University of Central Florida Undergraduate Research Journal - Positive Outcomes of Divorce: A Multi-Method Study on the Effects of Parental Divorce on Children
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Findings

General Effects of Divorce

Forty-six percent of the total sample population reported having experienced at least one parental divorce. Of those respondents, thirty-three were male and seventy-three were female. Twenty-eight were between the ages of 3-5 years old at the time their parents divorced, followed by twenty-one between the ages of 6-8 years old and fifteen between the ages of 0-2 years old. Fourteen respondents fell within the 15-17 age range, along with ten in the 9-11 years category and eight each in the 12-14 years and 18 years or older categories. Two respondents did not answer this question (see Table 1).

Respondents from the divorce sample reported a mean score of 32.69 in terms of their attitudes towards relationships, with a median and mode score of 32, a minimum score of 20, and a maximum score of 41. These respondents also reported having been in, on average, 2-3 romantic relationships since their parents divorced, with a median of 2 relationships, a minimum of 0, and a maximum/mode of 5. These relationships lasted on average between 4-7 months and 8-11 months, leaning more towards the latter (actual mean score=2.75 on a scale of 1-4, where 1=0-3 months, 2=4-7 months, 3=8-11 months, and 4=12 months or more), with a median score of 3, a minimum of 0 and a maximum/mode of 4. Table 2 demonstrates the frequencies of these results.

When relaying their feelings at the time of their parents' divorce, an overwhelming majority of the respondents reported having experienced negative emotions. Seventy-five percent of respondents reported feeling sad, stressed, worried, or anxious. A small percentage (roughly 5 percent) reported feeling scared, confused, hatred, indifference, or apathy, the latter being due to the fact that they were too young at the time to remember or form any lasting attachment to both parents.

The remaining 14 percent of the respondents reported feeling relieved, relaxed, or happy at the time of their parents' divorce. While it is a minority, it is worth mentioning that these respondents all reported that they were either in the 6-8 years old category or higher at the time of their parents' divorce with a majority (n=7) in the 18 years or older category.

Effects of Parental Divorce on Relationships

Quantitative Analysis

Thirty-six percent of the respondents from intact families reported having romantic relationships that lasted for at least a year, while thirty-five percent reported having relationships that lasted only 0-3 months. Fifteen percent reported relationships lasting 4-7 months and fourteen percent had relationships lasting 8-11months. Interestingly, the respondents from the Divorce sample performed marginally better in relationship longevity than those from the Never Divorced sample.

Statistical analyses show that respondents whose parents never divorced had a mean score of 32.48 in regards towards their attitudes towards relationships, once again keeping fairly similar results to respondents from the Divorced sample who had a mean score of 32.69.

In order to analyze the impact of parental divorce on a respondent's attitudes towards relationships, I ran an independent samples t-test to examine the relationship between the presence of parental divorce in the respondent's life (whether or not they'd experienced it, as opposed to how many they'd experienced) and their overall attitude towards relationships. The test revealed no significant relationship between the two variables (see Table 3). These findings suggest that parental divorce has no impact on young adults' attitudes towards relationships; respondents formed their own opinions on romantic relationships and their ability to form/maintain them independent of their parents' marital status

In terms of the effect of gender on difficulty in maintaining successful romantic relationships, an independent samples t-test revealed that while the difference between male and female respondents' average number of intimate relationships is not significant, there is a significant difference in the duration of these relationships between men and women (t=-2.168; p <.05). The results demonstrate that male adult children of divorce tend to have relationships that last 4-7 months whereas women reported having intimate relationships that lasted, on average, 8-11 months. Further, there were more female respondents that reported having intimate relationships lasting 12 months of more (35 vs. 6) than males. Figure 1 illustrates the difference.

In terms of the timing of parental divorce, a one-way analysis of variance revealed that there was no significant relationship between the age of respondents at the time of their parents' divorce and the number/duration of their romantic relationships (see Table 4). It is worth mentioning that respondents in the 12-14 age range when their parents divorced reported the highest average duration of intimate relationships (?=3.25) of roughly 8-11 months.

In terms of the frequency of parental divorces, of the respondents whose parents divorced, only 19 reported experiencing multiple parental divorces. Perhaps due to this constraint, the data showed no significant relationships between the number of divorces experienced and respondents' overall attitudes towards romantic relationships. In light of this, I ran a bivariate correlation using the data on the entire sample's responses to question one (how many parental divorces experienced, ranging from 0-4) and the sum of their attitude scores. Despite this, the correlation still proved to be insignificant.

Qualitative Analysis

An analysis of qualitative data reveals common themes in the participants' responses that complement the survey data. Half the participants reported that they felt their parents' divorce had had a positive impact on their ability to maintain a relationship in some way, while three felt it had neither a positive nor negative impact.

