More and more scientific information is being accumulated about the long-term effects of divorce on children. Until very recently, most of what we knew was about the immediate or short-term effects of divorce, but increasingly long-term studies are providing insights about effects on the formation of intimate relationships and marriages in adulthood.
The major finding that gets the most attention is the increased likelihood that children of divorce are slightly more likely to divorce themselves. One interesting new report on the long-term effects of divorce on intimate relationships was conducted in Finland and recently reported in the Journal of Family Psychology (2011). A group of scientists at the National Institute for Health and Welfare and the University of Helsinki conducted a 16-year follow-up study of 1471 teenagers in one Finnish community. Ulla Mustonen and colleagues were interested in understanding the intimate relationships of these adults at 32 years of age and the role that parent-child relationships may have played in their adult relationships.
A major finding was that parental divorce tended to undermine the mother-daughter relationship; however, when a positive relationship was maintained this resulted in better self-esteem and satisfaction with social support in young adulthood which contributed to better intimate relationships. The researchers did not find this for young men.
For parents: Parent-child relationships matter, especially in adolescence. Keep working on these relationships, don’t let them get strained. (See Huffington Post summary.)
For practitioners: An important emphasis for parents must be on parent-child relationships. In addition to the attention to manage post-separation parenting issues, the focus needs to be on parents and children staying connected.
For scientists: More attention is needed on the key mechanisms that influence the long-term well-being of young people whose parents have divorced.