In recent decades, many researchers in the fields of psychology and biology have focused much of their work on discovering how our childhood experiences continue to shape us in adulthood. This is certainly a worthwhile subject to explore, since most of us can remember major events or relationships as kids that still impact us to this day.
As beneficial as this work is, however, it is important to avoid drawing sweeping conclusions from any single study. In that spirit, readers will find a recent study interesting, but hopefully won’t go so far as to find it prescriptive.
Divorce critics have long cited anecdotal evidence that children of divorce are more likely to get divorced themselves when they reach adulthood. There isn’t much hard data to back this up. But one recent study suggests people whose parents divorced when they were kids have lower levels of a hormone called oxytocin, which is sometimes referred to as the “love hormone” because it plays a role in emotional bonding and trust.
The study contained only 128 participants, ranging in age from 18 to 62. They were asked to fill out questionnaires about their childhood home lives, the parenting styles of their parents and how they (the subjects) relate to others in adulthood. Finally, they all provided urine samples so researchers could measure their oxytocin levels.
The participants who experienced parental divorce did report more issues in their adult relationships. But these problems and their lower oxytocin levels cannot definitively be tied to their parents’ divorce. For instance, many subjects whose parents got divorced reported that their parents tended to be less caring and more indifferent (compared to subjects whose parents stayed together). Many also rated their fathers as having been more abusive.
It stands to reason that those particular parental traits could have more to do with lowered oxytocin levels than the fact that they got divorced. Also, those same traits could have made parents more likely to divorce in the first place.
In any study like this, one should never confuse correlation with causation. In other words, just because two things seem related doesn’t mean one caused the other.
If you are about to go through a divorce or worry that you someday might, it is difficult to know what role, if any, your childhood experiences may have played in your current situation. But it ultimately doesn’t matter. You need to make the healthiest decision for yourself and your family based on how things currently stand.