Document Type


Publication Date




Source Publication

Clinical Child & Family Psychology Review

Source ISSN



Parents of children on the autism spectrum are particularly susceptible to strain in their romantic relationships due to unique risk factors. While some relationships deteriorate, however, others endure and thrive. The Vulnerability Stress Adaptation (VSA) Model of Marriage (Karney & Bradbury, 1995; Fig. 1) offers a framework to explain, not only poor marital outcomes, but also the process by which degradation of relationships occurs over time. The VSA Model posits that a combination of internal (within-person) vulnerabilities and external stressors influence relationship quality and, in turn, stability, by affecting couples' abilities to collaborate to adapt to stressors and solve problems (i.e., adaptive processes). With robust theoretical grounding, this review comprehensively summarizes and integrates literature pertaining to the romantic relationships of couples raising an autistic child through the lens of the VSA Model. Vulnerabilities, stressors, and adaptive processes relevant to these couples are identified, and empirical evidence pertaining to the proposed pathways in the VSA Model is explored. The body of research reviewed provides support for many of the proposed pathways in the VSA Model, especially related to certain stressors (i.e., child behavior problems) and vulnerabilities (i.e., parent depression), yet it falls short in exploring mechanisms by which these factors beget marital dysfunction (i.e., through adaptive processes). Additional gaps and methodological limitations in the literature are highlighted, and recommendations for future research are provided.


Accepted version. Clinical Child & Family Psychology Review, Vol. 24, No. 1 (March 2021): 120-140. DOI. © 2021 Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature. Used with permission.

vanhecke_14695acc.docx (176 kB)
ADA Accessible Version

Included in

Psychology Commons