Children whose parents are divorced run an increased risk of divorce themselves compared to children whose parents remained married, and genetic factors are primarily to blame, new research has found.

The study, by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) and Lund University in Sweden, set out to answer the question “Why does divorce run in families?”
Previous studies had suggested that psychological factors were responsible for an increased risk of divorce for children of divorced parents.  However, the latest study has found that genetic factors are much more important.
The researchers believe that this greater understanding of the role genetics have to play in divorce will assist the professionals involved in supporting couples going through relationship difficulties.
“At present, the bulk of evidence on why divorce runs in families points to the idea that growing up with divorced parents weakens your commitment to and the interpersonal skills needed for marriage,” explained the study’s first author, Jessica Salvatore, Ph.D., assistant professor at VCU. “So, if a distressed couple shows up in a therapist’s office and finds, as part of learning about the partners’ family histories, that one partner comes from a divorced family, then the therapist may make boosting commitment or strengthening interpersonal skills a focus of their clinical efforts.”
“However, these previous studies haven’t adequately controlled for or examined something else in addition to the environment that divorcing parents transmit to their children: genes,” she added. “And our study is, at present, the largest to do this. And what we find is strong, consistent evidence that genetic factors account for the intergenerational transmission of divorce. For this reason, focusing on increasing commitment or strengthening interpersonal skills may not be a particularly good use of time for a therapist working with a distressed couple.”

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