Do you think divorce is genetic?

by singlemomseeking on June 17, 2008

This week at MomLogic, guest blogger Mom-On-the-Edge asks if we are “Destined for Divorce.”

Mom-On-the-Edge, who is trying to save her marriage, examines the divorce cycle, and asks: Is it genetic?

Like Mom-On-the-Edge, my parents got divorced when I was little (she was one, I was three), in the 1970s. Like Mom-On-The-Edge, my sister and I had two houses, two sets of friends, two parents who loved us. We spent four days a week with our Mom, and three days with our Dad.

Like Mom-On-the-Edge, I figured out how to get by in such contrary settings: my mother didn’t allow us to have sugar, my father woke us up in the morning with chocolate cookies; my mother forbid me to get my ears pierced, my father took me to the mall to get the deed done.

Unlike Mom-On-The-Edge, I remember “the slamming doors” and “the alarming silence as they avoided each other while sitting in the same room.” Although my parents signed their divorce papers soon enough, they continued to fight through my childhood.

She writes:

Studies show that growing up in a divorced family greatly increases the odds that you will end your own marriage. It’s called the divorce cycle. As children we learn our relationship skills and marital commitment from our parents. So, the answer is yes AND no. Yes, I could be destined to repeat history. No, it’s not in my genes.”


I’m really curious: Are you part of “the divorced cycle”? How many of you come from divorced families?

Have you repeated the relationship patterns you learned from your parents? (I certainly have).

Although I may never remarry, one of my life goals is to teach my child that having lifelong loving, healthy, communicative relationships with others IS possible. I try to remember this every day. Your turn…

Photo from Matchstick

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{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

mommaliss June 17, 2008 at 9:36 am

I am the child of the most disgustingly happy married couple on the planet – or at least that I’ve ever known. My mom’s siblings are all still married and my grandparents are still married to each other. However, both of my dad’s siblings divorced and remarried. I will say that even in the face of my ex husbands serial infidelity I was willing to stay and work it out. He was not. I am still convinced that I can have a lifelong love… as long as the one I choose next is willing to work it out when things aren’t easy, because I already know that I am.

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The Exception June 17, 2008 at 9:39 am

Divorce is not common in my family so, I am not sure I can contribute to this conversation. I was never married and am not sure that it is a negative. The trick is finding a way for my daughter to learn how to be secure and confident – and to be a stable and functioning part of a loving relationship. Can she learn that from a single parent? She can learn that from her dad and myself who present a solid unit of friendship and discussion and disagreement… yet continually loving her and working through our differences. Though I am not sure it is the same.

My question is, what is it about coming from a divorced family that would lead one to think that they are more prone to divorce than someone who comes from a family in which there has not been divorce?

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Heidi June 17, 2008 at 9:51 am

My parents were married for 23 years and then divorced. Both of my sets of grandparents were married for 50+ years. Of their 6 offspring 5 married and divorced. Kind of depressing statistics.

I think that the big difference between my generation and my grandparents generation is that now divorce is acceptable. I think that many many couples 50+ years ago stayed together because there was no other option.

With that I said, I also think that many of today’s couples give up on their marriages too easily and tend to get married for the wrong reasons to begin with (I’m guilty of at least one of these…).

My brother has vowed to never get married and with the number of divorces in our family I can’t say that I blame him!

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GLSD June 17, 2008 at 11:48 am

I am married and my parents were married for 28 yrs until my dad passed. Out of my siblings 3 have been married and divorced and 3 have stayed married. I think it depends on the couple!

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America June 17, 2008 at 12:20 pm

I come from parents married 35 years, but my ex comes from the divorce cycle. My armchair psychology assesment is that he formed an attachment disorder from having *4* stepmothers by the time he was 14 and very little relationship with his mother (not to say that I was blameless, I certainly made mistakes…)

So as they say, it does take two to tango… In our case literally ;-)

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kevin June 17, 2008 at 12:59 pm

Both sets of my grandparents were married way before I was born – and they still are. But my parents, ahhh, thats a differnet story. They married in 67, divorced in 77, remaried in 87, divorced in 93, remarried in 99 and have been so ever since. i’m once divorced. my brother is divorced, and my sister is still married after 10 years.

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Crazy Computer Dad June 17, 2008 at 2:05 pm

My parents were married for about 12 years and I was married for 12 years. I don’t know very much about their relationships outside of that. My dad remarried right away (most likely how he got custody of my brother and I), my mom did not.

I’m always suspect of studies. Specifically the conclusions. While divorce can certainly do some damage, and parents can greatly increase that through post divorce interactions, how can they be sure that it is actually divorce that increases the chances? How are factors such as various genetic character traits stabilized or evaluated? For the marriages that succeeded, what were the factors and causes of them succeeding where others were more likely to fail? If it increases the odds, is it greatly increased or just a little and why (like 1 out of 4 versus 1 out of 5)? How do they account for other life factors like age when they got married?

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dadshouse June 17, 2008 at 4:17 pm

I don’t think divorce is genetic. But I do think the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. If your parents had destructive relationships, chances are you will too.

