Another red flag: If her parents are divorced.
Readership: All; Parents;
Length: 2,000 words
Reading Time: 8 minutes
When a married couple with children file for divorce, the children are often the worst to suffer. But how does divorce affect children by sex? Do either sons or daughters suffer more than the other?
I found a scientific research report published in the Journal of Family Psychology that answers this question.
S. W. Whitton, G. K. Rhoades, S. M. Stanley, and H. J. Markman, “Effects of Parental Divorce on Marital Commitment and Confidence”, Journal of Family Psychology, 2008 Oct; 22(5): 789–793. doi: 10.1037/a0012800
This study at Boston University revealed how daughters suffer worse than sons in regard to their future marital success. I’ve collected snippets of quotes from this paper to be reviewed below.
Based on a comprehensive reading of the paper, women are identified as being the critical link in the success of a marriage.
The current findings show that, at the outset of their first marriages, women whose parents had divorced reported lower relationship commitment and less confidence in the future of their marriages than did women from non-divorced families. These results add to previous evidence that adults with divorced parents have lower commitment to marriage as an institution (e.g., Amato, 1996) by showing that women have less commitment to, and confidence in, their own marriages. Daughters of divorced parents appear to be more ambivalent about committing to a particular partner, not merely to the notion that marriage, in general, should be forever. Further, they report less perceived confidence in being able to make their own upcoming marriage last. The effects of parental divorce on marital commitment and confidence were small to moderate, as has been found for general attitudes toward divorce (e.g., Amato, 1996).
“General attitudes” is a heavy term which is not explored in this paper. Speaking from my own experience, it can be inferred that the experience of having divorced parents foments anger, bitterness, cynicism, and distrust, and it destroys the childrens’ hopes.
Results were consistent with those from previously presented analyses; significant gender × parental divorce interactions indicated an effect of one’s own parental divorce on relationship commitment and relationship confidence for women but not for men. In no case was partner parental divorce or the interaction between self- and partner- parental divorce significant, suggesting that couples in which both partners have divorced parents are no less committed or confident than those in which only the woman experienced parental divorce.
This means that if the wife’s parents are divorced, that’s the worst thing that could be for the marriage in regard to my introductory question. If the husband’s parents are divorced, it has much less influence on the marriage. This further supports my previous conclusions that the wife has more influence over the unity, harmony, and overall success of a marriage than the husband.
These findings echo those of previous studies showing a stronger impact of parental divorce on daughters’ than sons’ risk for divorce (e.g., Amato, 1996).
This effect is well studied, documented, and confirmed.
All in all, many things contribute towards undermining a woman’s attitude about marriage, but having divorced parents is a major wrecking ball.
Women who rock the boat sink the ship.
As mentioned above, women are the critical link in the success of a marriage. Going further, two factors were found in women, commitment and confidence, which were predictive of marital outcome. Digging into these effects further, they report that low confidence affects her psychological well-being.
…in the larger study from which the current sample was drawn, relationship confidence predicted change in women’s depressive symptoms over the first years of marriage (Whitton et al., 2007).
A woman with poor confidence is more likely to be deleterious, sensitive, and moody, and this has a significant, negative influence on her marital life. Now add in low commitment, and you have the recipe for a disaster.
Variance within a similarly restricted range of commitment has predicted marital stability over 18 months (Impett et al., 2001). In a large, community based sample, minor variation in confidence that one’s marriage will last was strongly associated with marital disruption (Nock et al., in press)
This means that regardless of her level of commitment, only slight falterings in the wife’s relationship confidence can create big waves in the marriage! It gets worse…
The measures of parental divorce and conflict were retrospective, introducing the potential for distortion by current mood or relationship adjustment.
Yes, wimmin are ALWAYS subject to the Feeelz! A woman who has had a miserable emotional history in her family of upbringing tends to bring a moody attitude into the marriage, and I surmise that this happens on the subconscious level, meaning she is not aware of it. And if all this is not bad enough…
During engagement, there appears to be little variation among couples in their levels of relationship commitment and confidence, with mean levels above 6 on a 7-point scale. Nevertheless, parental divorce is predictive of who will score relatively lower on the commitment and confidence measures, which may be important given the evidence that even small variations in marital commitment and confidence can have meaningful consequences to couple and individual outcomes.
This is scary! The word “predictive” in this passage implies that the risks inherent in marrying a woman with divorced parents goes undetected during engagement, and the attitudes and behaviors that contribute towards marital dissolution (i.e. poor commitment and low confidence) don’t show up until after marriage!
Perhaps there is good reason why daughters are a special protected class; they are the Achilles’ Heel of a society.
In the vast expanse of human history, the character and reputation of a woman’s family of origin was a major consideration for her worthiness of marriage. A multitude of classic literary works bear out this truth. But in recent times, this red flag has been largely overlooked, much to our undoing.
I know from my own family history that divorce runs in families, longitudinally (from generation to generation), and laterally (brothers, sisters, cousins). My paternal grandparents and my maternal grandfather are divorced. My parents are divorced. I and my two sisters are all divorced. My mother’s brother and sister are both divorced, and I have three cousins who are divorced. There are more people in my family who have been divorced than not. So I have always been on the lookout for an explanation of why divorce often presents itself as a “genetic disease”, so to speak. This paper offers a few tidbits of answers.
It is apparent that the shadowy zephyr of parental divorce, and not conflict itself (nor the absence thereof) within the family, is responsible for eroding the critical attributes of emotional health in the woman.
