Scotching Marriage

Growing up with an alcoholic parent can poisonone's view of marriage.

By PT Staff, published on March 1, 1996 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

Here's a sobering stat: adults who grew up with an alcoholic parent are a third more likely to end up divorced.

Part of the reason may lie in the depression and self-esteem problems that often plague the progeny of heavy drinkers. But a new study suggests that living with alcoholic parents also poisons kids' views of marriage--predisposing their own relationships to fail.

In a sample of nearly a thousand college students, those with alcoholic parents reported far more negative attitudes and emotions about marriage than did kids of light drinkers or teetotalers. The heavier their parents' drinking, the grimmer students' opinions about wedlock. It's no surprise, then, that boozers' broods intended to delay marriage longer than did their peers.

Once children of alcoholics actually tie the knot, the danger is that their negative attitudes will doom the marriage, warns Tim Thayne, a doctoral candidate at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. "It sets up a way of looking at things that happen in the relationship. They put a negative spin on them. And as they look for things that confirm their beliefs, their expectations will likely come true--a self-fulfilling prophecy."

But it's possible to counteract such attitudes. Simply acknowledging that their upbringing has skewed their view of marriage may help some couples avoid self-destruction, says Thayne.

Another approach is for such folks to seek out the positive marital role models they lacked as kids. Observing couples who successfully tackle the problems that crop up in every marriage can help children of alcoholics keep the faith through tough times.