You’ve probably already been blaming your parents’ failed marriage for all your problems for years, but now you’ve got some science to back you up. According to a study published in the Journal of Comparative Psychology last week, adults whose parents divorced when they were children experience lower levels of the “love hormone” oxytocin than adults whose parents remained together. This means that, yep, being a child of divorce really did fuck up your ability to have healthy relationships, down to a biological level.
The study, conducted by researchers at Baylor University, utilized 128 participants, a quarter of whom had parents that divorced. Each participant was required to drink 16 ounces of water while filling out a questionnaire about their childhood, their parents and their current social functioning. Because they’d just made each participant drink two glasses of water, the participants then needed to pee, voluntarily doing so into a cup so that the researchers could study their urine. Naturally. Researchers measured the oxytocin levels in each participants’ urine, and found that those who had experienced childhood divorce contained less oxytocin in their urine than their non-divorced-parents peers.
Oxytocin is typically released in the brain when we experience loving and joyful moments. Oxytocin is responsible for many of the phenomena of childbirth like uterine contractions, as well as the mother-baby bonding moments like breastfeeding. Oddly enough, oxytocin is also released during sex and physical contact, generating a bond between romantic partners. Some researchers suggest that oxytocin shouldn’t be associated with love and happiness as they’re conventionally understood, but rather with trust.
How Childhood Divorce Affects Adults’ Later Relationships
By that definition, it makes a bit more sense that children of divorce may have a skewed psychological foundation for forming relationships. The participant questionnaires offer some further illumination — those whose parents had divorced “were less confident, more uncomfortable with closeness and less secure in relationships. They rated their own caregiving style as less sensitive and close than did the participants whose parents had not divorced,” according to a press release from Baylor University.
It’s not yet clear exactly how direct this connection between divorce and adult oxytocin levels is, although the researchers speculate that the exact age of a child when their parents divorce may have an impact. It’s also not yet known whether there’s anything you can even do about it. Hopefully some further research will uncover how you can prevent your low oxytocin problem from ruining all of your relationships, but for now, you at least have a decent enough excuse for your commitment issues.