The Scientific Reason Children of Divorce Have a Harder Time Finding Love

There's actually research behind what some may assume is just a stereotype.

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Life is certainly different for children of divorced parents compared to those whose parents are still together. But the differences aren't just two separate bedrooms in different houses or two sets of Christmas presents. Divorce really does have an emotional effect on children, and they may carry that with them into adulthood. Some people believe that children of divorce experience more difficulty in finding love, and it turns out, that's not just an overused stereotype. One new study has actually found the scientific reason why children of divorce may have a harder time finding love: They have lower levels of oxytocin.

The study, published in the Journal of Comparative Psychology in August, included 128 people aged 18 to 62, of which 27.3 percent had divorced parents. Through extensive questionnaires and collected urine samples, researchers were able to analyze the data and found that oxytocin levels were "substantially lower" in people whose parents had divorced compared to those whose parents were still married. Ultimately, children of divorce only had one third the oxytocin level of people with married parents.

"These results suggest that oxytocin levels are adversely affected by parental divorce and may be related to other effects that have been documented in people who experience parental divorce," lead author Maria Boccia, PhD, professor of child and family studies at Baylor University in the Robbins College of Health and Human Sciences, said in a statement.

Shot of a little girl looking unhappy as her parents argue in the background
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Oxytocin—also referred to as the "love hormone"—is a naturally occurring hormone that acts as a neurotransmitter, according to Healthline. A 2012 study published in Psychoneuroendocrinology found that new couples had substantially higher oxytocin levels compared to non-attached singles.

The hormone also has a lot of potentially relationship-enhancing effects which can help people fall and stay in love, such as trust, gazing, empathy, positive relationship memories, fidelity, positive communication, and processing of bonding cues, as noted in a 2013 study.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, a lack of oxytocin can have adverse effects. Adults who experienced parental divorce as children tend to exhibit "greater attachment insecurity," leading them to have "less confidence in marriage and the ability of marriage to endure," according to the 2020 study. And even without the aspect of marriage, these adults are "more likely to have unstable long-lasting relationships."

According to Boccia, many studies have focused on the long-term effects of divorce on children, like "the impact on relationships," but this study is one of the first to delve into a scientific explanation. One of the questions Boccia plans to explore with subsequent research is whether or not the age of the child when the divorce occurs matters in terms of future oxytocin levels. And for more on the aftermath of divorce, check out these 23 Effects of Divorce That People Don't Talk About, According to Experts.

Kali Coleman
Kali is an assistant editor at Best Life. Read more
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