My parents are still married. My ex’s parents are still married. I’m divorced.

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VJ June 17, 2008 at 4:27 pm

I think behavioral Genetics has not progressed enough to tell us if ‘divorce’ could be genetic or have some sort of a genetic basis or influence. No matter. Growing up in a divorced household may do the trick just as well.

And my other thought from the pic, is that Waleska is a Place, nearby here in Ga. I’ve never heard it for a person! Cheers & Good Luck, ‘VJ’

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littlemansmom June 17, 2008 at 4:33 pm

My parents are happily married, my father’s only brother happily married, I’d have to say no…..I believe that it has something more to do with individuality and personal environment, not genetics.

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Legal Editor Mom June 17, 2008 at 5:11 pm

I’m divorced and my parents are divorced, but they didn’t get divorced until I was a senior in high school. (And at that point, I told them why bother, they might as well stay together!!)

I do believe that we emulate a lot of the behavior we see growing up, whether it’s deliberate or not, but I don’t believe divorce is a matter of genetics, either. I think it depends on the couple.

Whether married, divorced, or never married, it is important to teach children that happy, healthy, communicative relationships are possible and do exist. And if done right (with the right person and for the right reasons), marriage can be the ultimate partnership.

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Rebs June 17, 2008 at 6:09 pm

How’s this perspective…my parents got divorced, but not from each other. They were both married and had filed for divorce when they met each other. They’ve been married for over 30 yrs. Happily, I’d say. Thru raising 2 kids, a bout of cancer, a 25-yr long house renovation and much teasing and bickering.

My ex’s parents were together for about 10 yrs and 3 kids. Of those 3 kids, 2 have been married and divorced. All 3 have a hard time maintaining healthy relationships, even tho my ex was raised from age 13 on in the presence of a step-dad who has been his ‘dad’ for 25+ yrs.

My dad’s first marriage produced 3 kids. One has been with her partner for about 15 yrs. One can’t maintain a relationship to save her life. I’ve no idea about the 3rd; she hasn’t forgiven our dad for leaving her mom. Yes, we’re talking about something that happened about 35 yrs ago. I don’t know for sure, but I’m willing to bet this has affected her own relationships.

I certainly didn’t consider what made my own parents’ relationship work until after I decided to leave my ex. I’m starting to see now that what I need in a relationship is someone who accepts my faults because he can acknowledge his own; A sense of humor about everything, including health scares and crazy family members; communication, even if it comes in the form of sarcasm.

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Dennis Monzon June 17, 2008 at 8:40 pm

Officially we don’t have divorce here in the Philippines. We do have “Marriage Annulment” which can really take years to pursue. My parents almost went for it when I was a kid. Thank God that never happened. Children should be taught that no matter what it’s never their fault.

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Ms. Single Mama June 18, 2008 at 5:37 am

My parents were the happiest couple. They had their fights but they were in love – soul mates – and now as an adult I realize what a rarity that was to see growing up.

Here’s the interesting part. They both came from very broken homes. By broken I mean – their families were actually torn apart. My mom’s mom abandoned them. My father’s father did the same. It’s one of the reasons why they worked so hard on their relationship, they never, ever wanted that to happen to their family or to their kids.

So I think children of divorce actually try harder sometimes because they don’t want to follow in their parents footsteps.

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Kat Wilder June 18, 2008 at 5:39 am

Genetic? Nope. Influenced by what occurs in the household? Without a doubt.

I know people who grew up in households of divorce and decided, “I will never divorce.” Others repeated the pattern. Same with infidelity, alcoholism (and that does have a genetic element), etc. My parents remain married; not sure they should be, though!

At some point, we have to look very realistically at the patterns and behaviors of our family of origin and see how they impact us today — and decide if we want to continue them or reject them. That’s what sends people to shrinks and self-help books. Without that self-awareness, all relationships are challenging at best.

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Shannon June 18, 2008 at 6:27 am

I grew up in a ridiculously happy, picture perfect family. :) For real. I am completely not kidding. My parents still hold hands in the mall and they’ve been married for 35 years. (I was conceived on their wedding night-also for real!). My grandparents were married until death did they part (and hopefully they are now together again). My ex-husbands parents are still married. However, unlike mommaliss above, I wasn’t willing to put aside his infidelity. Had he been truthful and honest about the ordeal, I would have. The continued lying and denial in the face of cold hard evidence, well that was a deal breaker.
I don’t like divorce, never thought I would be divorced and wish it hadn’t come to that. I did remarry recently and my ex-husbands parents are divorced. I think this is an area where we really can’t generalize, but it is true that some people are more likely to divorce because they see it as a more viable option (ie,, they were exposed to it growing up). I was not, and was raised Catholic, so I didn’t really think it was an option. Until I was forced to decide upon whether that was the kind of role model for marriage I wanted my daughter to see. Now she sees her stepfather, who makes the clear choice to be home with his family and to be honest and loving. Not out all the time with his “band” or his buddies. He puts all of us as his highest priority. Actually, he brought B to get her braces fixed yesterday and had a hectic morning, just so I could get to work on time.
As our resident scientist (;) ) I have to say, this one is not genetic, but it does depend upon how we are raised. Although I wasn’t raised in a divorce prevalent family, I was raised a free thinker and taught to stand up for myself and what I believe in. I believe in marriage and the love that endures all, even with the bumps in the road. But it does take effort. On another note, is it better to “settle” and stay married, but not ever be really happy? I thought not.

