In a recent column, I began shedding light on what I see as a mountain of research that effectively debunks the established myth that 75 percent of marriages involving a child with a disability end in divorce. In my review of the research literature, I learned marriages involving a child with a disability have about the same divorce rate as all marriages.
For example, a 1990-2002 Tennessee study involving 370,000 children found married parents of children with Down syndrome had a divorce rate 4 percent lower than other married parents. The same study found married parents of children with “other birth defects” had a divorce rate 3.6 percent higher than all married parents.
Why does dispelling this myth matter?
For one, parents of newborns with disabilities hearing of a false 75 percent divorce rate at a vulnerable moment in their relationship could become discouraged and lose hope, which could lead to depression and other mental health issues. What they need is the truth.
It’s also possible this myth could lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy. For instance, after hearing of a false 75 percent divorce rate, couples in unstable relationships may wonder about the practicality of having to work on a relationship supposedly doomed to fail anyway. This in itself could cause divorce.
Another reason dispelling the myth matters: a pregnant mom hearing of a false 75 percent divorce rate and being told of a disability in her unborn child may have a stronger desire to choose abortion or put her child up for adoption when she ordinarily wouldn’t. For example, a 1999 British study found 92 percent of women bearing an unborn child with Down syndrome chose abortion. Of that 92 percent, a few likely were in shaky marriages and, upon hearing the fallacious 75 percent figure, chose abortion or adoption to keep their marriages intact. This decision could become problematic in itself later on in life because a woman choosing adoption or abortion can’t turn back. Once a woman decides, it’s final, and sometimes these women carry lifelong regrets.
Another reason dispelling the myth matters is that its perpetuation overshadows positive aspects. For example, some married couples experience stronger marriages specifically because of having a child with a disability. In these marriages, the child brings needed cohesion and causes personal growth in the parents.
More on this next week when I feature the father of a girl with Down syndrome.