How To Know If You're Genetically Destined To Divorce

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unhappy husband contemplating divorce

You may often find yourself cursing your parents for passing on their anxious tendencies or big feet.

As it turns out, there's a chance they may have passed on a genetic tendency that could be far worse.

According to one study published in Psychological Science, genetic factors can put you significantly more at risk of getting divorced than someone who lacks different DNA would be.

While there is certainly a wide range of reasons people divorce, these scientific finds show that in at least some cases, divorce is genetic.

Given the complex nature of human relationships, this shouldn't be taken to mean environmental factors don't play a role in whether or not a marriage will ultimately end in divorce, but it does indicate what the researchers refer to as "a strong influence of genetic factors."

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If after learning this new information you're planning to send a saliva sample to a genetics lab before getting married so you can check for the divorce gene, you'll, unfortunately, have to think again. 

So far, there is no specific "divorce gene' that has been identified, and no known testing you can undergo to see if you carry genetic risk factors.

And even if researchers were able to identify one, it would be difficult to say possessing said gene would necessarily mean you'll get divorced. Additional research has shown the influence of these genetic factors is highly variable from one couple to another.

In 2010, a separate team of researchers found that while genetics may be a strong predictor of divorce, "there may be some factors that are protective for a couple (e.g., same religious background) and others that place the couple at greater risk for future problems (e.g., increased alcohol consumption in one spouse)."

Perhaps most fascinating of all, the team found that when both partners share certain risk factors for divorce, such as shared phobias, their common experience may actually lead to them having a higher quality marriage in the long run.

In the field of genetics, divorce is considered a complex outcome.

This means that there are a variety of traits, genes, and outside factors that could determine whether or not someone stays married or gets a divorce, making it more difficult for scientists to draw firm conclusions about the reliability of their results.

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Currently, 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 being linked to the "divorce gene."

In contrast, the underlying factor of genetic conditions like cystic fibrosis, for example, comes 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.

Another study on the genetics of divorce, conducted by Swedish researchers in 2018, tested the theory on adults who were adopted as children.

The results of their study, which included almost 20,000 participants, found their divorce risk was significantly more tied to their biological parents than to their adoptive parents. Additionally, there was no link whatsoever found to divorce risk associated with adopted siblings, even if they were raised in the same home.

"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," explained Jessica Salvatore, the study's lead researcher. "In our study, we found a 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% of the 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, such as financial burdens, can also determine the outcome of a relationship.

Salvatore added that there are also environmental factors at play.

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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.

She 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 contribute to an outcome that is as complex as divorce,” she added.

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 risks 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 worth restating that your genetics do 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 check it out.

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Shannon Ullman is a writer who focuses on travel and adventure, women's health, pop culture, and relationships. Her work has appeared in Huffington Post, MSN, and Matador Network.