Is divorce passed down through generations because children spend time around their separated parents, or because parents pass on their “divorce genes?”
According to a new study by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University and Lund University in Sweden, this is caused by genetics and not psychological factors.
The researchers analysed Swedish population registries and found that people who were adopted resembled their biological but not adoptive parents and siblings in their histories of divorce.
“We were trying to answer the basic question: Why does divorce run in families?”
Across a series of designs using Swedish national registry data, we found consistent evidence that genetic factors primarily explained the intergenerational transmission of divorce,” said Jessica Salvatore, an assistant professor at VCU.
“By recognising the role that genetics plays in the intergenerational transmission of divorce, therapists may be able to better identify more appropriate targets when helping distressed couples.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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].
“So, addressing these underlying, personality-driven cognitive distortions through cognitive-behavioral approaches may be a better strategy than trying to foster commitment.”
The study will be published in the journal Psychological Science.
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