Divorce's Effects on Early Adult Relationships

Divorce and being apart of a divorced family is becoming more common in modern society compared to the past with one third of marriages ending in divorce within the first 10 years (South, 2013). With divorce becoming more prevalent, many researchers have taken it upon themselves to explore many aspects of this topic such as evolving attitudes, what causes divorce, and how it effects the outcome of children’s lives. While much research has gone into the total outlook of the children’s quality of life, there is not as much research over how the divorce will affect a child of divorce’s romantic pursuits in their future.

Studies have shown that children of divorce typically are not as successful in life compared to children from intact families (Shulman, Scharf, Lumer, & Maurer, 2001).

Often times children of divorce engage in sexual acts at a younger age, have more sexual partners and typically are more likely to get divorced than those who came from a more traditional intact family (Schulman et al.

, 2001; Sprague & Kinney, 1997; Sprecher, Cate, & Levin, 1998). The reason many children of divorce are less likely to be successful is because often times divorce has negative consequences on the child’s mental health (Braithwaite, Doxey, Dowdle, & Fincham, 2016). According to a study conducted by Agar, Cioe, and Gorzalka (2010), divorce can leave children with lower levels of trust, commitment, intimacy and self-worth, and causing higher levels if anxiety, which ultimately leaves these children with bad mental health overall.

Good mental health is key to a healthy relationship, and when one has poor mental health such as a child of divorce typically would, they tend to have less fulfilling relationships.

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Although many studies have shown that children of divorce are less likely to be successful in life, divorce itself is not the sole determining factor in the outcome of one’s life. Divorce can be highly traumatic for some and it was noted by Schulman et al. (2001) that the success of a child of divorce is based on how well they are able to cope with the trauma that a divorce brings.

Basically Schulman et al. (2001) came to the conclusion that if someone was better able to cope with trauma, the better their life will turn out as opposed to those who did not cope with trauma well. Schulman and his peers were not the only ones that took into account trauma on child development after divorce, as many others have studied the effects of conflict in divorce which can cause trauma as well. It’s almost impossible to have a divorce without any form of conflict, and apparently conflict is a major contributor to how a child will turn out later in life. Braithwaite et al. (2016) states that divorce is not the main cause of the bad long-term effects, but it is the conflict between parents that tends to cause the undesirable effects in their children. An example of conflict being the culprit of unwanted effects as opposed to divorce is seen in Braithwaite et al.’s (2016) study where the researchers found that participants with parents with conflict but didn’t divorce show less commitment and relationship satisfaction compared to those whose parents did get a divorce.

Pan (2014) noted that Parental conflict harms a child’s emotional stability and the younger the child, the more likely they are to blame themselves for the divorce and conflict thus leading to lowered self-esteem which can have lasting long-term effects. Mudler and Gunnoe (1999) noted in their research that the healthier the parents solve their conflicts the more likely their children will have a positive outlook on marriage. Sprague & Kinney (1997) found a positive correlation between high parental conflict and the number of sex partners a child of divorce has had.

Sprague and Kinney (1997) also noted that when a divorce has high conflict the children involved are often involved with more sexual partners compared to those from intact families. When examining these examples of how conflict effects children of divorce, it is hard not to see the connection between conflict and overall development as time goes on. Gender differences has always been a popular subject of research and children of divorce are no exception. Mudler and Gunnoe (1999) took the parental divorce conflict research a step further by also examining how the two genders differ when it comes to conflict management. This study proved that males are often more negatively affected by parental conflict than females in the long term (Mudler & Gunnoe, 1999).

An example Mudler and Gunnoe (1999) found of how conflict negatively impacts males is that boys are more likely to experience behavioral issues when they come from high conflict families. It was also found that men who were not exposed to positive conflict resolution tactics growing up are more likely to divorce compared to their female counterparts (Mudler & Gunnoe, 1999). Sprague and Kinney (1997) also found gender differences in their study over children of divorce which showed that women from divorced families are typically more prone to having sex at a young age. A popular subject in divorce research is how children of divorce view the concept of divorce themselves.

Many researchers have found that children of divorce are more likely to think about divorce than children from intact families typically would (Braithwaite et al., 2016; Diaz, Molina, Macmillan, Duran, & Swart, 2013). Perhaps children of divorce are more prone to thinking about the topic because they have lived through that trauma themselves. One researcher completed a study that consisted of several interviews with participants to determine exactly what young adults whose parents were divorced thought of the subject of divorce (South, 2013).

