The current study seeks
to bring some clarity to the debate over what about divorce causes detriment
to the child. The entire population of full-time undergraduate students
at a small midwestern liberal arts college was examined concerning the
occurrence of divorce and its effects on later intimate relationships.
Students received surveys, which included an assessment of the student’s
parental situation and the Miller Social Intimacy Scale. The relationship
between these two variables was measured using a two-tailed t-test.
Additionally, the strength of the relationship between the age of parental
divorce and the individual’s level of intimacy was measured using the
Pearson r correlation coefficient. It was predicted that participants
who have experienced divorce would have less intimate relationships.
Annually close to one
million American children experience a parental divorce (Kail, 2002).
“Equally unsettling is that children raised in intact families are still
part of a ‘high-divorce society’ and are therefore surrounded indirectly
by the consequences of other families’ disruption” (Kirk, 2002, p. 63).
Because divorce is so prevalent, many researchers have begun to explore
how the different facets of divorce affect children, both immediately
and in the long-term. Several studies suggest that the disruptions,
conflict, and stress associated with divorce do affect children in a
variety of ways (Amato & Keith, 1991; Morris & West, 2001; Mullet
& Stolberg, 2002; Short, 2002; Sinclair & Nelson, 1998; Wilke,
1991). A range of variables other than the divorce experience itself
that may influence the future intimacy of the offspring include the
quality of the parental marital relationship, the amount of conflict
in the home, and the quality of the parent-child relationship (i.e.,
attachment) (Guttmann & Rosenberg, 2003).
One rapidly emerging
area of interest surrounding the study of divorce is the role of parental
conflict. Juxtaposed against the view that divorce in and of itself
is traumatic is a more recent theory holding that the amount of conflict
ultimately is what negatively influences the children. Those who have
experienced divorce often report higher levels of family conflict (Short,
2002; Toomey & Nelson, 2001). A study examining the effects of divorce
in college students and their level of relationship competence found
that more family conflict predicted not only lower levels of self-esteem
but also greater fear of intimacy (Kirk, 2002). Toomey and Nelson (2001)
highlighted a few other key factors in the case of parental conflict.
They noted that if the level of parental conflict before the divorce
was low, then the divorce itself would have more detrimental effects.
Another important consideration they expressed was the importance of
the amount of parental conflict that the child actually witnesses or
A number of studies
have explored parental conflict and the impact it has on future romantic
relationships in children of divorce. For college students who have
had a longstanding experience of parental conflict, the level of intimacy
in their romantic relationships declined. These students also tended
to be more cautious about intimacy in future relationships (Burgoyne
& Hames, 2002; Ensign, Scherman, & Clark, 1998). In an in-depth
qualitative study, Mahl (2001) interviewed 28 college students who had
experienced divorce to learn about their present romantic relationships.
The study found that their thoughts on how to maintain a relationship
were greatly influenced by the event of divorce. Many interviewees attributed
their reasons for turmoil and break-ups in their romantic relationships
to seeing problems their parents encountered in their own marriages.
Is parental conflict
following the divorce as detrimental as that which takes place when
the marriage is still intact? Morris and West (2001) examined the relationship
between post-divorce parental conflict and adult children’s willingness
to be intimate in their own relationships. They found that higher levels
of post-divorce conflict correlated with higher levels of perceived
risk in intimacy.
Another growing area
of research regarding the effects of divorce on future intimacy is the
confounding influence of early parent-child attachment. Evans and Bloom
(1996) measured a number of variables and how they differed among children
from intact and non-intact families. Of these variables, only ego-identity
and attachment styles were found to be statistically significant. They
stated that these findings merited future research in this area. Research
since has shown that attachment to parents will often affect children’s
ability to share intimacy later in life. Studies by Sinclair and Nelson
(1998) as well as Van Schaick and Stolberg (2001) found that college
students who presently experience higher levels of intimacy also expressed
a higher level of attachment to their fathers. Hayashi and Strickland
(1998) cite Bowlby’s (1969) work on attachment styles to argue that
attachment is more important than the event of divorce. They concluded
that if a child has made positive attachments early in life then a parental
divorce would not inhibit them from having positive intimate relationships
as they develop.
