Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Does Divorce Make People Happier?

Many people who seek a divorce allegedly do so because they feel trapped in an unhappy life. They believe that if they could liberate themselves from their marriage, which they believe to be the cause of their unhappiness, they could 'move on' to a life that is more fulfilling. Social research, however, demonstrates the fallacy of this myth.

A study conducted by the Institute for American Values Center for Marriage and Families found that divorce frequently fails to make people happy. The longitudinal study surveyed a large representative sample of adults who reported being unhappily married. After a five year period, all of the subjects were reinterviewed. Some of the couples had separated or divorced and some had remained married.

Among the couples who originally claimed to be unhappy and decided to divorce, only 19% reported that they were happier five years after the divorce. The overwhelming majority, 81%, reported being either just as unhappy or more unhappy five years after the divorce. The popular wisdom that divorce liberates those who are 'stuck' in an unhappy marriage is clearly erroneous.

In some cases, divorce may provide a perceived temporary relief from emotional pain associated with a troubled marriage. However, divorce also ushers in a host of new - often unanticipated - emotional, psychological, financial, and spiritual issues. Such issues can include: guilt, regret, isolation, loneliness, custody battles, property and financial battles, extended family strife, emotionally scarred children, economic hardships, relocation issues, loss of friends, future romantic disappointments, and so forth.

What about those couples in the survey who remained married? The vast majority of people who remain married despite reporting being unhappily married claimed to be happier five years later! In fact, a full two-thirds (67%) of all couples who initially reported some degree of unhappiness but stayed together reported being happier five years later. Even more telling, almost 80% who originally rated them selves as 'very unhappy' but remained married later considered themselves 'much happier', personally, and 'happily married' as a couple. A similar study found that 86% of unhappily married couples who remained married have happier marriages five years later. Also, almost 60% of these same marriages were reported to be 'very happy' after five years.

The simple fact is that unhappy couples who divorce generally do not become happier. But, unhappy couples typically experience greater happiness when they stick it out and stay married. Up to 80% of couples that divorce simply did not learn the skills needed to sustain a relationship. These relationship skills can be learned if couples are willing to invest in their marriages. This is an option that is far more fulfilling and far less destructive than divorce.

A tragic reality in American society is that half (approximately 50%) of first marriages end in divorce. But, it should also be noted that over 60% of second marriages also end in divorce. Indeed, the risk of marital failure increases with each successive attempt. Given all that we know about the failure of divorce to make people happy and the the inability of remarriages to succeed, one thing should be abundantly clear. One's best chance of finding happiness is to stick with the marriage that they are in and make it work.

In conclusion, the research cited, above, should provide much hope to couples who are struggling in their marriages. It should also be noted that these studies represent a wide cross section of American adults - both Christian and non-Christian. When a couple is made up of two Christians who believe in the power of prayer and the work of the Holy Spirit - anything is possible.

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