Divorce – It’s in the Genes
Carlsbad, CA – You may think your divorce can be chalked up to growing apart emotionally, or never feeling like you could get on the same page when it came to parenting your children. A new study suggests the reason could be genetic.
Researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University and Lund University in Sweden say genetics are the primary reason children of divorced parents are more likely to divorce, compared to children who were raised in two-parent families, according to their study, which will be published in a forthcoming issue of the journal Psychological Science.
The conclusion was reached after analyzing Swedish population registries to find that “people who were adopted resembled their biological — but not adoptive — parents and siblings in their histories of divorce,” according to a VCU press release.
This study puts a crack in the foundational belief common in divorce literature that children of divorce are at increased risk of their marriages ending in divorce because they witnessed their parents manage conflict poorly or fail to remain committed to the marriage. As a result, they exhibited the same behavior in their own marriages.
Researchers began the study in search of an answer to why divorce tends to run in families, said Jessica Salvatore, a VCU assistant professor who authored the study. “Across a series of designs using Swedish national registry data, we found consistent evidence that genetic factors primarily explained the intergenerational transmission of divorce.”
This isn’t the first time a study has suggested a biological connection to divorce. One of the first significant discoveries that identified a correlation between genes and marital health was in the 1990s “when two University of Minnesota psychological researchers published a study on the divorce status of more than 1,500 sets of same-sex twins,” according to the Association for Psychological Science. Researchers found that identical twin siblings with the same DNA “were more likely to both be divorced than were same-sex fraternal twins, who share only about half of the same genes.”
The information gained from divorce studies may pave the way to more effective help from psychologists and therapists counseling couples who experience marital strife. It may be more useful for therapists to focus on some basic personality traits that are genetically linked to divorce, such as high levels of negative emotionality and low levels of constraint, to mitigate their negative impact on close relationships, according to VCU.
“For example, other research shows that people who are highly neurotic tend to perceive their partners as behaving more negatively than they objectively are [as rated by independent observers],” Salvatore said. “So, addressing these underlying, personality-driven cognitive distortions through cognitive-behavioral approaches may be a better strategy than trying to foster commitment.”
As a result of this study, a therapist who knows one spouse is the product of divorce might focus greater effort on increasing commitment or helping a spouse work on the attributes they use to understand what motivates their partner and how to use that information to increase marital unity.
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