A further mitigating
variable between the effect of divorce and a child’s future intimate
relationships was that of outside stable relationships. Kirk (2002)
suggested that quality friendships helped to moderate the effects of
divorce and family conflict. These non-familial relationships acted
as a moderator, decreasing a person’s fear of intimacy. Friendships
help to provide significance and security when parents do not.
The respondents of
the Burgoyne & Hames (2002) study said their views on marriage had
certainly been influenced by family history, “but most of those who
had experienced their own long-term relationships felt that they had
learned as much, if not more, from these as from their family experiences”
(p. 98). Riggio (2001) stated that the process of learning about relationships
could actually take place through other family members. When children
experience divorce at a younger age they tend to cling to their siblings
for comfort. These relationships act as a buffer to the crises that
are taking place in the family.
Aside from issues such
as level of family conflict, parent-child attachment styles, and buffering
relationships, there were several studies that found that the event
of divorce, and thus the absence of a two-parent family, was the main
cause of the detrimental effects on a child’s future intimate relationships.
Mullett and Stolberg (2002) found that women who have experienced divorce
reported a lower level of intimacy within their dating relationships.
Lower levels of intimacy, unhealthy communication patterns, and other
reported effects of divorce not only affect the child but also become
the key components in predicting divorce for that child.
Kirk (2002) found that
family structure, intact or divorced, did not directly affect the participants’
fear of intimacy. However, family structure was a predictor of expectations
of future relationships. Compared to those who were from intact families,
students who had experienced divorce had significantly greater fear
of experiencing divorce in their own lives as well. Wilke (1991) discovered
in his dissertation that those from intact homes had a higher level
of intimate relationships than those from divorced families. Also, as
those from divorced families perceived a decrease in family cohesion,
their level of interpersonal intimacy decreased as well.
Van Schaick & Stolberg
(2001) studied the impact of paternal involvement and parental divorce
on young adults’ intimate relationships. They found that children of
divorce are thought to be more at risk for poor intimate relationship
outcomes for two reasons. “First, the divorce itself has been shown
to lead to relationship problems in many young adults. Second, paternal
involvement for children of divorce is often considerably less than
for children whose parents are married and residing in the same home
(Furstenburg, 1983; as cited in Amato & Keith, 1991, p. 117).”
Further, “Young adults from divorced families suffer more negative relationships
outcomes independent of parental involvement” (p. 99-100).
We hold that children
do reap many benefits from having both a mother and a father. Therefore,
any deviation from this two-parent family structure prevents a child
from fully developing into an adult capable of intimacy. Unhealthy parental
conflict will certainly have detrimental effects on a child as will
the lack of a secure attachment with a parent. Outside relationships
can indeed help to restore a child’s capacity for intimacy but this
was never intended to replace the bonds existent in a family. Although
these have all been areas of interest surrounding the research of divorce
in the last decade, our hypothesis is that it is the divorce itself
that is the most detrimental factor. To address these common trends
in divorce research, this study will examine the relationship between
family structure (intact and divorced) and the quality of intimate relationships
for undergraduate students.
All full-time undergraduate
students at Huntington College (a small Christian liberal arts school
in the Midwest) were solicited to participate in this study. A complete
list of students (including nontraditional undergraduate students) enrolled
as of March 3, 2004 was obtained from the college Registrar. A complete
population (n=723) was used as a sample, of which 243 responded. Eighty-six
males and 159 females aged 18 to 26 comprised the respondent group for
The Miller Social Intimacy
Scale (MSIS) was used as the dependent measure for the present study.
This popular instrument in the research of intimacy has been rated as
very reliable by a number of studies (Corcoran & Fischer, 1987;
Downs & Hillje, 1991; Hook, Gerstein, Detterich, & Gridley,
2003; Miller & Lefcourt, 1982; Mullet & Stolberg, 2002; Sinclair
& Nelson, 1998; Toomey & Nelson, 2001). Miller and Lefcourt
(1982) developed the measure a few decades ago to fill the void of adequate
intimacy scales. The MSIS consists of 17 items based on a 5-point Likert
scale. The scale asks participants to complete the questions thinking
of their most intimate relationship in an attempt to measure a person’s
maximum level of intimacy. This is achieved through questions such as
“How often do you show him/her affection?” or “How often do you confide
very personal information to him/her?” The first six questions are rated
from “very rarely” to “almost always” and the final seventeen from “not
much” to “a great deal.” Scores can range from 17 to 85, with the highest
score representing the highest level of intimacy.
