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The Effect of Divorced Parents on a Child's Future Relationships

by Melody Causewell

The effects of divorce on children has been well studied. Divorce may lead to negative relationship effects for children of divorced parents. Understanding the impact of divorce on children's future relationships may encourage parents to provide open more communication and positive role modeling in attempts to lessen these effects.

Less Relationship Confidence

Parental divorce may change the way children see relationships, according to University of Denver research published in the "Journal of Family Psychology" in 2008. In this study, researchers Rhoades, Stanley, and Markman found that women whose parents had divorced had lower levels of relationship commitment and confidence as well as higher parental conflict. This effect was not found for men, suggesting that women are uniquely effected by the divorce of their parents in a way that negatively alters their view of future romantic relationships. Children of divorced parents may benefit from individual therapy and open communication with their parents to ensure that their fears and relationship questions are addressed.

Lower Relationship Satisfaction

Divorce may lead to negative relationship models that spill into children's future relationships, according to research out of the University of Colorado published in the "Journal of Divorce and Remarriage" in 2012. In this study, researchers Rhoades, Stanley, Markman, and Ragan found that individuals with never married parents had the lowest relationship satisfaction ratings, more negative communication, lower commitment levels and more physical aggression compared with both divorced or married parents. They also found that adult children of divorced parents tended to have more relationship issues including adjustment, conflict and trouble with communication than those whose parents remained married. These differences were the most pronounced in individuals who rated their parents' relationships as an unhealthy model. This suggests that the way relationships are modeled -- or the way parents respond to relationships themselves -- can have lasting negative effects on children's future relationships. Parents who are divorcing may help to provide more positive modeling through open communication and working together with an ex-spouse.

Increased Divorce Rates

Divorce in parents may lead to increases in divorce among children from these households, according to Finnish research published in the Journal of Family Psychology in 2011. In this study, researchers looked at the data from 1471 individuals over a sixteen year time period. They found that both men and women from divorced families were more likely to be divorced or separated by age thirty-two than those whose parents remained together. Additionally, they found that women from divorced households had poorer familial relationships, lower self-esteem and lower social support ratings than women of non-divorced parents. Children from divorced households, and particularly women, may have more difficulty in future relationships. Counseling sessions may help individuals before and during marriage to understand their own relationship issues and possibly decrease risk of divorce.

Increased Sexual Risks

Divorce may increase sexual risk taking in children from these homes, according to University of Iceland research published in the "Scandinavian Journal of Psychology" in 2000. In this study, researchers examined the sexual activity of 179 adults. They found that adult children of divorced parents had more negative emotional experiences -- such as depression or anxiety -- and looser family connections. They also found that children from divorced households had more short love affairs, more sexual partners, and were younger during their first sexual encounter than children from intact homes. This suggests that divorce may change relationship models in a way that lead to more risky sexual behaviors. Such behaviors -- and sexuality issues in general -- should be openly discussed within families to ensure safety and health for children and adolescents.

About the Author

Melody Causewell has been a writer in the mental health field since 2001. She written training manuals and clinical programs for mental health organizations. She has published feature articles "Leaven" magazine and has been published in "Natural Awakenings." She has a degree in psychology, a Masters degree in social work and is a La Leche League leader.

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