Over the many, many years I’ve worked as a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice and on the air, I’ve done a lot of research on divorce, especially when it involves kids. The scientific literature differs very much from popular literature in what the happiness quotient is after a divorce. Scientific literature suggests that a good three quarters of people who divorce regret it. Maybe not immediately, but 10 years later, they do. “I should never have done it” is the kind of thing usually uttered privately after a divorce. And after the papers have been signed, the property divided, the child custody settled, and the emotional pain still lingering, it’s usually too late to go back.
Half of women and a third of men stay angry at their former spouse after a divorce. They mentally just don’t move on. They have to deal with a host of things: loneliness, painful memories, having to get new friends, uncomfortable changes, uncertainty about how they are going to pay their bills (people don’t usually go up in economic standing after their family is torn apart).
In my opinion, most marriages careening into divorce can be saved. By saved, I’m talking about turning a troubled situation into a good one – not just coexisting. A lot of times I nag people to just stay in a marriage in the hopes that if they just cut down on the rage and realize they have to endure and make the best of it, the tension calms and better things come out of it. Generally, there are very simple things they can do to make themselves and their spouse happy.
Of course, if your spouse is abusive, has had affairs, is an addict, suffers from a mental illness, or refuses to get help or follow through with therapy, then although it’s sad, a divorce is probably inevitable and you’re going to be happier to unload all of that pain. But I think for the most part, especially after hearing from all the people on my program over the years, most divorces (most, not all) happen because someone says, “I’m unhappy and I don’t know what else to do.” They figure, “OK, I’ll get a divorce and I’ll be happier because my marriage is the source of my unhappiness.”
There are a number of factors which can minimize your chances of getting a divorce. If I were empress for a day, I would make it so that nobody could get married without premarital counseling. It creates a much lower divorce rate because people work out their differences in a calm and neutral setting before the problems arise. They have a trained professional helping them deal with the things most people avoid, which later come up and bite them.
Additionally, as it turns out, people who actively practice one religion together and pray on a daily basis have a much lower divorce rate. It doesn’t matter which religion. These people are more centered. Also, very religious people are givers. They are not as concerned with taking. When you have two people who are givers, the marriage works out really well. Now, “so-called” religious couples – couples who share the same religion but are not active – do not have a lower divorce rate.
Another divorce factor is how early you get married. The reason? Maturity. The closer you are to 28 years old before you marry, the more realistic it is that you’ll stay with your spouse.
We live in a society today where marriage and family are no longer seen as sacred, permanent and unconditional. This lack of stability hurts the entire country. The increasing number of second marriages, the resulting stepfamilies, and the even higher divorce rates occurring after the stepfamilies are created all contribute to the problem. It’s not just the dissolution of the nuclear family that’s so destructive – it’s what happens afterwards.