Miller and Lefcourt
(1982) thoroughly assessed the reliability of the MSIS soon after it
was developed. Using the Cronbach alpha coefficient they found its internal
consistency to be high (alpha = .91 and .86) showing that the scale
assesses a single construct. The scale’s test-retest reliability was
also strong (r = .96 and r = .84, p < .001)
as measured at one and two month intervals after the original study.
Miller and Lefcourt (1982) also tested the scales convergent, discriminant,
and construct validity. Convergent validity was measured by having participants
take the MSIS and the Interpersonal Relationship Scale (IRS) (Schien,
Guerny, & Stover, 1971, cited in Guerny, 1977) and then the MSIS
and the UCLA Loneliness Scale. Participants who scored high on the MSIS
were expected to also score high on the IRS, and this did occur (r
= .71, p <.001). Participants who scored high on the MSIS
were expected to score low on the UCLA Loneliness Scale, and this was
also found (r = -.65, p <.001). For discriminant validity,
Miller and Lefcourt (1982) had participants take the Fitts’ Tennessee
Self-Concept Scale, the Jackson’s Personality Research Form, and the
Marlowe-Crowne Need for Approval Scale in addition to the MSIS itself
to specify what exactly was being measured by the MSIS. Finally construct
validity was examined by having participants use the MSIS to first assess
an extremely close friend and then a more casual friend. The MSIS was
deemed valid in construct, discriminant, and convergent validity. It
was chosen for use in this particular study not only because of its
acceptance as a reliable and valid measure but also because it provides
an excellent conceptualization of the study’s dependent variable.
Surveys were sent to
each participant through the college’s campus mail. Each mailing consisted
of three pages, tri-folded and stapled together with the recipient’s
name on the outside. The cover page was a letter informing the participant
about the general study. The participants were asked to take part in
a research study by completing the two attached surveys (the independent
and dependent measures). In addition to requesting the participants
to return the questionnaires, an explanation was included on how to
fold and send the surveys back to us through campus mail in order to
maximize convenience. Also included in this letter were a description
of the incentives involved and an explanation of how to enter the drawing
for the prizes as well as how to request the final results of the study.
A sample letter is displayed in Appendix A. The incentives included
two $5 gift certificates to a popular coffee house, two movie passes
to the local movie theatre, and a coupon for a free Papa John’s pizza.
All of the names of those requesting to be in the prize drawing were
compiled, and the gifts were distributed to the four randomly chosen
The mailings were constructed
in such a way as to assure anonymity and confidentiality. The participants
were given the option to return the instruction page with their name
to enter the raffle or obtain results. The surveys and the request for
entering the prize drawing and obtaining results were constructed so
that each part could be mailed back separately to a different researcher.
The number of surveys
returned totaled 245 out of 723 mailed (a 33.9% response rate). Of these
245 surveys, 205 were from intact families (an astounding 83.7%), leaving
40 from divorced families (16.3%). Male respondents composed 35.5% of
the sample (n = 86), with the remaining 64.5% being females (n = 159).
The mean age of participants was 20.06 (SD = 1.23). Nearly half (49%)
of the participants were involved in a dating relationship, the majority
designating their dating partner as their most intimate relationship
on the Miller Social Intimacy Scale (t = .33, 245 d.f., p<.05).
