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So many of us are affected by divorce, either our own or that of our parents. Statistics show that the divorce rate in Canada is a whopping 48 percent, with the average marriage lasting about 14 years. In the U.S., the rate of divorce comes in slightly higher at just over 50 percent. Many other countries are close behind, with marriages failing in large numbers every day.

This certainly says a lot about the state of marriages these days and likely explains the lower percentage of young people who are committing to a monogamous marital relationship, with numbers dwindling every year and individuals waiting until their 30s or even 40s to tie the knot…if at all.

If you are a product of divorced parents, a teacher of young children, or anyone else who works closely with kids, you’ve likely recognized how divorce affects the youngest and most vulnerable in our society. But what’s equally as important to understand are the effects of parental divorce on adult relationships, especially if you are an individual who grew up in a broken family or perhaps are married to someone who is a product of a divorced mother and father.

Problems emerging during childhood

So often, studies look at the impact of divorce on young children, but as the rate of divorce continues to climb and the number of marriages among young adults declines, it’s become more and more apparent that researchers MUST take a look at how parental divorce impacts adult relationships and the damage that impact can cause.

Nevertheless, social and behavioral issues associated with divorce are often first observed during childhood and might include:

  • A higher incidence of behavioral and learning disorders largely caused by a lack of parental presence, discipline, and guidance
  • Poor family interaction skills, not limited to only the father and mother but also interaction with siblings
  • A deterioration of the relationship with the non-custodial parent due to less (or little) contact with that individual. Because mothers more often get custody, it’s often the relationship with the father that suffers.
  • Early feelings of apprehension about marriage
  • A positive feeling towards one parent that results in negative feelings towards the other. Children of divorce are often compelled to “take sides”.
  • An unusual degree of attachment towards the custodial or primary parent, which often causes an increased fear of abandonment
  • The need to become a “surrogate spouse” to the custodial parent, which puts too much pressure on the child. This is especially true of boys.

Issues that don’t disappear

As studies emerge about the effect of parent divorce on adult relationships, it’s easy to understand how the issues that begin to emerge during childhood remain far into adulthood and how they can be crippling for the individual, especially where relationships (including marriage) are concerned.

Studies strongly suggest that the attitudes surrounding marriage and the success or failure of marriage are transmitted between generations, especially in divorced families. This has led to evidence which suggests that adult children of divorced parents more frequently have relationship problems that lead to divorce or that they perceive SHOULD lead to divorce.

Further research shows that divorce is a cyclical occurrence. It appears that women who are from homes where their parents were divorced are about two-thirds more likely to divorce themselves. That same statistic for men sits at about 35 percent, studies say.

The result of all of this is that adult children of divorced parents view marriage in a very pessimistic light and, as such, they often see divorce as a more acceptable end result of a rocky marriage than do those who grew up in intact families.

In addition, some of the other patterns that appeared in childhood continue. Relationships with one parent or the other can remain toxic, dependency issues continue, and poor family interaction skills make their way into the adult child’s own family.

Counseling can help

It’s been made clear by decades of research that individuals are impacted by the choices their parents make, especially where relationships are concerned. However, this doesn’t have to be the last word for those who are struggling due to preconceived notions about relationships in general and about marriage specifically.

A therapist trained in both couples and individual therapy can help clients to confront the issues that remain with them, even decades after their parent’s divorce. Using a variety of techniques, the therapist can assist the patient in making cognitive and behavioral changes that will not only help them grow as an individual but also help their relationships to heal and blossom.