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Study suggests propensity for divorce may be genetic

Marriage counsellors should explore troubled couples’ family histories after a study suggested a link between divorce and genetics, Toronto family lawyer Erin Chaiton-Murray tells AdvocateDaily.com.

The Huffington Post recently reported on research by scientists at Virginia Commonwealth University in the U.S. and Lund University in Sweden, which found that divorce often runs in the family.

The study is far from the first to identify an increased propensity for divorce among the children of divorcees. According to the Huffington Post, historical research suggests daughters of divorced parents are around 60 per cent more likely to take that route themselves than those from intact families, while sons are around 35 per cent more likely to go through a marriage split.  

However, the most recent study casts doubt on traditional environmental explanations for the effect — which put the higher rate down to normalization of divorce — by showing the increased numbers simply do not exist for children whose adopted parents split up.

“It’s really interesting to see this talked about as a genetic issue, and tied to certain personality characteristics, rather than more environmental factors,” says Chaiton-Murray, a partner with Fogelman Law. “I think it could be very important for marriage counsellors to consider this research, and potentially change the focus of their approach."

In an interview with The Independent, study author Jessica Salvatore said she was interested in exploring why it is so prevalent in some families.

"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,” Salvatore said, adding her research may change the field.

Chaiton-Murray says the study may provide better clues and tools for marriage counsellors working with clients considering separation.

“If marriage counsellors start looking more closely at people’s family histories, with the idea that something more fundamental could be going on in terms of individual genetic makeup and aspects of personality, they could perhaps have more success in their work or make more meaningful progress,” Chaiton-Murray says.

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