Using an alpha level of .05 and 243 degrees of freedom a two-tailed
independent t-test obtained a t of .33. When this was
compared with the critical t of 1.97, the null hypothesis was
retained. Both sample groups had virtually the same mean (divorced M
= 73.10, SD = 6.93 and intact M = 73.50, SD = 7.09) on the intimacy
Since the null hypothesis
was retained, a number of post hoc analyses were run to probe
possible influential variables. A two-tailed independent t test
was run to examine the relationship between gender and intimacy. Female
participants scored significantly higher on the Miller Social Intimacy
Scale than male participants (t = 2.54, 243 d.f., p >
.05). Regardless of family situation, females had a higher mean intimacy
score (M = 74.16, SD = 6.74) than male participants (M = 71.72, SD =
7.85). The relationship between the participants’ dating status and
intimacy score was also examined. Another two-tailed independent t
test compared these variables and the results were very significant
with an obtained t value of 9.98 and a critical t value
of 5.07 (243 d.f., p > .000001). Of the variables examined in the
study, divorce was unexpectedly the least related to intimacy, with
factors such as gender or dating status apparently being more significant.
The primary goal of
this study was to determine if the level of intimacy of college students
differed based on whether the student had experienced parental divorce
as a child. The question guiding the study was whether or not divorce
as a single variable was significant in determining differences in intimacy
levels. It was predicted that those from a divorced families would have
lower intimacy scores than those from intact families. Results of the
study indicated no significant differences in students of divorced versus
intact families. The results are similar to Sinclair & Nelson (1998)
who found no difference in levels of intimacy in students who experienced
divorce and those who did not.
Working from the assumption
that the parental relationship does in fact have some effect on children’s
development of intimate relationships, it does not appear that parental
divorce in and of itself has a profound impact on children’s future
intimate relationships. Our post hoc analyses revealed that being
female and being involved in a dating relationship were significant
factors in determining the intimacy level of individuals, regardless
of having experienced parental divorce or not. Our results tend to support
the existing research that suggests other influential variables in determining
children’s intimacy levels. Because divorce alone is not significant
in determining a child’s future level of intimacy in relationships,
factors such as parental attachment, parental conflict, and outside
relationships should be considered (Guttmann & Rosenberg, 2003).
Although one may reason that growing up in a single-parent home, along
with the emotional impact of experiencing parental divorce, would negatively
impact children’s future relationships, it appears that it is actually
the combined experiences and other relationships one is exposed to that
hold great influence (Burgoyne & Hames, 2002; Ensign, Scherman,
& Clark, 1998; Hayashi & Strickland, 1998; Kirk, 2002; Riggio,
2001). The present study’s findings lend support to this view that outside
factors are the most important contributory factors to the impact of
divorce on children.
Perhaps the event of
divorce has become so commonplace in our society that children learn
to accept its occurrence as normal. If half of a child’s friends have
also experienced divorce, the event probably wouldn’t be perceived as
traumatic. Therefore, it seems like a child would make intimate connections
with their peers and move on. The age of the population could also be
a variable to consider. Divorce may have had a more intense impact on
younger children, but by the late teens and early twenties, they have
become more autonomous and capable of forming relationships independent
of the family.
The demographics of
the sample merit consideration as well. Being that Huntington College
is a small Christian school the atmosphere could be one more conducive
to developing intimate relationships compared to a large state university.
The nature of the Christian religion is also one that encourages intimate
relationships, which may lead to higher intimacy scores. People living
in rural Indiana as opposed to more urban or suburban settings may also
view intimacy differently. The slower pace of the Midwest may encourage
more relationships than activity. Taking all of these factors into
consideration, it would be beneficial to compare the results of this
study with other private, Christian college/university populations and
public university populations.
There were a number
of variables that could have potentially influenced the validity of
the study. Because it was more quasi-experimental in nature, the risks
of experimenter-participant interaction are reduced. Since divorce was
the independent variable, it would be impossible to manipulate without
violating research ethics. Therefore this study acts as more of an indirect
field observation because it intends to discover what factors have already
been at work. As a result, external validity problems such as combination
of experimental setting and treatment, history and treatment, time of
measurement and treatment, or causal time-order were unable to be controlled.
