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Little Known Divorce Research - Myth or Fact

The decision to divorce is a difficult one.  People often talk to their friends or family members asking them to share their thoughts and opinions.  There are many ideas about divorce that are categorically false.  Because of this, I've decided to share some little known research regarding divorce that may help inform you or your loved one's decision.  If you are interested in speaking with a marriage counselor about your relationship, I'd love to help!

 

1. Half of today’s marriages are going to end in divorce.

MYTH! The famous 50% divorce rate does not apply to currently married couples. It’s a projection of the future divorce rate of couples getting married in a given year. Less than 2% of all current marriages end in divorce each year. For currently married couples, their odds of divorce go down the longer they’ve been together. And if they are college graduates, they are far less likely to get divorced than couples a generation ago.

 

2. Women Are More Likely to Initiate Divorce

FACT! Women initiate 2/3 of divorces. The most common explanation given is that women may be more sensitive to the quality of their marital relationships whereas men benefit more from just being married. Whatever the reason, it’s been true for a long time and all over the industrialized world that wives are more likely to take the lead in ending a marriage.

 

3. Kids are Better Off if Their Unhappily Married Parents Divorce

MYTH! This used to be the conventional wisdom in the field, but research over the past 20 years has pointed to a more complex picture. This research has had the advantage of following large groups of families from before a marital break till afterwards, and thus being able to look at the quality of the marriage before the divorce. The consensus finding is that kids are only better off after a divorce when their parents had a highly conflictual marriage. Most divorces (50-67% depending on the study), however, occur in marriages with moderate levels of conflict but where one the spouses was unhappy. In those case, children do much more poorly when their parents break up. Their lives were okay before even though their parents were not happily married, as long as the parents kept the conflict down. But divorce propelled these children into a new world of upheaval and distress.

 

4. Divorce is Usually a Consensus Decision

MYTH! It’s usually one person’s decision to start the divorce process, with the other not wanting the divorce. We tend to talk about a couple deciding to divorce, but that’s misleading. There is almost always “leaver and a leavee,” at least at the beginning. (Sometimes by the time the divorce process has played out for a while, the leavee is sick of the whole thing and wants out of the marriage—or has come to accept the other’s decision.) A good reason to keep this difference in mind is that each person tends to be in a different emotional place during the divorce process, and needs a different kind of support. Not surprisingly, the leavee tends to be more distressed.

 

5. Living together before marriage is a good way to avoid later marital problems and divorce

MYTH! This one is widely believed—and contradicted by the research. In dozens of studies, no benefit for later marriage has been founded from living together before hand. The debate in the research community is about how to interpret the opposite finding: that cohabitation is associated with poorer marital quality, more conflict and more divorce. It’s not known whether this comes from “selection factors”—characteristics of people who cohabitate—or causal factors—something about cohabitation that creates challenges for a subsequent marriage. The current consensus is both/and—selection and causation—with the leading candidates for causation being attitudes about commitment learned in multiple cohabiting relationships, “sliding” versus “deciding” to get married because it’s hard to break up when living together, and having a child before marriage. Couples who cohabitate when committed to marry and don’t already have a child have no more subsequent marital problems than those who do not cohabitate. But they are not better off. Bottom line: there are no proven benefits from “test driving” a relationship before committing to marriage—popular wisdom notwithstanding.