N., Giordano, F. G., & Tollerud, T. R. (2007). Intimacy, differentiation, and personality variables as predictors of marital satisfaction. The Family Journal, 15, 359–367. doi: 10.1177/1066480707303754.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Raudenbush, S. W., & Bryk, A. S. (2002). Hierarchical linear models. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  40. Samios, C., Pakenham, K. I., & Sofronoff, K. (2009). The nature of benefit finding in parents of a child with asperger syndrome. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 3, 358–374. doi: 10.1016/j.rasd.2008.08.003.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Scheier, M. F., Carver, C. S., & Bridges, M. W. (1994). Distinguishing optimism from neuroticism (and trait anxiety, self-mastery, and self-esteem): A reevaluation of the life orientation test. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67(6), 1063. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.67.6.1063.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Schuster, S. C., Kessler, R. C., & Aseltine, R. H. (1990). Supportive interactions, negative interactions, and depressive mood. American Journal of Community Psychology, 18, 423–438.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Srivastava, S., McGonigal, K. M., Richards, J. M., Butler, E. A., & Gross, J. J. (2006). Optimism in close relationships: How seeing things in a positive light makes them so. Journal of Social and Personality Psychology, 91, 143–153. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.91.1.143.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Stuart, M., & McGrew, J. H. (2009). Caregiver burden after receiving a diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 3, 86–97. doi: 10.1016/j.rasd.2008.04.006.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Tarakeshwar, N., & Pargament, K. I. (2001). Religious coping in families of children with autism. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 16, 247–260.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Weiss, T. (2004). Correlates of posttraumatic growth in husbands of breast cancer survivors. Psycho-Oncology, 13, 260–268. doi: 10.1002/pon.735.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Whalen, H. R., & Lachman, M. E. (2000). Social support and strain from partner, family, and friends: Costs and benefits for men and women in adulthood. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 17, 15–30.Google Scholar
  48. Whisman, M. A. (2007). Marital distress and DSM-IV psychiatric disorders in a population-based national survey. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 116, 638–643. doi: 10.1037/0021-843X.116.3.638.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Naomi V. Ekas
    • 1
    Email author
  • Lisa Timmons
    • 1
  • Megan Pruitt
    • 1
  • Christine Ghilain
    • 2
  • Michael Alessandri
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyTexas Christian UniversityFort WorthUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of MiamiCoral GablesUSA

Personalised recommendations