Every participant who experienced divorce went through a unique set
of circumstances. This study was simply too broad to account for every
one of them. It is clear from the results that intimacy is not simply
a matter of being from a family of divorce or not, making diffusion
or imitation of treatment a problem. There seems to be too many confounding
variables for both the intact and divorced group to know what the major
influences are on a child’s future intimacy levels. However, this study
makes it clear that efforts should be invested in examining the varying
experiences a child undergoes.
was taken to preserve the generalizability of the results. The entire
population was chosen as a sample so that every member might have an
opportunity to participate. The results should, therefore, be representative
at the very least of the Huntington College population. Feasibly, the
findings could be projected onto smaller Christian colleges. It is also
interesting to note that the divorce rate at Huntington College (16%)
is well below the national average, including the average for Christians.
This study then provides valuable information but is also limited by
Another potential internal
validity issue is the extent to which the Miller Social Intimacy Scale
is able to measure the intended variable in this study. For instance,
it uses self-report, which is surely not a standardized measure of intimacy.
Romantic relationships abound in college and may skew the perception
of true intimacy. More relevant to the study, a college student whose
parents have been divorced may be coping with the divorce by involving
himself or herself in an allegedly “intimate” relationship. The MSIS
would not be capable of penetrating this veneer. Another possible flaw
is the ability only to assess one intimate relationship. Therefore,
it is open to question whether or not the MSIS is the most accurate
measure to be used in comparing the relationship of these two variables.
Since the hypothesis
of this study was not supported, it should encourage more studies on
other possible influences on intimacy following divorce. Variables that
are present even in intact families (such as level of parental conflict
and how this affects children) should be studied. Further study is
also encouraged regarding the positive coping relationships utilized
by persons who have experienced divorce. The study of divorce is extremely
broad in scope. It involves major factors such as the nature of a child’s
developmental process, family dynamics, genetics, and personality. Although
the research hypothesis was not upheld, this study is a valuable addition
in the study of divorce, especially in directing future research.
Amato, P. R., &
Keith, B. (1991). Parental divorce and adult well-being: A meta-analysis.
Journal of Marriage and the Family, 53, 43-58.
Burgoyne, C. B., &
Hames, R. (2002). Views of marriage and divorce: An in-depth study of
young adults from intact and divorced families. Journal of Divorce
& Remarriage,37(1/2), 75-100.
Bowlby, J. (1969).
The making and breaking of affectional bonds. British Journal of
Psychiatry, 130, 201-210.
Corcoran, K., &
Fischer, J. (1987). Miller Social Intimacy Scale. Measures for ClinicalPractice
(pp. 230-232). New York: The Free Press.
Downs, A. C., &
Hillje, E. S. (1991). Reassessment of the Miller Social Intimacy Scale:
Use with mixed- and same-sex dyads produces multidimensional structures.
Psychological Reports, 69(3 pt. 1), 991-997.
Ensign, J., Scherman,
A., & Clark, J. J. (1998). The relationship of family structure
and conflict to levels of intimacy and parental attachment on college
students. Adolescence, 33(131), 575-582.
Evans, J. J., &
Bloom, B. L. (1996). Effects of parental divorce among college undergraduates.
Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 26(1/2), 69-93.
Gurney, B. C. (1977).
Relationship enhancement. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Guttmann, J., &
Rosenberg, M. (2003) Emotional intimacy and children’s adjustment: A
comparison between single-parent divorced and intact families. EducationalPsychology,
Hayashi, G. M., &
Strickland, B. R. (1998). Long-term effects of parental divorce on love
relationships: Divorce as attachment disruption. Journal of Social
& Personal Relationships, 15(1), 23-28.
Hook, M. K., Gerstein,
L. H., Detterich, L., & Gridley, B. (2003). How close are we? Measuring
intimacy and examining gender differences. Journal of Counseling
& Development, 81(4), 462-474.
Kail, R. V. (2002).
Children. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Kirk, A. (2002). The
effects of divorce on young adults’ relationship competence: The influence
of intimate friendships. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 38(1/2),
Mahl, D. (2001). The
influence of parental divorce on the romantic relationship beliefs of
young adults. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Texas,
Miller, R. S., &
Lefcourt, H. M. (1982). The assessment of social intimacy. Journal
of Personality Assessment, 46(5), 514-518.
Morris, M. H., &
West, C. (2001). Post-divorce conflict and avoidance of intimacy. Journal
of Divorce & Remarriage, 35(3/4), 93-105.
