Your genes could influence your decision to divorce

The older couple has a conflict with divorce on the cards. Upset mature woman, quarrel with her husband. Relationship crisis. (Getty Images)
Your sensitivity genes have a big plart to play in whether you're headed for divorce. (Getty Images)

Who gets a divorce could be determined by genes, new research suggests.

More sensitive people respond better to relationship counselling, according to psychologists, which may offer a fresh perspective on why broken marriages run in some families.

The discovery was based on more than 150 couples who took part in PREP (Prevention and Relationship Education Programme), which involves therapy aimed at keeping partners together by improving communication skills.

Analysis of the programme found that genetically sensitive volunteers benefitted the most. Interestingly, almost half of the differences in peoples' sensitivity can be explained by DNA.

Cropped shot of a young woman giving her boyfriend the silent treatment after a fight
New findings could help marriage counsellors offer the right type of help to their client, dependent on their DNA. (Getty Images)

Lead author Professor Michael Pluess, of Queen Mary University, London, said, "Our findings show an individual's genetic make-up can influence how they respond to couple's therapy.

"As we know that not everyone who takes part in relationship programs like PREP benefits in the same way, in future it could be helpful to identify people with low sensitivity, that might benefit less from these standard treatments, and potentially offer them an alternative."

While PREP is a well-established skills-based therapy, it has been found to be ineffective for some, leading the researchers to explore whether differences in sensitivity could explain the varying responses observed.

They collected DNA from the US participants, discovering genes known to be associated with sensitivity impacted on success. Questionnaires were completed both before and after treatment – and then at six-month intervals over a two-year follow-up.

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Close up of a female couple dealing with relationship problems
Divorce is one of the most stressful events of life. (Getty Images)

Researchers assessed communication, bonding, marital satisfaction and likelihood of divorce, with the study showing genetic sensitivity had more impact in the long run rather than the short-term.

To unearth their findings, researchers looked at a small number of known genes related to sensitivity, and also compared thousands of mutations using genome-wide data.

Both analyses showed people's responses to the treatment depended on their genetic make-up. The results suggest genetic sensitivity was best captured using the broad, genome-wide approach.

These findings were replicated in an independent sample included in the study.

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Some participants with low genetic sensitivity did not take part in the program. They showed similar positive responses in relation to marital satisfaction as others with higher sensitivity who were involved.

It suggests they don't respond as well to treatment, but they could be less vulnerable to typical relationship stressors experienced by couples due to the nature of being less sensitive.

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Prof. Pluess added, "In this study we've used genetic data to determine an individual's sensitivity.

"This is not the only way to do this as an individual's sensitivity is also influenced by environmental factors.

"It may be more practical to use sensitivity questionnaires that can be quickly and easily completed to capture these differences."

While previous research has often shown children of divorced parents are more likely to get divorced than the children of parents who stayed together, a study in Sweden found the link does not exist for adopted children – reinforcing the likelihood of divorce being genetic.

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These new findings could have implications for how marriage counsellors offer advice to couples whose relationships are in turmoil, which could be a very positive step, as divorce is known to be one of the most stressful life events, along with losing a loved one.

Want to find out how sensitive you are? A free online sensitivity test can be found at, run by some the study's authors.

The findings were published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.

Additional reporting SWNS.