The impact of the death of a child on the parent's marriage: a case study of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and the parent's marital relationship

Date
1987-05-31
Authors
O'Malley, Patrick W.
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Abstract

The death of a child is a devastating psychological event for the child's parents. The purpose of this study was to explore the impact of the death of a child on the parent's marital relationship. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is the leading cause of death among infants in the United States. The population studied were parents whose child died from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

The theoretical frameworks used for this study were family systems theory and phenomenology. Family systems is a theoretical concept that views the family as a group of interrelated parts. Phenomenology values the subject's intrapersonal world. Consequently, the phenomenological approach to understanding marriage and family life seeks to elicit the participant's personal view of their experience.

Ten couples whose children died from SIDS were interviewed in a moderately scheduled format. Each couple was asked several open ended questions that focused on the following six areas: 1) The changes in marital satisfaction; 2) The similar or different grief reactions of the spouses; 3) The need for emotional support from each other or others; 4) Actual support received from others for the couple and individuals; 5) The effect of previous losses on the couple's current grief experience; and, 6) The effect on the relationship of similar or dissimilar religious or spiritual views of the spouses concerning the child's death. The conclusions based on the data generated from the study indicate that marriage therapists should understand the following six dynamics when working with bereaved couples: 1) The couple's relationship may go through various stages relative to their level of marital satisfaction; 2) Grieving spouses will typically have dissimilar styles of grieving; 3) Couples who grieve may need the freedom to not lean on each other for support; 4) Grieving couples may not find adequate support from their friends, family, and community; 5) Previous losses may affect the couple's current grief over the death of their child; and, 6) Couples need the opportunity to explore their

religious and spiritual beliefs concerning their child's death.

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Keywords
Sudden infant death syndrome -- Psychological aspects, Death -- Psychological aspects, Families -- Psychological aspects, Marriage -- Psychological aspects, Infants -- Death -- Psychological aspects
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