Yes, Divorce Might Be Genetic, But There’s A Lot You Can Do About It
According to the American Psychological Association, anywhere between 40 and 50 percent of U.S. marriages end in divorce. This staggering statistic isn’t exactly encouraging, and even more disheartening are the results of a new study that suggests that divorce might actually be genetic.
The study, which was published in the journal Psychological Scienceearlier this year, compared the divorce rates of 20,000 adopted children living in Sweden with the divorce rates of their biological parents as well as their adopted parents. Regardless of whether or not their adopted parents got divorced, if the subjects’ biological parents got divorced, they were 20 percent more likely to split from their partner as well.
While the study concludes that there isn’t exactly a divorce “gene,” it does seem that when it comes to divorce, there is some kind of genetic factor. So if your biological parents got divorced, does that mean your fate is sealed? Not at all. Here’s what the experts have to say about that.
We often do what’s familiar.
Erin Levine, divorce expert and founder and CEO of Hello Divorce, explains that there’s a certain ease in familiarity. So whether that’s something we saw growing up or something that’s deeply ingrained in us like our genetic code, whatever our parents or family members did can often feel like the path of least resistance. “As an example, look at all the lawyers who have a parent or sibling who is a lawyer,” she explains. “It becomes much easier to take the path of a lawyer (and to believe you are capable of doing it) when other people close to you have done it.”
But just because it feels familiar doesn’t mean it’s your fate. You might not have total control over your destiny, but certain things—like the type of partner you choose and whether they’re willing to work through certain issues that may arise with you—are definitely in your power.
Remember that every divorce is different.
In looking at this study, Alison Stone, LCSW, encourages people to remember that divorce is not a homogenous experience. People get divorced for all different reasons, and it’s often actually the happy alternative to staying in a toxic relationship. “I’m wary of universalizing an experience that is so nuanced and unique to each family unit and even more wary of claiming that such experiences hold genetic power,” she explains, adding, “there are many, many reasons why people get divorced, and children of divorced parents will be impacted differently depending on a variety of circumstances: age at which divorce occurred, how contentious the split was, if there were custody issues, the list goes on.”
In other words, divorce is hardly black and white—so be cautious of oversimplifying it.
Even if divorce is genetic, you’re hardly destined for it.
As Stone points out, if our research on epigenetics has taught us anything, it’s that genes don’t necessarily mean certain things are inevitable. So even if you are “predestined” to split with your partner, there’s a lot you can do to stop that from becoming your reality. “Influence is not the same thing as predetermination. Our identity and behaviors are fluid, and we are constantly adapting to new information we take in as we grow older and wiser,” she explains. “We are able to alter the expression of our genes through a variety of lifestyle factors. If you were somehow genetically ‘predisposed’ to divorce, there is no reason to think your fate has been sealed.”
By Leigh Weingus