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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Divorce and Remarriage: What Makes and Breaks a Marriage (Conclusion)

Clearly, marriage is something special that makes people, on the whole, better than they are without it. We must ask ourselves, why is there such a high divorce rate in the US?

I believe it is because the special, sacred nature of marriage is largely ignored prior to the wedding. I would wholeheartedly agree that many of the couples who were married and get divorced, “made a mistake”, just as they often say. Why did they make this mistake? Because they did not consider the marriage unbreakable from the start.

Simply put, if two human beings commit themselves to a lifetime of marriage, with no room for divorce, the marriage will work. The person initiating the divorce often says, “I have only two choices: get divorced or stay miserable the rest of my life.” This is a false dilemma, intentionally ignoring the option of “get happy – work it out”. In short, if quitting is an option, human beings will quit.

Ironically, when individuals who rated their marriages as “bad” or “very bad” are surveyed five years later, of those who stayed married 80% rated their marriages as “good” or “very good!” Of those who divorced, over half rated their personal happiness as “fair” or “poor!”. Divorce is not only the only option other than “stay miserable” - it is often the option that is most likely to lead to continuing misery. Some couples divorce because they think that a strained marriage hurts children, However, one landmark study revealed that 90 percent of children from divorced homes suffered from an acute sense of shock when the separation occurred, including profound grieving and irrational fears. Fifty percent reported feeling rejected and abandoned, and indeed, half of the fathers never came to see their children three years after the divorce. One-third of the boys and girls feared abandonment by the remaining parent, and 66 percent experienced yearning for the absent parent with an intensity that researchers described as overwhelming. Most significant, 37 percent of the children were even more unhappy and dissatisfied five years after the divorce than they had been at 18 months. In other words, time did not heal their wounds.

Why is this? In nearly every case, the married couple becomes unhappy due to selfishness on the case of one or both of the partners. That is why second and third marriages fail at even higher rates than first marriages. The problems in the first marriage are attributed to the other partner, and the self-correction needed (and forced when divorce is not an option) never happens.

God knows how lazy and selfish humans are – that’s why he hates divorce. Not only is it a failing of the sinful man, but it negatively impacts not only the other spouse, but especially the children.

In her landmark study, “The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce”, Dr. Judith Wallerstein follows children for 25 years, observing those whose parents divorced and those who didn’t. The results are disturbing: children of divorce were negatively affected well into adulthood, and had much greater difficulty in establishing trusting romantic relationships that lasted. Divorce hurts families. Surely this is one of the reasons why God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16).

The failure of our society to embrace this hatred for divorce is because we do not start with the regard for marriage that would lead to a hatred of divorce. A marriage lightly regarded is a marriage lightly dissolved. Until we, as a society, regain a regard for marriage that is found in Asia, Latin America and Africa, our divorce troubles will continue. Unfortunately, this type of progress only occurs with massive societal upheavals, and is unlikely.

Next: When is Divorce Permitted? (I hope to have it up today)


  • I'm in complete agreement about the importance and sanctity of marriage. I'll never second guess someone who has left an abusive relationship, but beyond that I just don't understand why people give up on their marriages.

    But you have to be careful with these kinds of statistics. Correlation does not imply causality. For example, we could postulate that unhappy marriages are hard on children and unhappy marriages are more likely to end in divorce. Your statistics would support this without needing divorce itself to be hard on kids.

    Your statistics are consistent with divorce being hard on children and staying married improves one happiness, but they are consistent with other explanations as well.

    My personal guess is you are correct, an unhappy marriage is preferable to an unhappy divorce and eventual happiness is more likely without the divorce, I'm just saying you have to be careful with these kinds of statistics.

    I'm fortunate, I've had basically no direct exposure to divorce so I've never really seen it in action. But my guess is you are correct, if you enter a marriage with the assumption that divorce is always an option, you are far more likely to take that option.

