Introduction. Several studies highlight the presence of particular functioning styles in families where mothers practice prolonged breastfeeding; this practice would be associated with a condition of father's marginality, with maternal symbiotic tendencies to defer the normal process of separation and to a dysfunction of the couple relationship (Coslovi, Celestini, Fornarola, Maragliano, & Chiusuri, 1999). Methodology. The research design used is with a non-equivalent control group, since the subjects are not randomly assigned to the two groups but on the basis of pre-existing characteristics (McBurney, 1996). The independent variable taken into consideration is the presence / absence in families of a breast-fed child over 15 months. The dependent variable is the functioning of the couple. For the study of the explanatory characteristics of the family functioning processes we have used the Circumflex Model of the Conjugal and Family Systems proposed and developed by Olson et al. (Olson, Russell, & Sprenkle, 1983). Aims. To compare the perceptions of the two groups with regard to some variables of family functioning examined as marital satisfaction, the level of cohesion and adaptability (as defined within the theoretical model of Olson). Sample: 90 couples with young children took part in the study for a total of 180 subjects. The experimental group (44 couples) is composed of families in which there is a toddler of at least 15 months still breastfed by the mother; the control group (46 couples) is made up of families with children weaned within the first year of life (46 couples). Tools. Both members of the couple were given a questionnaire for the collection of personal data and the Family Adaptability and Cohesion Evaluation Scales Questionnaire (FACES III, 1985) in its two Real and Ideal versions to investigate the functioning of the couple. Results. The analysis of the frequencies shows that the percentage of couples that falls within the extreme types of functioning provided by the model is greater in the experimental group (27%) than in the control group (13%). Within the control group there are no couples that are on the disengagement side, while this type reaches a total frequency of 22.6% in the experimental group. In the experimental group the Invised / chaotic type is most represented reaching a frequency of 18.2% compared to 13% observed in the control group pairs. The analysis of variance reveals a statistically significant difference between the mean scores of the two groups in the real cohesion dimension (F = 4.780; p <0.031) with a higher mean score in the control group (M = 42.00; SD = 4.222) compared to the group experimental (M = 39.43; SD = 6.697). Also the difference between the Scores of Discrepancy or Family Satisfaction between the two considered groups reaches statistical significance (F = 5.121; p <0.026) and observing the averages we find a higher average Discrepancy score in the pairs of the experimental group (M = 8.32 SD = 14.475) compared to controls (M = 2.37 SD = 10.184), which would indicate a higher level of marital dissatisfaction in the pairs of the experimental group. There is a statistically significant difference, within the experimental group, also between the average scores of men and women in the ideal adaptability dimension (F = 0.047; p <0.047) presenting the women of this group a higher average score ( M = 40.68; SD = 5.037) compared to men (M = 36.50; DS = 8.146). Correlational analysis reveals, within the experimental group, a negative linear relationship between the Family Satisfaction score and the age of the children (r = -0.462) which indicates a decrease in family satisfaction with the increase in the age of the children. In the control group, on the other hand, there is a statistically significant relationship between the duration of the marriage and the score of family satisfaction (r = 0.44) which indicates how the increase in the duration of the marriage increases conjugal satisfaction at the same time. Discussion and Conclusion. The data show that in families with prolonged breastfeeding mothers, there is a greater tendency to place themselves at the extremes of the Olson model and therefore to have more difficulty adapting to changes during the life cycle. These families have a combination of low / high cohesion with low / high adaptability. For the couples of the experimental group that are in the extreme type of enmeshed/chaotic (18.2%) we can hypothesize a difficult transition to parenthood, a poor differentiation between spouses and symbiotic and cohesive tendencies that would also extend to the child and that would justify the use of prolonged breastfeeding. For couples who are instead on the side of disengagement we can hypothesise an emotional distance and a poor involvement of the spouse in the care of the child, which then becomes the object of affective hyper-investment by the mothers. The analysis of the data also showed that the group with prolonged breastfeeding mothers experiences higher levels of dissatisfaction in the marital relationship compared to the control group; these mothers also have lower average scores than men of the same group in the dimension of marital satisfaction. The lack of satisfaction in the couple relationship could push these mothers to make compensatory use of breastfeeding. The results of the correlational analysis are in line with the data. In fact couples with prolonged breastfeeding mothers experience less marital satisfaction as the age of the children increases. On the other hand, in couples with regularly weaned children, marital satisfaction is increased at the same time as the duration of marriage increases.
Keywords: Prolonged breastfeeding, couples functioning, marital satisfaction, symbiotic tendencies