Mullett, E., &
Stolberg, A. L. (2002). Divorce and its impact on the intimate relationships
of young adults. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 38(1/2),
Riggio, H. R. (2001).
Relations between parental divorce and the quality of adult sibling
relationships. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 36(1/2),
Short, J. L. (2002).
The effects of parental divorce during childhood on college students.
Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 38(1/2), 143-155.
Sinclair, S. L., &
Nelson, E. S. (1998). The impact of parental divorce on college students’
intimate relationships and relational beliefs. Journal of Divorce
& Remarriage, 29(1/2), 103-129.
Toomey, E. T., &
Nelson, E. S. (2001). Family conflict and young adults’ attitudes toward
intimacy. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 34(3/4), 49-71.
Van Schaick, K., &
Stolberg, A. (2001). The impact of paternal involvement and parental
divorce on young adults’ intimate relationships. Journal of Divorce
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Wilke, S. D. (1991).
The impact of parental divorce and family of origin dynamics on young
adult’s intimate relationships. Dissertation Abstracts International,
been selected to take part in a research project conducted by three
crazy psychology majors for an upper level research class. Dr. Priest
is forcing us to do this insane project under consequence of death,
and we would greatly appreciate your participation! Included in this
mailing are two surveys we would like you to complete and return to
us through campus mail ASAP. BUT THERE’S MORE…. Along with returning
the surveys, we invite you to return this page separately to enter a
PRIZE DRAWING. We are giving away two $5 gift certificates to Coffee
D’Vine, two movie passes to Huntington 7, and a coupon for a free Papa
Here’s what you need
- Complete the surveys
on the following pages. Tri-fold those two pages together so that
Matt Bruce’s name is on the outside and put them in campus mail. (Your
name is not needed on these pages).
- Fill out the information
below and tri-fold this page so that Renae Flora’s name is on the
outside. Return it through campus mail.
Thanks a million :-)
Matt Bruce, Christine Stacey, Renae
____ I would like to
enter the incentive drawing :-).
If you would like the
group results of this study, please send a written request to Christine
PLEASE FILL OUT
THIS SURVEY FIRST!
A number of phrases
are listed below that describe the kind of relationships people have
with others. Indicate, by filling in the appropriate letters in the
answer field, how you would describe your current relationship with
the person to whom you are closest. This person can be of either gender
and should be someone whom you consider to be your closest friend at
this time. While it is not necessary to specify the name of this friend,
please indicate his/her gender in question 1.
1. Gender of the person
you are closest to: M____ F____
2. Your marital status:
Dating____ Married____ Separated or divorced____
3. Is the friend you
describe your dating partner/spouse? Yes____ No____
When you have
leisure time how often do you choose to spend it with him/her
How often do
you keep very personal information to yourself and do not share
it with him/her?
||How often do you
show him/her affection?
How often do
you confide very personal information to him/her?
How often are
you able to understand his/her feelings?
||How often do you
feel close to him/her?
How much do you
like to spend time alone with him/her?
How much do you
feel like being encouraging and supportive to him/her when he/she
||How close do you
feel to him/her most of the time?
is it to you to listen to his/her personal disclosures?
is your relationship with him/her?
do you feel towards him/her?
is it to you that he/she understand your feelings?
How much damage
is caused by a typical disagreement in your relationship with
is it to you that he/she be encouraging and supportive to you
when you are unhappy?
is it to you that he/she show you affection?
is your relationship with him/her in your life?
PLEASE FILL OUT
THE OTHER SURVEY FIRST!
Have your biological
parents ever been divorced? Yes____ No____
If you answered ‘no’
to the previous question please stop now and return the survey
through campus mail.
If you answered ‘yes’
to the previous question, please respond to the following:
What was your age at
the time of the divorce? _____ years old
With which parent have
you lived the majority of your life? Mother____ Father____
Did the parent with
whom you reside/resided get remarried? Yes____ No____
If yes, what
was your age at the time this parent got remarried? _____ years
** Please return these
two surveys (2 pages) through campus mail. Tri-fold these pages together
so that Matt Bruce’s name appears on the outside. Thanks for your participation
in our study :-)!