    Although, just to argue with myself (as I'm apt to do), I've read that the average length of a marriage 100 years ago was the same as today despite the higher current divorce rate. The reason? We live longer today. So perhaps, from a purely statistical perspective, at least, divorce is just a death substitute! :-)

    By Blogger Mark, at 7/26/2006 07:20:00 PM  

  • Hi Hammer,

    I agree with everything you have written about marriage and divorce. However, could I add a nuance to your topic? If one or both of the spouses have been previously divorced, the second marriage becomes more difficult because it is impossible to separate the disappointment and hurt in the first marriage from the expectations, fears, and commitment in the second marriage.

    Even without a previous divorce, it seems to me that every marriage is affected by the previous relationships of both spouses. Once a person has been betrayed, they are less likely to make a full commitment to someone else; even if they do get married there is always some doubt.

    I would argue that not only should people get married and stay married, but they should get married early in life with the help of their parents and advisors in choosing a mate. This is another area where the western culture and the western Church has dropped the ball.

    Having said that, no marriage will ever be perfect and without challenges.

    By Blogger David M. Smith, at 7/27/2006 01:54:00 PM  

  • David makes a good point. You can make a very strong case that the main cause of modern divorce rates is... Love.

    Think about it. Today, people marry for love, but this hasn't always been true. Up until relatively recently marriage for love was mostly for fairy tales, but in the modern world it is just about the only reason anyone gets married.

    And lets face it, love is an emotion and a much more fragile a foundation than the historical reasons for marriage: family, security, commitment.

    That said, I don't agree with David on the solution. If higher divorce rates are the side effect of people marrying for the most romantic of reasons, then so be it. Today we all at least have the opportunity for the fairy tale and that is a good thing.

    (But for the record, I strongly advocate marrying your best friend. You'll be far happier over the long haul.)

    By Blogger Mark, at 7/27/2006 03:25:00 PM  

  • Mark,
    Of course, I agree that correlation does not equal causation. That is the largest statistical fallacy encountered! However, these studies isolated the issue by following children of difficult marriages, both those which stayed together and those which did not. The difference was in the divorce, not the "unhappy" marriage.

    However, I'd postulate that you have a truth of it - if the memory of marriage is a bad one that ends in divorce, as opposed to a marriage that persevered (and thus, becomes a "good" marriage in the eyes of the children), they become almost inseparable. If the only marriages seen ended in divorce, then there is no other way for a "bad" marriage to end.

    Wallerstein points to this connection as an explanation for the difficulties children of divorce often have in forming relationships as adults.

    As for your second comment, I wouldn't fault getting married for love as the problem nearly as much as the utter failure to recognize that love does not, in fact, conquer all. Well, at least not the love that many get married for! If we regarded marriage highly and as unbreakable, we would not bail on it with such (honestly) little reason as many do - even if we married for the wrong reasons.

    Now that you mention it, if love is teh best reason to marry, then before the past couple of hundred years, marriages were more successful when marrying for the wrong reasons! Why? Because we can learn to love anyone we are committed to.

    David - I'm saving my commentary on remarriage for the next post. We'll get to your point then.

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 7/28/2006 08:46:00 AM  

  • I was so appalled to see, as I was driving around my new hometown, a sign for "Divorce Incorporated," run by a divorce attorney. Doesn't that sound so flippant? I guess that's the problem...we just don't take marriage very seriously.

    I agree with your assessment that the sacred nature of marriage is ignored prior to the wedding. As a pastor, I see couples (and by no means all) who are far more concerned with the details of the wedding than they are with what happens after the wedding. They are so worried that everything look right and sound right on that one day that they ignore all the other days, too.

    And it's hard to tell a couple that's so worried about the number of cocktail napkins to order that one day they're going to wake up and not be really fond of each other, and that they're going to have to make that marriage work anyway. Somehow they believe that having the perfect wedding will guarantee the perfect marriage.

    By Blogger Mary Beth, at 8/02/2006 10:44:00 AM  

  • Too true, Mary Beth. If couples spent the amount of time on marriage preparation as they did on weddin gpreparation, not only would we have better marriages, we would probably have less of them!

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 8/03/2006 01:56:00 PM  

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