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Does Getting a Divorce Doom Your Children to Failed Marriages?

| Sep 23, 2010 | Divorce |

A recent story in CNN Living suggests that the answer may be an emphatic “no.” New statistics from University of Utah family and consumer studies professor Nicholas Wolfinger say that the risk of divorce is 50 percent higher among couples where one spouse is a child of divorced parents — and 200 percent higher when both are. Plus, children of divorce are also 50 percent likelier to marry another child of divorce.

At the same time, however, the experience of a parent’s divorce is giving many younger people the information and motivation they need to create healthy, successful marriages for themselves.

A young Georgia couple, Cory and Zulema Green, was profiled in the CNN Living story. Zulema’s mother was divorced three times by the time Zulema was 12. Cory’s father abandoned the family when Cory was three.

The couple has now been married for five years, and the milestone means a lot. It shows they didn’t have to follow in their parents’ footsteps.

“I figured I can get married,” says Zulema. “I can do it right.”

She once approached relationships cautiously and found it hard to trust or rely on other people, but she didn’t want to end up on the same path as her mother. She read dozens of books on relationships and divorce and, before she and Cory got married, they took part in premarital counseling.

“We realized our parents’ relationships affected our relationship, and we didn’t want to have a failed marriage,” she told CNN. “There are already so many things against you when it comes to marriage. We wanted to make sure we knew as much as we could.”

Parents’ Divorce Is a Risk Factor, But It’s Not a Sentence of Doom

Marriage counselors say that growing up in a family of divorce does present challenges for children’s adult relationships. However, the way that each individual responds to watching his or her parents marital problems can vary widely.

Bradford Wilcox, director of The National Marriage Project, a marriage research group notes that children of divorce avoid long-term relationships and marriages. Others learn a different lesson: Determination to make their marriages last.

“My mom’s divorces have taught me there are tough times, and you suck it up like a soldier,” says 21-year-old Sarah Hill of Texas, who is planning to marry in April 2011. “You work on it. You make it better.”

Children of divorce may actually be more resilient and thoughtful about relationships, according to Helen Fisher, an anthropologist and dating expert at Match.com. They may be able to recognize trouble more easily and avoid toxic relationships. They might also take more time to decide whether marriage is the right choice.

“We may very well see a generation of stable relationships,” Fischer argues.

“You need to learn from the past to keep something negative from repeating,” says Karin Fullington. She and her husband, both children of divorce, married in December. “If you want a happy marriage, look at the divorced couples out there. Find out what went wrong with them and make sure that doesn’t happen to you.”

Divorce is a risk factor, but there’s no such thing as a single sociological factor that dooms you to marital failure,” says Wilcox. “It’s important for couples to articulate their concerns to their boyfriend, girlfriend or spouse.”


“Children of divorce vow to break cycle, create enduring marriages” (CNN Living, September 22, 2010)

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