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Kat Wilder June 18, 2008 at 7:58 am

One more thought (post-coffee!):
Women have so many more options nowadays than our moms did, thus, as Shannon says, it makes it more real if a woman is unhappy in her marriage.

So more women may have chosen divorce if it was OK back then.

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T June 18, 2008 at 9:50 am

Well, my parents were divorced when I was 22 years old. They fought all the time and my mother always felt lonely during their marriage. Mom had an affair within the first 10 years of their marriage. They survived and then my father eventually left her for another woman.

The ex and I didn’t fight all the time (he traveled all the time with work) but I did have an affair within the first 10 years of our marriage. And the ex eventually had his own affair which lead to the dissolution of our marriage. I wanted to make it work since we’d already recovered from one affair. He gave up. Said our whole marriage was a sham.

Sad… but yeah, the relationships were similar.

I agree with Dadshouse. I think we do model our relationships based on our parents’.

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Alabama divorce records June 18, 2008 at 10:18 am

I think its just a coincidence. In theory you are less likely to divorce after learning from your parent’s mistakes. Yet statistically speaking you get different results depending on the study.

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Kelly June 18, 2008 at 10:47 am

My parents are still together. One of my cousins got divorced many years ago, but that is the only time that has happened in my family that I’m aware of. However, my brother and I are both in our 30s and have never married (he’s gay, so maybe he can do that now if he moves to CA!) so it’s hard to compare it.

My daughter is being raised in a household that shows that a man isn’t necessary to make a happy family. So if anything she might grow up to not view marriage as a priority, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. As much as I would love to walk her down the aisle someday, just seeing her happy is really the important thing. And I know from experience that a man isn’t needed for that. I’m raising her to be independant and strong.

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judy June 18, 2008 at 2:09 pm

not genetic but perhaps circumstances, learned behaviors, environments, pressure, society

My parents divorced when I was 30. I was on my 2nd divorce at that time. I have 2 siblings who have long-term happy marriages and another who is divorced after 13 years of marriage.

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singlemomseeking June 18, 2008 at 4:16 pm

Wow, I thought this was going to be one of those hum-drum posts, with just a trickle of comments. I guess not!

I’m learning a lot from all of you. Thanks!

So, the consensus is: divorce is not in our genes. Some of us repeat our parents’ mistakes, others learn from this mistakes and try to live differently. I hope I’m doing the latter.

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singlemomseeking June 18, 2008 at 4:18 pm

Thanks for this, Kat and Shannon: “Women have so many more options nowadays than our moms did, thus, as Shannon says, it makes it more real if a woman is unhappy in her marriage…. more women may have chosen divorce if it was OK back then.”

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Antoniofww June 19, 2008 at 8:40 am

I don’t think divorce is genetic. I love the idea of marriage. I’m just waiting for gay marriage to be legal here in NYC then I’m all over it. I mean I have to find a guy first but otherwise I’m on top of it! And the fact that I work for a website that helps women going through divorce (www.firstwivesworld.com) is actually therapeutic for me. I get to see all the things not to do and figure out what to do :)

All my best,
AntonioFWW
http://www.firstwivesworld.com

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Betsy June 19, 2008 at 10:31 am

My parents never divorced, each other. My dad was married to a woman and had 3 kids with her. When divorced, dad took the 3 kids with him. Then met my mom and married her. They went on to have 4 more kids (I’m the last of the bunch). All 7 of us (10 yr difference in oldest to youngest) grew up in the same house with the same Mom and Dad. Dad’s ex never entered our life together. My mom was and will always be their mom.

I married at 19 to a man from a “broken” home. We had a child at age 21 and divorced when I was 23. It was his 1st marriage and he is currently with wife #4. 6 years later I had a 5.5 yr relationship with a guy (engaged even), but it ended when I became pregnant. He headed for the hills instead of taking responsiblity as he talked about during our relationship. And his parents have never divorced.

I agree with what another poster said; it depends on the couple.

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Vanessa June 20, 2008 at 2:33 pm

I think divorce is much more likely in some families than others, and it has to do with how much love parents show each other and their kids and what they teach about dealing with problems rather than simply whether the parents were divorced.

My grandparents have been married nearly 60 years. The idea of a divorce would be unthinkable to them. But their relationship with each other and their kids was always distant, cold and not very loving.

Each of their four sons and daughters have been divorced at least once. Of the grandkids (with the exception of the two youngest who are still in school) all of us have been divorced at least once.

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Find divorce records December 3, 2009 at 4:07 am

I doubt it is genetic. My gut feeling is more to do with life experiences – i.e. parents.

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