DNA Doom: Study Finds Divorce Is Genetic

LUND, Sweden — Your likelihood of seeing your marriage end in a messy divorce may depend less on your personality and more on your genes, a new study finds.

Researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University teamed with peers from Lund University in Sweden to analyze the European nation’s population registries, leading them to the discovery that adopted children tend to demonstrate the marital patterns of their biological parents, as opposed to those of their adoptive parents.

Divorce; marriage certificate cut by scissors
A new study finds that children of divorced parents are more likely to be divorced themselves because of genetics, not childhood experiences.

“We were trying to answer the basic question: Why does divorce run in families?” explains researcher Dr. Jessica Salvatore, an assistant psychology professor at VCU, in a university press release. “Across a series of designs using Swedish national registry data, we found consistent evidence that genetic factors primarily explained the intergenerational transmission of divorce.”

Since most research on divorce attributes the phenomenon to children merely being raised in a fragmented household, this finding is both surprising and potentially helpful.

“Nearly all the prior literature emphasized that divorce was transmitted across generations psychologically,” says researcher Dr. Kenneth S. Kendler. “Our results contradict that, suggesting that genetic factors are more important.”

A majority of therapists address marital issues by examining an individual’s interpersonal skills and ability to commit, which may be the wrong approach, the researchers argue.

Rather, basic personality traits linked to divorce that have a biological component, such as a strong negativity bias and low levels of emotional restraint, should be a practitioner’s main focus.

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“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],” Salvatore provides as an example. “So, addressing these underlying, personality-driven cognitive distortions through cognitive-behavioral approaches may be a better strategy than trying to foster commitment.”

The full study will be published in a future edition of the journal Psychological Science.

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