By Jasmine Browley


According to a 2017 study, adults with divorced parents are more likely to get divorced themselves. Now, a newer study suggests that the reason may have more to do with nature than with nurture. In other words, an increased risk for divorce may be coded in our genes.

To get some definitive answers, U.S. and Swedish researchers analyzed population data from about 20,000 Swedish adults who’d been adopted as children. What was found was that the adoptees were more likely to resemble their biological parents and siblings when it came to their divorced pasts.

This was shocking since it seems to push back against commonly held beliefs that divorce runs in families because children watch and learn from their parents and grow up to subconsciously repeat their behavior. It’s suggested that not only can behavior be watched and mimicked, but also genetically passed down.

One explanation for the hereditary connection is a collection of personality factors that have also been linked to genetics—like neuroticism, obsessive compulsion, and impulsivity, which are all direct contributors to divorce.

But, researchers are careful not to imply that just because divorce appears to be genetically linked, that means people with divorced parents are sealed to the same fate. It’s just an increased risk.

Another risk factor is the environment you were raised in as well. The study analyzed data from about 80,000 adults who had their biological parents in the home. The researchers said they did find correlations between participants’ divorce rates and the divorce rates of their biological fathers, but their mothers’ marital history with their second husbands (or a man not their father) was an even stronger predictor of their own success in marriage.

With these new findings, researchers hope their study can help people better understand the many reasons that may put couples at risk for permanent separation. It may also help guide relationship therapists and marriage counselors in making recommendations for couples who are having a hard time.

Other research has suggested that children of divorced parents lack commitment or loyalty to their relationship. The findings, however, point to the fact that it may have more to do with certain personality traits, and that partners may have to take a different approach in working with them.

For example, the group most susceptible to be divorcees are neurotic people, who tend to interpret their partners’ behavior more negatively than more objective individuals do. With the introduction of the new findings, if a therapist knows this is happening, he or she can help reframe—through cognitive behavioral therapy—that person’s perception of events in their relationship and let their partner know of their possible genetic predisposition.

Hopefully, this new understanding can help keep couples happier and together for longer.

Jasmine Browley holds an MA in journalism from Columbia College Chicago, and has contributed to Ebony, Jet and MADE Magazine among others. So, clearly, she knows some stuff. Follow her digital journey @JasmineBrowley.

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