In South’s (2013) study it was notes that many participants did not want a divorce because of their experiences they had when their parents got divorced. Interestingly quite a few participants in South’s (2013) study also found that many participants in this study claimed that they would get a divorce themselves deeming it a “necessary evil” as often divorce is better for the family’s well being if the marriage is not going well. Similar to South’s (2013) study Diaz et al. (2013) also found that many participants thought that if someone was unhappy in a marriage a divorce should take place, but couples should also try and make things work. With views of divorce also come views of marriage and relationships which has also been a popular subject when researching attitudes of children from divorced families.

Many young children seem to hold marriage on a pedestal but according to Sprague and Kinney, (1997) children of divorce do not idealize marriage as they have seen the possible negative consequences. Similarly, Sprecher at al. (1998) found that females from intact families had a higher relationship ideation level than those from divorced families. Pan’s (2014) study also found that generally children of divorce have less expectations for their own marriages. In a study conducted by South (2013), many participants stated that their parents’ divorce significantly impacted how they view marriage in their adult lives, many going as far to say that they truly do not believe in the institution of marriage.

Within the same study conducted by South (2013), participants who were from divorced families mentioned that their relationships often suffer because they did not have the guidelines for a good, healthy relationship set by their parents to model their behavior in their romantic relationships, often making them fear long term commitment. It often seems that parents play a pivotal role in the development of relationships attitudes in their children. Though divorce can play a major role in setting children of divorce up for romantic relationship failure, coming from a divorced family does not mean the child will have a doomed love life. South’s (2013) study found that some of the participants’ parents’ divorces actually helped their current romantic relationships. One way that the participants in South’s (2013) study found that the divorce helped them is that they use their parents as examples as what not to do in a relationship.

These participants may have used their parents as a negative example because many times divorced couples often do not use the healthiest ways of communication and conflict management. A small percentage in South’s (2013) study also found that they work harder in relationships to resolve issues because they do not want to turn out like their parents. Divorce not only takes a toll on the intermarital relationship, it also takes a toll on the parent-child relationship which is why many researchers have also looked into this subject in divorce research. Sprecher at al. (1998) noted in their research that children of divorce may have more negative relationships because they have less secure ties to their parents, which may lead to attachment issues in the children’s romantic relationships later in life.


  1. Agar, A. D., Cioe, J. D. D., & Gorzalka, B. B. (2010). Biology matters? Intimate relationships of young adults from divorced and intact family backgrounds as a function of biological father and male model involvement. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 51, 441-463. doi:10.1080/10502556.2010.507131
  2. Braithwaite, S. R., Doxey, R. A., Dowdle, K. K., & Fincham, F. D. (2016). The unique influences of parental divorce and parental conflicton emerging adults in romantic relationships. Journal of Adult Development, 23, 214-225. doi:10.1007/s10804-016-9237-6
  3. Diaz, N., Molina, O., Macmillan, T., Duran, L., & Swart, E. (2013). Attitudes toward divorce and their relationship with psychosocial factors among social work students. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 54(6), 505-518. doi:10.1080/10502556.2013.810983
  4. Hendrick, C., & Hendrick, S. (1986). A theory and method of love. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 50(2), 392-402.
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  6. Pan, E. (2014). Timing of parental divorce, marriage expectations, and romance in Taiwan. Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 45(1), 77-92.
  7. Shulman, S., Scharf, M., Lumer, D., & Maurer, O. (2001). Parental divorce and young adult children’s romantic relationships: resolution of the divorce experience. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 71(4), 473-478.
  8. South, A. L. (2013). Perceptions of romantic relationships in adult children of divorce. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 54, 126-141. doi:10.1080/10502556.2012.755032
  9. Sprague, H. E., & Kinney, J. M. (1997). The effects of interparental divorce and conflict on college students’ romantic relationships. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 27(1-2), 85-104. doi:10.1300/J087v27n01_06
  10. Sprecher, S., Cate, R., & Levin, L. (1998). Parental divorce and young adults’ beliefs about love. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 28(3/4), 107-120. doi:10.1300/J087v28n03_06

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Divorce's Effects on Early Adult Relationships. (2021, Apr 24). Retrieved from http://studymoose.com/divorce-s-effects-on-early-adult-relationships-essay

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