How your parents getting divorced actually affects your love life

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Kayleigh Dray
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We’ve all heard the theory that divorce tends to run in families. But how does growing up as the adult child of a divorced couple really affect our love life?

Well, quite a bit, it seems: in the largest study of its kind, researchers looked at thousands of adoptees and found that they were more likely to divorce if their biological parents and siblings divorced, rather than their adoptive families. This seemingly suggests that our genes may be more responsible than our upbringing when it comes to relationships.

However, Sara Davison, the UK’s leading authority on break-up and divorce, thoroughly disagrees with these findings.

“The impact of divorce for children is complex – it’s definitely not a straightforward science,” she tells “How it affects those children and the decisions they make in later life is down to the individual and their personality as well as the kind of divorce they witnessed.

Davison continues: “It all very much depends on their experience of their parents’ divorce. Children will either move towards it or move away from it. If their parents divorced amicably and it was a relatively positive experience, this diminishes the fear for them and, if they find they are not happy in a relationship in later life, they are perfectly comfortable getting out of it.

“If the experience was more traumatic and volatile then, naturally, it will be the very last thing they ever want to happen and they may well stay in a relationship because they don’t want their children to go through what they went through as a child.”

“It is something that is learned – I would disagree that it’s genetic.”

Parental divorce often leads to low trust among children, and women from divorced families have reported “less trust and satisfaction in romantic relationships”. Similarly, another study has shown that individuals with divorced parents are more likely to believe that relationships should be approached with caution.

However, Davison says that – in cases such as these – the answer to the ‘nature vs nurture’ debate is clear.

“If children are exposed to divorce it can seem like a plausible option and a possibility in life,” she tells us.

“With that registered, it can seem like a much more accessible reality for them. This could mean that they have less fear of it happening because they have seen that it can work and life goes on. Or, conversely, it can also destroy their relationships because they are so fearful of it ending and believe inherently that relationships don’t last forever.”

So how can adult children of divorce learn to set aside their initial feelings of mistrust and open their hearts to love?

“If you found your parents’ divorce difficult, you can turn it around so it can actually help you moving forward,” says Davison. “What if you could find out where they went wrong and use it to help you become a better partner and avoid falling into the same traps?”

She advises that we use the breakdown of our parents’ marriage to teach ourselves a valuable life lesson – one which will empower us to take control of our own love lives and help prevent us from entering into an unhappy or toxic relationship.

To do this, Davison suggests that you ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What were the main issues in my parents’ marriage?
  2. What did they do to make these worse, if anything? 
  3. What can I do to learn from this?
  4. What would I do differently in their shoes?

If you’re still struggling to separate your parents’ messy divorce from your own love life, however, Davison has a few simple tips:

Be open to love

“Avoid isolating yourself,” says Davison. “Just because you have witnessed untrustworthy behaviour in the past that doesn’t mean that everybody will behave in this way.”

Don’t ignore warning signs

“Be careful in your choice of partner. If you know that trust is really important to you, for example, you need to keep your eyes wide open and pay attention to any warning signs when dating someone. If someone has a history of cheating or being dishonest that should be red flag.”

Build self-esteem

“It’s super important to build and maintain your own self-esteem and to let your partner know that you know that you’re loveable and worth being with – don’t settle for less,” Davison reminds us.

“When people find it hard to trust, they sometimes avoid relationships because they are fearful – and they end up being single for a long time and their confidence starts to drop. Working on self-esteem ensures you attract the right kind of person.”

Work out what you want

“Work out what you DO want as well as what you don’t want from a potential partner is key. If you know what you want – you are more likely to attract it and recognise it when you come across it.”

Take back control

“Starting a new relationship doesn’t have to mean jumping straight in,” says Davison reassuringly.

“Test the water by going on a few dates. Take it slow and at your own pace, ask the right questions. And always reduce the pressure on yourself by putting notions of Mr/Miss Right out of your mind. Mr/Miss Right Now is fine.”

If you still find yourself struggling in your love life, and you are ready to end your struggle, seek the support of a qualified professional to help heal your childhood relational wounds.

This will help you stop turning your adult romantic partners into replacement parents, and you can start to enjoy your love life.

Steve Carrell and Julianne Moore playing a separating couple in Crazy Stupid Love
If your parents divorced amicably, this diminishes the fear of going through the same experience

Sara Davison, best known as ‘The Divorce Coach’ is one of the UK’s most sought after authorities on break-up, separation and divorce. Revolutionising the way we view and navigate one of life’s most traumatic events, Davison's quest to banish the stigma surrounding divorce and prove that the end of a relationship can be the most empowering, life-affirming event to ever happen to you, is fast catching-on.

She is the author of best-selling book, Uncoupling, and recently launched the UK’s first ever Break-Up Recovery Retreats. This exclusive and intimate retreat is designed to help you cope better with the break-up of a relationship. Whether you’re newly single, or feel you are still not over your ex-partner perhaps years after break-up, Sara Davison has created an immersive two-day workshop to give you the tools, techniques and strategies you need to get your life back on track and to start feeling happy again.

To take part in the Break Up Recovery Retreat, you must be available for the weekend of 11 and 12 November (both dates). The Retreat location is Horsham, West Sussex. To reserve your place on the Break Up Recovery Retreat, please visit:

Images: Rex Features


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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.