Controlling for interparental conflict did not reduce the effect of parental divorce on women’s relationship commitment or confidence. This finding is consistent with previous evidence that parental divorce, but not parental conflict, is linked with lower commitment to the institution of marriage (Amato & DeBoer, 2001). The present results do not diminish the likelihood that parental conflict increases offspring risk for poor marital outcomes through other mechanisms, such as the development of poor relationship skills (Amato, 1996; Sanders et al., 1999); however, it appears to be parental divorce, rather than heightened conflict preceding the divorce, that affects women’s appraisals of their own marriages.
The authors offer an explanation of why this is.
It is possible that because women are socialized to be more relationship-oriented than men (e.g., Gilligan, 1982), they may be more attuned to their parents’ marital dissolution and its lessons regarding the (im)permanence of marriage. In addition, women generally suffer more negative consequences from divorce than do men, especially economically (Hetherington, 2003).
Therefore, being primed to be conscious of the fragility of marriage by observing parental divorce may lead women, more than men, to suppress levels of marital confidence and to hold back on their commitment to their marriages.
Women take childhood lessons to heart, and carry these with them throughout life.
Also, the effect of parental divorce on commitment and confidence could not be explained by its effect on general relationship adjustment, suggesting the effect is robust and highlighting support for the theory that low levels of relationship commitment and confidence may serve as specific mechanisms through which divorce is transmitted from one generation to the next.
Holy smoke! Scientific evidence for Generational Curses!
Because the cause-effect relationship is so hard to pin down, I can only assume that the fundamental cause of divorce is ultimately spiritual in nature — the shadowy zephyr of divorce is real.
A few other noteworthy findings and conditions are summed up in this section.
There are limitations to the present research. Foremost, the sample was not representative. Most participants were White and moderately well educated, and all were married through a religious organization. Findings may not generalize to couples from other ethnic or educational backgrounds or to those who do not marry in a religious organization (although over 75% of U.S. couples do; Stanley, Amato, Johnson, & Markman, 2006).
OMG! So here we are talking about Christian/churchian wimmin and their families!
The small effect size of female parental divorce on commitment and confidence suggests that these premarital variables are also influenced by other factors, and that the influence of parental divorce on marital outcomes is likely mediated by other factors as well, such as communication patterns (e.g., Story, Karney, Lawrence, & Bradbury, 2004). The data were cross-sectional, prohibiting confident statements about directionality or causal effects.
Yes, this effect is compounded by other factors. So if a woman has divorced parents, AND she has several other red flags, then she’s definitely a no go if you’re looking for a stable marriage. I suppose some exceptions may exist, by the grace of God.
The somewhat restricted range on the measures of relationship commitment and confidence, typical of a premarital sample, may have limited power to detect effects of parental divorce for men. Also, internal consistency of the relationship commitment scale was lower than desired for women.
The Feeelz makes it all so confusing and corrupts the data consistency!
Finally, we did not assess whether the lower levels of relationship commitment and confidence observed in daughters of divorced parents eventually result in higher rates of marital distress and dissolution; future work is needed to test this hypothesis.
The answer to this question is not too hard to guess.
Despite the robust associations observed in women, parental divorce was not associated with men’s relationship commitment and confidence. Experiencing a parental divorce appears to have a stronger impact on women’s than men’s desires and beliefs about the future of their own marriages. Furthermore, the experience of parental divorce by both partners did not predict any lower commitment or confidence than did the woman’s parental divorce alone.
The author is saying that this phenomenon only affects women, not men. That is, men do not lose confidence and a sense of commitment towards marriage because of parental divorce. However, since my own parents are divorced, I have to say that it does have a negative impact, but not on confidence and commitment, per se. Going off of my own experience, I think the impact on men causes them to lose hope about ever having a joyful marriage, and to objectively rethink what marriage is all about from a very cynical perspective. It also leads men to develop certain particular sensitivities about what he can or cannot accept in a mate, to be distrustful of women (especially if his mother was responsible for the divorce), and to play the field a bit longer. If a man has bitterness and anger towards his mother (because of the divorce, but it could be for any other reason too), then this will cause him to feel attraction towards s1utty women. If the divorce happened before he reached maturity, then he may not realize this connection, and just think that he is unlucky in love. Moreover, experiencing parental divorce creates a lot of internal conflict that changes a man’s feelings towards women and leads him through a more tortuous path to marriage. I think this wear and tear does have an influential impact on marriage and especially on his choice of a mate. But I agree with the authors in that once the decision has been made to go into marriage, commitment and confidence are not affected.
In sum, a woman’s confidence in the marital relationship is a huge predictor of marital success. So guys who are vetting for a wife should place this trait as a high priority. Parental divorce was found to be one factor that is a major blow to this important trait (i.e. a woman’s confidence in marriage). The paper doesn’t say this, but I would guess that if a woman’s parents are divorced, but she still has a strong confidence in both her own relational skills and the institution of marriage, then that risk may be abated. However, the paper does say that you can’t know this for sure until after you’ve been married for 18 months.
I might speculate that the rise in the divorce rate since No Fault Divorce legislation was introduced in 1970, has had a snowball effect in contributing towards an ever greater incidence of divorce among subsequent generations. (See above graph.)
Despite these limitations, this research highlights the negative effect parental divorce may have on marital commitment and confidence, particularly for women. As such, these findings suggest that it may be important for relationship education programs to include specific strategies to help women from divorced families develop higher levels of relationship commitment and confidence by learning skills that promote healthy, happy, and long-lasting marriages.
More evidence for how much we need marriage education, especially for women.
- Biblical Gender Roles: Why Unity In Marriage Has More To Do With The Wife Than The Husband (2016 November 23)
- Σ Frame: My Unhappiness Is Your Fault! (2018 June 3)