The Genetic Nature of Divorce – It’s Not Your Fault

Posted: 22 September, 2019

Most people go through a time during their divorce where they feel a horrible sense of guilt. “If only I’d done this”, “I shouldn’t have done that”, “This is my fault”.

It might not be your fault. A new study found that there could be a genetic component to the nature of divorce. Something that predisposes a person to realize there are just irreconcilable differences between themselves and their spouse. Something that may make them more willing to file divorce and to walk away from the marriage.

While we are not advocating chalking up the dissolution of your marriage to a genetic component, it could play an essential part in your decision to marry again or pursue a divorce (if you are still on the fence.) It’s good for your future mental health to examine why your marriage didn’t have the happily ever after you envisioned when you began. But that is best saved for after the papers are signed and the emotions aren’t quite so raw.

The Research Study on the Genetic Nature of Divorce

Marital counselors are continually looking for answers to the question of “what causes divorce?” If they can figure out the what and the whys, they can better help couples heal their marriage before it comes to divorce.

The study by Virginia Commonwealth University and Lund University in Sweden looked at the biological children of divorced parents and compared them to adopted children whose adoptive parents later got divorced.

The scientists found that the divorce rate of biological children closely matched the national statistics. The divorce rate of the adopted children was much lower. If normalizing divorce is a learned behavior then the adopted children should have also been close to the national divorce rate.

The difference between the two divorce rates means there could be a genetic predisposition. It changes the nature of divorce where people thought it was entirely environmental factors. After all, we know that children learn conflict resolution and how to behave in a relationship from their parents. So it just made sense to assume it was all nurture instead of nature.

This new factor may potentially change the dynamic of marriage counseling. The nurture factor of behavior learning may not be as strong as psychiatrists thought. The different behavior of the adopted children may open up insight into the mindsets some people are just born with. It’s still too early to tell.

The Implications for the Nature of Divorce

First would be marital counseling strategies. Family therapists will focus on addressing expectations of marriage and how to handle conflicts with children of divorce. But with a possible genetic component, other approaches could be more efficient.

The research is still preliminary so it could be other psychological factors that someone may be born with or learn, things like maladaptive perfectionism or negative conflict tendencies. The more scientists learn about the human mind, the better we can figure out how to make marriages work.

Either way, divorce is hard on families and one of the most stressful things someone can experience. A good support network, marriage and family therapist, and divorce lawyer can help you get your life to where you want it to be.

Other Relevant Studies

Another study found that in some cases the children of divorce were better off after the parents divorced. High-conflict marriages leave lasting impressions on children, potentially normalizing high-conflict behavior.

Yes. Divorce can be better for the children. They may still have a higher statistical probability of getting a divorce themselves down the road, but at least they can avoid picking up potentially destructive behaviors. Early on many children from high-conflict marriages need to focus on interpersonal skills like conflict resolution and other negative-focused behaviors.

Statistics Revealing the Nature of Divorce

Divorce might not be your fault. Overcoming both nature and nurture is difficult.

Women are 60% more likely to get divorced if their parents divorced when they were kids. They also tend to file divorce first.

Men whose parents divorced are only 35% more likely to get divorced. Depending on the state, they file first somewhere between 25% and 40% of the time.

What This Means For You

While the research is ongoing, try to take comfort in that divorce is not necessarily your fault. It may be something in the way your or your spouse was brought up. It could also just be a genetic predisposition.

When you go through that guilt phase of grieving, try to remember this. Don’t burden yourself with unnecessary guilt. Logic and statistics rarely help emotions, but you will come out alright. Talk to your family and trusted friends if you need to vent. An experienced divorce lawyer can help make things less stressful too.