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Divorce - Is it part of your DNA?

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According to a team of American and Swedish researchers, your risk of divorcing could have a genetic link.  Research has shown that divorces tend to run in families, with children of divorced parents more likely to end up divorced in comparison to children from couples who stay together.

So, is divorce the effect of nature or nurture? Ask most people and they will probably say that the cause is nurture – behaviours that are destructive to a relationship are learnt in a home environment where conflict between two parents exists. In other words, the environment children grow up in influences their working model of relationships, impacting upon their perception and understanding of how to behave in their own relationships. This is a view that mainstream media has promoted for some time. This is unsurprising as it is comforting. It means that there is hope that behaviours can be changed by exposing children to different familial environments.

Well, a team of researchers from Virginia Commonwealth University in the United States and Lund University in Sweden appear to have partly turned that theory on its head. Researchers looked at the divorce rates among adults in Sweden who had been adopted as children. Specifically, they compared the outcome of adopted children whose biological parents had divorced with adopted children whose adopted parents had divorced. As one of the researchers, Professor Salvatore explained “If adoptees resemble their biological parents, we know that it’s genetic factors that contribute to this resemblance because biological parents only give genes to their offspring”.

The researchers discovered that “genetic factors primarily explained the intergenerational transmission of divorce”.

So what can we learn from this? This research suggests that the risk of divorce amongst adults has a significant genetic underpinning. However, rather than there being a “divorce gene” that predisposes people to divorce, the increased risk of divorce is more likely due to inherited personality traits. For instance, if you have inherited a tendency to experience negative emotions or have low impulse control, this will negatively impact on your relationships.

It is important to bear in mind however that just because people have a genetic predisposition towards certain types of behaviour, it is by no means inevitable that they will act on their ‘biological programing’. An awareness of any maladaptive inherited tendencies may help people to better understand and adjust their negative behaviour in order to maintain a marriage and avoid divorce.