The most common response to the question of impact was that the participant would strive to perform better than their parents in their own relationships by learning from their parents' mistakes rather than repeat them:

I think when I was younger it did [have an impact on me], but growing up and getting into my second and third relationships it was more of, um, I guess like I saw what they had and what they did wrong and I didn't wanna do that. So then, you know, I looked at it more as like a positive effect, I would guess, on my relationship and I wanted it to last longer so I kept communicating. (Dakota)

My parents never really worked at [their relationship]. My dad was never around, he was always working, and I try to maintain—like I work a lot and I go to school, and I'm learning a little bit that I need to do more activities and stuff for the relationship, not just be there, you know? (Alex)

Similar instances occurred with other participants. Casey, whose parents divorced because they married too early in their relationship, uses the divorce as a reminder to take intimate relationships slow and to really get to know his partner:

If anything I can use my parents' divorce as a way to not jump into a truly committed, like married, relationship too soon, because that's what my parents always told me, it was like "Don't get married too soon, wait as long as you can, make sure you know the other person because a divorce sucks for everybody."

Alex, whose parents failed to communicate properly, reported that open communication and making time for one another is important in maintaining a relationship:

A lot of open communication [is important], try to want the same things in life because my parents didn't want the same things in life... I try to make more time, we do activities together, because when my parents were married, like I remember to the point when they got divorced, when the whole divorce situation and everything went on, but when they got divorced my dad never did anything with us. My mom was always taking us out to the beach and trips and stuff like that. My father was never around, he was like "I'm too busy working, I'm too busy working."

In some cases, experiencing parental divorce provided insight to what the participant was looking for in his or her own relationship. Robin and Alex, whose parents divorced when they were 13 and 6 respectively, were two such cases:

At a young age it made me notice what I wanted...Like "Oh my gosh, [dating] is so important!" I wanted someone I could count on, I wanted someone who would be there when no one else would, I wanted to feel like I had a voice and to feel loved and appreciated, you know? I wanted someone that I could talk to that would understand, and it helped me realize what I wanted at a young age so then when I went out...it helped me narrow down what I was looking for. (Robin)

The main reason my parents got divorced was my mom cheated on my father, so I know that now myself I don't wanna be like that, I don't wanna cheat on somebody, I don't wanna pretend that everything is hunky-dory... [I would think] "What's the use of being in a relationship if you're just going in and out of all of them and there's no commitment there?"... and so I was like "I'm not gonna be with somebody, if that's the way it is out there then I'm not gonna do it." (Alex)

Another common finding was regarding the duration of romantic relationships. Seven participants reported having at least one serious relationship since their parents divorced that lasted over 12 months, four of which reporting relationships that lasted for over 2 years. Dakota in particular, who emphasized the importance of communication in her interview, reported being currently in a relationship that has lasted for seven and a half years: "Communication is key, and that's why [my partner] and I have lasted this long. We talk all the time."

A prevalent theme amongst the interviews was the type of family structure participants grew up with following their parents' divorce. Seven participants reported living primarily with their mother, usually due to custody stipulations (or lack thereof ), or at least preferring not to stay with their biological father. This may have inadvertently led to the overall bias against men for female participants:

I'm very against marriage... Not so much [partners] anymore, because not all men or women cheat and there are good men and women out there, but I think my only relationship that was serious did fail because I had trust issues. That's a fact. (Bailey)

The reason my parents divorced was because, even though they loved each other so much my dad was not there for my mother, like she was in a really bad car accident and she had to like go to rehab... and my father was just like "You're useless to me, I don't want nothing to do with you" and I had so much hatred toward my father after the divorce, because he never bothered to communicate with us, so, like I figured and I thought about it as if like, I never wanted to put myself out there and to bother with a relationship because I was like "If my own father can't even call me and spend time with me or even love me how can I expect somebody else to love me?" (Alex)

My father at one point had called me and my brother downstairs and asked which parent that we wanted to stay with, which, obviously, we would have chosen our mother, but with my father's temper, how it was, we knew better than to say anything. (Robin)

I would stay in a relationship with [someone] for years but I don't think I would ever get married, so technically my parents' divorce has affected me towards lasting relationships, just in the marriage sense. I could have a long-lasting relationship, just never marry them—unless they were very persistent...I could be perfectly fine being a [partner] to someone for 10 years and have 3 kids, I just never wanna get married. ( Jamie).

Further, due to the relatively young age of many of the participants, some participants had not left home long enough to create their own impressions of how a relationship ought to be. Alex, for example, claimed to have biased views towards relationships due to family, yet they were the primary influence because Alex had spent the majority of her life surrounded by her mother, siblings, and cousins:

I never wanted to get in, like, a committed relationship, I just wanted to, like, have fun, do my own thing. Because my sister is like my mom, she was always in a relationship, always in a relationship, and like I saw all the drama and the B.S. that came from them, and I didn't want it, like I was younger when my sister got married, she was like 27, and I was like probably, what, like 19-20, and they had like so much issues and so many problems and I was like "I'm not dealing with that, I don't want to even bother to be like told how to live my life" and I didn't want anything to hold me down... And growing up everybody was like "Why bother with a relationship? Have fun, do your thing." And I kinda saw that too because a lot of my cousins that I hung out with would always cheat on their significant others and so I was like "I'm not gonna be with somebody, if that's the way it is out there then I'm not gonna do it."

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