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Divorce in Early Childhood May Harm Adult Ties

If split happened when kids were young, they were less likely to feel secure later, particularly with fathers
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WebMD News from HealthDay

By Kathleen Doheny

HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, July 16 (HealthDay News) -- If parents divorce when their children are young, the split can affect how secure these children will feel about their relationship with their parents as adults, new research shows.

"The disruptive consequences of parental divorce on the security of parent-child relationships are more acute when parental divorce takes place early versus later in a child's life," said study author R. Chris Fraley, a professor of psychology at the university of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Fraley analyzed data from 7,335 of men and women, average age 24, who participated in a survey about personality and close relationships online. More than one-third of the participants' parents had divorced.

On average, the children were aged 9 at the time of the divorce.

Men and women from divorced families were less likely to see their current relationship with their parents as secure. Those who parents divorced when they were under 5 were more insecure than those whose parents divorced when they were older.

When a person feels they have a secure relationship with a parent, Fraley said, they feel they can trust them and depend on them and that the parent will be available psychologically.

In the study, published online recently in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, feelings of insecurity were much greater for the adult children's relationships with their fathers.

The divorce did not have an substantial effect on the adult children's views of their romantic partners, Fraley found.

"This research suggests that the consequences of parental divorce are selective," he said, "Undermining the security that people have in their parental relationships more so than their romantic ones."

Fraley repeated the analysis with another group of 7,500 adults. These men and women, if their parents divorced, told which parent had primary custody. While 74 percent lived with mothers, 11 percent lived with their fathers. The rest lived with other caretakers.

Participants were most likely to have an insecure adult relationship with the parent they did not live with, Fraley found.

Fraley won't make recommendations based on the study. In the paper, however, he writes that ''something as basic as the amount of time that one spends with a parent or one's living arrangements can have the potential to shape the quality of the attachment relationship that one has with a parent."

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