Studies have shown that adults with divorced parents may reduce “love hormones”

Key points

  • A new study shows that people who have experienced parental divorce in childhood have lower levels of oxytocin than those who have not experienced parental divorce.
  • Lower oxytocin levels may be related to poor adult attachment and negatively affected by parental divorce.
  • Just because your parents are divorced does not mean you are destined to repeat the same mistakes.

According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, experiencing parental divorce during childhood may affect adult oxytocin levels-commonly referred to as the “love hormone”-and thus affect attachment in interpersonal relationships. Journal of Comparative Psychology September 2020.

“There is compelling evidence that adversity in early life may cause oxytocin dysregulation, which can have an impact on long-term social experiences,” Cleopatra Kan, fertility strategist and executive director of the Fertility and Pregnancy Institute Said Dr. Cleopatra Kamperveen.

What the research found

A total of 128 participants between the ages of 18-62 were recruited, most of whom were white women. Among the participants, 35 people stated that their parents were divorced. The main goal of the study was to see if the levels of oxytocin were different between people with and without parental divorce.

When they arrived, the participants were asked to use the bathroom, drink a bottle of water, and then complete multiple questionnaires about their parents’ divorce history, attachment style, etc. After filling out the form, they provided a urine sample, which was then tested for oxytocin levels.

Samantha Jeffries, LMFT

This is just another trend that is being seen.This does not mean a lower level [oxytocin] Because you mean your relationship will end, or your future is doomed to fail.

— Samantha Jeffries, LMFT

People whose parents were divorced when they were young, on average, have less than half of the oxytocin content of those whose parents are not divorced.

The study has some limitations: it does not distinguish how congenital and acquired affect the overall impact of divorce, and it does not consider the age at which people experience parental divorce. Since only 27% of the participants were children of divorced parents, the study authors believe that more studies need to be completed with larger samples.

What this means to you

Compared with those whose parents did not divorce, those whose parents divorced during childhood may have lower levels of oxytocin. But just because your parents are divorced does not mean that you will also get divorced.

The role of oxytocin

Oxytocin has multiple functions in the human body, such as sexual arousal, trust and anxiety. It increases with physical contact and may even play a role in addiction and stress. In women, oxytocin is released during labor and delivery and promotes lactation. It has a smaller effect in men, but it does help sperm motility and testosterone production.

“The level of oxytocin is related to the relationship between mother and child and the broader social relationship,” Kamperveen said. “Lower oxytocin levels in childhood may increase the chance of social contact difficulties in adulthood, including mother contact.”

Insecure attachment to parentsAmong adults who have experienced parental divorce, lower confidence in the success of their future marriage is often more prominent.This is consistent with the results of the study, which showed an association between oxytocin levels and measures of attachment and care styles.

The short-term and long-term effects of divorce

As we all know, divorce has an additional impact on people who have experienced divorce as a child. Samantha Jeffries is a practicing marriage and family therapist in Rochester, specializing in anxiety treatment and pre-marital counseling. She said that all divorces are unique. Whether a divorce is high-conflict or low-conflict may affect its personal impact.

Some short-term effects on children may include:

  • anxiety
  • turmoil
  • take actions
  • Difficulty communicating with parents
  • Guilt

Jeffries said that in the long run, some adults may feel deprived of contact and seek unhealthy relationships, while others are afraid of divorce, which will affect their ability to build relationships.

“It has almost become a self-fulfilling prophecy: if you are so afraid that your relationship ends, that you end up closing it without communicating, it [may] In the end it will have the result that you are actively trying to avoid,” she said.

On the other hand, some people can come out of their parents’ divorce with a healthier view of interpersonal relationships. Because these people know that they can get divorced, “They sometimes don’t feel that they have to get involved in a relationship. This doesn’t mean they will take this choice — it just means that if a relationship becomes obviously unhealthy, they’re more willing to leave. ,” Jeffries said.

Although this study may show that people who experienced parental divorce during their childhood have lower levels of oxytocin and are therefore more likely to have difficulty forming attachments, these results are by no means absolute.

“Not all divorces are the same. Research is created as a general way to help us understand things,” Jeffries said. “This is just another trend that people are seeing. It doesn’t mean a lower level [oxytocin] Because you mean your relationship will end, or your future is doomed to fail. ”