Younger Children Feel Lasting Effects of Divorce

Young children have a more difficult time establishing close relationships with their parents later in life, according to new research.

The research, which was published online June 28 and in the September 2013 issue of the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, concludes that children whose parents divorced when they were between birth and 3 to 5 years old had a greater level of parental insecurity than children whose parents divorced when they were older.

“A person who has a secure relationship with a parent is more likely than someone who is insecure to feel that they can trust the parent,” said R. Chris Fraley, associate professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and co-author of the study. “Such a person is more comfortable depending on the parent and is confident that the parent will be psychologically available when needed.”

Fraley and graduate student Marie Heffernan completed two studies that analyzed the effects of divorce on children’s relationships with their parents. They surveyed 7,735 people about their personalities and close relationships, and more than one-third of those surveyed came from homes of divorce.

Fraley explained the importance of these findings in determining how people form close relationships after witnessing the end of their parents’ marriage.

“People’s relationships with their parents and romantic partners play important roles in their lives,” Fraley said. “This research brings us one step closer to understanding why it is that some people have relatively secure relationships with close others whereas others have more difficulty opening up to and depending on important people in their lives.”

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