How To Know If You Are Genetically Destined For Divorce

Photo: Getty Images 
How To Know If You Are Genetically Destined For Divorce

Blame it on your genes.

You may be cursing your parents for passing on their anxious tendencies or big feet. However, it turns out that they may have passed on something worse.

According to a renowned 1990s study, the heritability of divorce is estimated at 50 percent. This means that what causes divorce could be more than just a bad relationship — it could be genetic.

RELATED: The Science Of Separating: 5 Shocking Truths About Divorce

There are so many environmental factors that can lead to divorce, so it’s quite hard to say. Could good ol' Dad have played a role in that messy breakup?

The study doesn’t reveal whether or not someone carries this specific gene. Currently, the Genome-wide Association study is used to identify certain genes.

For example, this test can show whether someone has the gene for curly or straight hair. So far, there has not been a study like this done for the divorce gene.

If you planned on sending a saliva sample to a lab before getting married to check for the divorce gene, think again. For now, you may have to just take your chances. Even if researchers were able to identify the divorce gene, it would be difficult to determine its effectiveness.

According to genetics, divorce is considered a complex outcome. This means that there are a variety of traits and genes that could determine whether or not someone stays married or gets a divorce.

Currently, relationship scientists and psychologists look at how neurotic someone tends to be or whether they have drug and alcohol issues. These are genetic factors that could be a cause for divorce, despite not having the actual divorce gene.

In contrast, conditions like cystic fibrosis, for example, come down to a single gene. While science hasn’t yet found a streamlined way to identify the divorce gene in people, you can still get some insight.

A more recent study conducted in 2018 tested the phenomenon on people who were adopted. The study included almost 20,000 Swedish participants, all of whom had been adopted and found that their chances of getting divorced were in relation to their biological parents. And this was true even if they had been adopted at a young age. 

RELATED: Divorce Can Literally Break Your Heart, Says Science

The study found that their adoptive parents had nothing to do whatsoever with their chances of getting divorced.

One of the study's researchers, Jessica Salvatore, said, “If adoptees resemble their adoptive parents, we know that it’s something about being raised in a divorced household that contributes to this resemblance because adoptive parents provide only an environment (not genes) to their adopted children. In our study, we found resemblance between adoptees and their biological parents in their histories of divorce, which suggests a genetic effect.”

Children who grew up in homes with a single parent or parents who remarried were found to have the same results, in that the children's possibility of getting divorced was connected to their birth parents, even if they weren't living with both of them.

However, the study's researchers found that genetic influence accounts for only 13 percent of variation in divorce, suggesting that genes actually only play a pretty small role in whether or not a person will get divorced. 

Salvatore explained, “The specific heritability estimate is less important than the overall pattern of effects from the adoption study, which is that we find strong evidence that genetic factors contribute to the intergenerational transmission of divorce. In contrast, we find weaker evidence that the rearing environment contributes to the intergenerational transmission of divorce.”

She says that other factors, such as personality traits or life situations, like financial burdens, can also determine the outcome of a relationship.

Salvatore added that there's also an environmental factor at play, since they found that there was a greater resemblance of divorce between kids who lived with their mothers than with the fathers who they didn't live with.

Salvatore stressed that genetics do matter, but they aren't everything when it comes to divorce: “One of the strong reactions I get to this study comes from the offspring of divorced parents who say, ‘My parents got divorced when I was growing up, but I’ve been married to my spouse for 25 years and we’re still going strong! Your results are wrong!’ But in fact, a genetic predisposition isn’t ‘fate.’ Rather, genes are just one factor among many that contributes to an outcome that is as complex as divorce.”

If you want, you can look at your family tree using one of the services out there like Progeny. It can show you how often divorce has occurred in your family’s history.

This kind of mapping can give you an idea of both the genetic and environmental risk you may have for divorce. This alone won’t tell you for sure if you have the divorce gene, but it can certainly give you a clue.

It’s also worth noting that the divorce gene does not determine your destiny. Even if all of your ancestors have separated from their partners, it doesn’t mean that your marriage is doomed. And if you come from a long line of marriage success, yours could still end in a divorce.

When it comes down to it, try to be the best partner possible, no matter what the circumstances. But when researchers do figure out this whole divorce gene thing, it wouldn’t hurt to just check it out.

RELATED: Big Age Gap? Science Says You're Probably Getting Divorced

Shannon Ullman is a writer who focuses on women’s health, lifestyle, and relationships. 

Sign Up for the YourTango Newsletter

Let's make this a regular thing!

Editor's Note: This article was originally posted March 2, 2018 and was updated with the latest information.