Can Genetic Factors Cause Divorce?

“Scientific studies have shown that as many as 40 percent of divorces are caused by genetic factors that affect personality and behavior.” That statement stopped me in my tracks as I was reading it in You Being Beautiful by Michael F. Roizen, M.D., and Mehmet C. Oz, M.D. (a.k.a. Dr. Oz).

They add, “The relationship between personality and divorce is clear: Extroversion is related to risk of divorce, particularly in men. Neuroticism elevates risk of divorce for both men and women.”  (You may recall in my post Oh no, I married an extrovert! that my husband is an extreme extrovert. )

However, the book’s description of an extrovert doesn’t describe any of the extroverts I know.  “They’re loud, they drive fast, they approach strange ladies at the bar, and they’re unafraid to be the ubiquitous lampshade wearer at the company party. They like talking and actually tend to be happy.” OK, if extroverts are all approaching strange ladies at the bar, then we see the correlation with divorce.

The stat of 40 percent seems very high to me, but this is in a chapter that addresses many kinds of mental wellness. When discussing depression, readers are reminded that symptoms can include lack of self-esteem, lack of interest in sex, weight changes, sleep problems and fatigue among others. It shouldn’t surprise us that these issues can dramatically affect a marriage. To say divorce is caused by genetic factors sounds very vague to me, however “personality and behavior” is certainly a wide category that could easily encompass much more.  Behavior seems to me to be more a choice, while personality seems to be how we are.

The authors stress that individuals can’t will themselves into better moods, so if your spouse is suffering from mood swings, it’s important to have a physician help you with diagnosis and a plan. The thrust of their advice is to get treatment for depression, bipolar disorder or other disorders than can be very dangerous—and not just to marriages. They offer these tips among others:

Talk it out—The authors say in treating minor depression, talk therapy is 60 to 70 percent successful, and 90 percent successful when used in conjunction with drugs.

Go bananas—They say eating a banana a day may keep the therapist away by preventing recurring minor depression. Bananas facilitate both cross talk among your brain cells and the effect of certain neurotransmitters, according to the doctors. They also contain a large amount of antioxidants.

Reach out to others–Reaching out online or in person can help treat and prevent depression. Spouses can certainly provide support, but don’t be afraid to reach out to friends, family or community.

We are all on a long continuum with our mind and our moods. Sometimes we’re very high, and sometimes we’re very low. Often, we take our spouses with us. We should aim for strong mental health and honesty with our spouse and our physician so we can attain that even when life is not going as we hoped it would.

Do you agree that genetic factors contribute to 40 percent of divorces? How do you think mental wellness affects your marriage?

6 responses to “Can Genetic Factors Cause Divorce?

  1. Extroversion isn’t as big as a factor as impulsivity is.

    • I think extroverts are as able to control their behaviors as others. Maybe it’s the situations they place themselves in that are more risky? But I agree with your point.

  2. Sadly, I think Dr. Oz has no idea what marriage really is, what love really is. 1 Corinthians 13 tells us that love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Certainly there are genetic factors that make up our personality and those things can at times cause stress and difficulties in a marriage, but they CANNOT cause divorce. Only sin causes divorce and it’s not genetic, it’s a spiritual trait that affects 100% of marriages.

    • Thanks for your thoughts. It seems he has a pretty healthy marriage, but I agree that while genetics contributes to who we are, we have a lot of choices from that point on. I think certain health issues such as mental illness can contribute to marital distress, and could lead to divorce. I’m not sure if that’s what they meant or if it was something broader.

  3. I don’t quite buy it that 40% of divorces are ’caused’ by genetic factors. But in todays’ divorce-happy world I think many may use such things as the excuses. But were those same genetic profiles divorcing at the same rates 50 or 75 years ago? Maybe more telling, though the rate of divorce was lower, could 40% still be contributed to those same genetic factors?

    Regarding extraversion, I don’t think they are talking about strict Jungian or MBPT extraversion–though it is derived from that. I think it is likely a reference to the Big 5 Personality Factor that is extraversion. The Big 5 are often used by researchers when conducting studies. In the Big 5 extraversion is described as resilient, high energy; talkative; emotionally expressiveness,fast-paced, reactive and exuberant.
    I’ve been combing journals for a chapter I’m writing and found several that referenced the Big 5 and I was surprisesd to read similar things regarding extraversion–I’d assumed it was what it was rather than somthing which would be attributed to postiive or negative behaviors.

    • Thanks for your explanation. I had never heard of The Big 5; I’ll have to look into that. Your definition sounds much more in line with my understanding of extroversion, particularly the high-energy, fast-paced tendencies that accompany the talkative, outgoing attributes we all expect. I appreciate your input.

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