Caring for each other when your child has autism: 6 Ideas on marriage from the saints (Part 1)

Just as the blessings of God are unutterably great, so their acquisition requires much hardship and toil undertaken with hope and faith. –St. Macarius the Great

I remember the year of William’s diagnosis. More specifically, I remember what it was like for our marriage.

Dark times, people. Dark times.

So, with that in mind, I’d like to talk this week in a 6-day series about attending to the mystery of holy matrimony while you’re also trying to juggle the needs of a spectrum child. So, here we go: Day One.

Marriage part one

Okay, who knows what the divorce rate is among couples who have a child on the spectrum? I remember, during that awful year William was diagnosed, hearing what that number was. Watch this.


Eighty. Not eighteen or 58. Not even 75%. I repeatedly read that a whopping EIGHTY PERCENT of parents of autistic children end their marriages.

That number is everywhere. In every support group I’ve been to, in every what-to-do-now workshop, in every celebrity interview and memoir…I was told, if you have a child with autism, your marriage is now operating at a 20% chance of survival.

When I heard this, everything was still new and overwhelming, but this was the most overwhelming piece of it. I thought, how can we survive this? What hope do we have?

So, over the years, I’ve gone through desperate spurts of gobbling up bits of wisdom from the saints on marriage, hoping to be part of the miraculous 20%. I wondered, how can my faith set me apart from the daunting 80%?

I start with the beloved St. John of Kronstadt, making today’s point.

1. Know the truth.

St. John said,

“Christ taught us truth; the Devil teaches us falsehood and strives in every way to contradict every truth.”

It turns out, the 80% is a total myth. Urban legend. Flim flam. 

There were two scientific studies conducted to unearth the likelihood of a marriage surviving autism. One was conducted in 2010 and tracked 391 families through the child’s adult years. That study did find those marriages more likely to split, and those mostly occurred when the children were older. But here’s the kicker: the divorce rate in their studied group was 23.5% as opposed to the divorce rate among parents of typically developing children, which was 13.8%.

That’s an increase, for sure, but I think it’s important to point out here that 23.5% is *not* the same as 80%.

I know. I went to college and everything.

The 2012 study, while not accounting for divorces that occurred as the child grew into adulthood, found absolutely no increase worth noting, whatsoever.

So, it might get me into ecclesiastical trouble here, but let’s go ahead and use St. John’s language and call “the 80%” “the Devil’s falsehood.”

“The 80%” is a falsehood that whispers a repeated lie, “there is no chance for you two,” and can influence your every thought. And as Orthodox Christians, we know that our thoughts determine our lives–*even* if those thoughts are as small as a number.

You do, too, have a chance. So let’s start there.


5 Comments Add yours

  1. kayreusser says:

    Good for you in keeping a level head and studying the facts. Great first step. God will sustain you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wendy C. says:

    I had never read such number. That said, I have always read that the stressors on marriage of those with children on the spectrum do make it more likely to have the marriage fail than their peers who have neurotypical children. My observation in quite a few cases has been that at least one of the parents may exhibit the same signs of autism (to some degree) – especially the social skills area – which impacts the health of the relationship. Still an area being explored.


    1. mauraoprisko says:

      It’s true that our marriages are more likely to fall apart than our peers raising neurotypical kiddos, but I wanted to point out that it’s not that horrible 80% I heard so often. Also, this really great article in Psychology Today talks about “the 80%” as well ( It’s interesting that you should point out parents also having autistic traits. This is not something I have witnessed at my son’s therapy center among any of the parents there, or anything I’ve read about. The thing researchers seem to be noticing most is that siblings of kids with autism seem to be more at risk, but I would actually be really interested to hear if you know of any studies being published that are finding a correlation there.


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