Parental Divorce in Childhood Linked to Lower “Love Hormone” in Adulthood
Wed, April 21, 2021

Parental Divorce in Childhood Linked to Lower “Love Hormone” in Adulthood


When a marriage falls apart, couples with children may have many worries but what they may worry most about is how their kids will deal if they opt for divorce. They may ask questions, like “Should we stay together for the kids?” As they may expect, children struggle the most during the first year or two after their parents’ divorce. They may likely experience anger, distress, disbelief, and anxiety. While many kids seem to bounce back and get used to the changes in their routines, others never seem to get comfortable with the new living arrangement. Some may even have lifelong problems after their parents separate.

Understanding the love or cuddle hormone

A new study published in the journal American Psychological Association also shows that parental divorce in childhood is related to lower love hormone or oxytocin in adulthood. Oxytocin is a hormone secreted in the posterior lobe of the pituitary gland at the base of the brain and is released when people bond socially or snuggle up. This is why it is also called the love hormone or the cuddle hormone. This is the same hormone that is released during bonding experiences, like nursing, sexual intercourse, or delivery of a baby. Studies have previously shown that it is an important hormone for emotional attachments and social behavior in early life. It has likewise been linked to parenting, anxiety, and attachment.



Long-term effects of divorce on children

Maria Boccia, Ph.D., professor of child and family studies at Baylor University, is one of the authors of the study. She explained via Medical Xpress that since there has been concern about the effects of divorce on kids since the rates of divorce have increased over the past years. Most studies focused only on short-term effects, such as academic performance. There are some that focus on longer-term outcomes but it highlights more on the impact on relationships. It remains unknown how divorce causes said effects.

Boccia added that it is the oxytocin neurohormone that regulates these behaviors and is also sensitive when stressful life events are experienced in early life. Past studies of kids whose parents were divorced suggest that such stressful experience was related to substance abuse and mood disorders, behaviors that are also linked to oxytocin. Additionally, childhood experiences, like the death of a parent or divorce are associated with anxiety and depression as they reach adolescent years and adulthood. As they become parents, later on, they may also have less parental warmth and sensitivity, increased use of punishment, and adopt overreactive parenting - includes displays of irritability, meanness, or anger in response to infant challenges.

To come up with their findings, Boccia and the team gathered 128 individuals ages 18 to 62 at two higher learning institutions in the Southeast US. Of said participants, 27.3% said their parents were divorced and the average age when their parents divorced was 9 years.

To stimulate oxytocin release, participants were given a 16-ounce bottle of water to drink before they answer the questionnaires about their peers and parents during childhood, including their social functioning when they were still young. These questions were designed to address their parenting styles, such as whether they display affection, over-control, abuse, indifference, or protection. It also determines their level of discomfort with closeness, confidence, needs for approval, and their styles of caregiving and relationships.

Urinary oxytocin concentrations

Urine samples were then collected and researchers analyzed the oxytocin concentrations. They found that the urine oxytocin concentrations were substantially lower (p = .016) in participants who experienced parental divorce when they were at a young age compared to those who did not. The authors also correlated it with their answers on the questionnaires and found that they rated their parents as more indifferent and less caring.

Those who experienced parental divorce rated their fathers as more abusive, were more uncomfortable with closeness, less secure in their relationships, and were less confident. For their caregiving style, they rated themselves as close and less sensitive compared to subjects whose parents did not divorce.

Boccia said that when she presented the findings to other scientists, one of the first questions she was asked was whether the age of the child when the divorce happened matter. For now, this is the “most pressing question” that they will have to explore as they continue with their study.



Divorce rates

San Diego law firm Wilkinson & Finkbeiner shares that there is one divorce happening in America every 13 seconds. That equates to 277 divorces per hour and 6,646 divorces per day, and 2,419,196 divorces per year. The median duration of first marriages that end in divorce is 7.8 years for males and 7.9 years for females. The median duration of second marriages is 7.3 years for males and 6.8 years for females. On average, people wait an average of three years after a divorce to remarry, if they remarry at all.

The top 5 professions in the US with the highest divorce rate are dancers (43), bartenders (38.4), massage therapists (38.2), gaming cage workers (34.6), and gaming service workers (31.3). On the other hand, professions with the lowest divorce rate are farmers (7.63), podiatrists (6.81), clergy (5.61), optometrists (4.01), and agricultural engineers (1.78).



Why people are divorcing

The most common reason given by divorcing couples why they decided to separate is a lack of commitment (73%). Some said they argue too much (56%), infidelity (55%), married too young (46%), unrealistic expectations (45%), lack of equality in the relationship (44%), lack of preparation for marriage (41%), and domestic violence or abuse (25%).

Meanwhile, Pew Research Center shows that about 9 in 10 Americans (88%) cited love as a very important reason to get married, ahead of making a lifelong commitment (81%), companionship (76%), having children (49%), a relationship recognized in a religious ceremony (30%), financial stability (28%), and for legal rights and benefits (23%). It also found that four-in-ten new marriages involve remarriage.

Psychologists from the universities of Michigan and Nevada also conducted a study on 373 heterosexual couples and found that a bad marriage with frequent conflicts – about their children, leisure activities, in-laws, and money – could have a serious detrimental impact on their health.

Marital conflict can negatively impact the health of both husbands and wives and splitting up isn’t easy either. For one, it impacts kids in ways parents may not expect. To raise happy children after divorce, parents have to adopt a positive co-parenting style that can give children the stability, close relationships, and security that they need.