Why Is the Divorce Rate So Low? (encore)

by Kassandra Lamb

No, that is not a typo in the title. I am asking why the divorce rate is not higher. As I contemplate the approach of the 38th Valentine’s Day I will spend with my husband, I thought this was a fitting time to again offer up this post I wrote in 2012.

I am absolutely amazed that anybody makes it for 38 years, or longer even, without divorcing. Or committing homicide.

First let me disabuse you all of the common myth that the divorce rate is 50%. This is just plain not true, but like most myths, it gets repeated so often, with absolute certainty on the part of the person saying it, that we all believe it.

This frequently quoted statistic is based on comparing the number of marriage certificates issued in any given year with the number of divorces filed in that year. That number indeed hovers around 50%, because the number of people GETTING MARRIED has been going down at the same rate as the number of people getting divorced.

Counting the number of people who are STILL MARRIED in any given year and comparing that to the number of divorces is a more complicated and costly process, so it isn’t done very often. (This data, by the way, is collected by the Center for Disease Control. So I want to know which is the disease, marriage or divorce? I’m assuming the latter. But I digress.)

Comparing those getting divorced to those still married paints a very different picture. The divorce rate in the U.S. actually peaked in 1979 at 23% (yes, that is TWENTY-THREE PERCENT; it has never been 50%). These days it hovers around 20%. Much better odds than 50-50!

(If you don’t want to take my word for it, here is a good article on the subject at PsychCentral and a study from the Center for Disease Control.)

So why am I saying the divorce rate is surprisingly low, if it’s actually a lot lower than everybody thinks it is?

Because it just isn’t all that easy to stay married for decade after decade. First we’ve got that whole men-and-women-don’t-really-understand-each-other thing going on. (See my gender differences posts for more on that topic.)

Then throw the stress of parenthood into the marriage mix. Are we clueless about what we are getting into there, or what? But then again, if we weren’t clueless, the species would have died out by now. If we knew in advance how hard parenting is, nobody would do it!

This is me at 3 months old; would you look at that hair!

Then we’ve got the whole aging process, and the fact that people change over time, as they experience new and different things. We don’t always change at the same rate or in the same direction as our partner does. So it takes a lot of work to stay on the same wavelength.

And we should keep in mind that marriage was invented back when the average lifespan was twenty-five years! As recently as the early 1900’s, one partner or the other was bound to die after a couple decades–from childbirth, disease or a cattle stampede. And I can’t help but suspect that, before the days of modern forensics, a certain number of household accidents were early versions of a Reno quickie divorce.

So how have hubby and I made it this long? First, you’ve got the making-the-right-choice-to-begin-with factor. We lucked out there, or perhaps it was divine intervention, because I had definitely dated my share of losers before he came along.

The most important part of making that right choice is marrying someone who shares your values. You don’t have to have all the same interests or even come from the same background or ethnic group. But you do need to care about the same things in life. And fortunately we do.

Probably the single most important factor in surviving marriage over the long haul is communication. You gotta talk to each other, every day, about the little stuff and the big stuff, and about how you feel about things. It’s real easy to get out of the habit of doing this, or to decide that a certain subject is just too painful, or will start a fight, so you don’t go there.

Study after study has found that the single most important factor in marital satisfaction is that both spouses consider their partner to be their best friend.

So Happy Valentine’s Day to my best friend! I hope we have many more, but I’m not taking anything for granted, because marriage is hard work.

 

When you stop laughing at hubby’s funny-looking tuxedo, please let me know what you think are the important aspects of keeping a relationship strong.

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

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15 thoughts on “Why Is the Divorce Rate So Low? (encore)

  1. K.B. Owen

    Great pics, Kassandra! And congrats on making it so long with hubby. I agree with all of these things you’ve listed for a happy marriage, and would add that it’s more important to work together to solve an issue than it is to BE RIGHT. “Winning” an argument is a very hollow victory, and someone is left feeling hurt and disrespected.

    Reply
    1. Kassandra Lamb

      Amen, Kathy! Couples counselors call it “externalizing the problem.” The problem/issue is over there, and WE are over here, together, working on solving the problem/issue. Not always easy to remember to do this, but as you say, it’s really important to avoid hurt feelings and resentments.

      Reply
  2. Piper Bayard

    Fascinating! And encouraging, as well.

    Hubby and I will celebrate 21 years in May, and we have never been more in love. It’s true that some years are better than other years. We don’t have a secret to it. In fact, we don’t have secrets, which may be our secret. It’s no small task for a hubby to put up with a wife who spends more time talking with her BFF living action figure partner than she does with him. Fortunately, the two men are “brothers,” and we are all people of integrity who understand the meaning of commitment. Still, I credit our success to my beloved. He’s one hell of a man and a true blue companion on the River of Life. I am grateful every day I wake up next to him.

    Reply
    1. Kassandra Lamb

      Wow! I hope your hubs reads your comment, Piper. What a testimonial! I too have a man who understands that yes, men and women can be just friends. Worth his weight in gold!

      Reply
  3. Nancy Levine

    Congrats. on your milestone! My husband and I were married 21 years and dated for seven before that. He passed away in 2001. He had a great sense of humor and I think that’s why we had a great relationship–we were able to laugh at ourselves. And there was no problem we couldn’t solve together.

    My parents were married 64 years when my dad passed away last year. They were the same way–no problem was too tough and they solved them together.

    Reply
    1. Kassandra Lamb Post author

      Wow! I can’t even fathom 64 years together. And I totally agree, Nancy, that having a good sense of humor is so important!

      Reply
  4. Kathy

    I have often wondered how the numbers are really affected by the fact that oeople remarry and re-divorce. Maybe one bunch stays married forever while another bunch marries and divorces ever few years. What do you think, Kass. It would nice to have a orofessional’s thoughts. I thought your original pist wax very interesting.

    Reply
    1. Kassandra Lamb Post author

      Excellent point, Kathy! Those divorce repeaters tend to skew the statistics. But I have an issue with the assumption that once divorced means repeated divorces. Yes, the fact that one has already been divorced is (statistically) correlated with the potential for more divorces.

      But let’s take a look at that. People who get divorced may have several things in common (but not always):
      1) They are willing to get divorced if the marriage is totally not working (as opposed, for example, to those who have strong religious beliefs against divorce, no matter how bad it gets).
      2) They may have poor selection filters and keep marrying the same kind of person, who isn’t really right for them.
      3) They may themselves have issues that make it hard to maintain a good relationship.

      On the other hand, I have known quite a few people in my lifetime–friends, family members and clients–who were divorced once (or even twice) but learned from their mistakes and made better choices. They went on to have marriages that lasted until “death do us part.”

      Bottom line: I’m not big on trusting statistics when it comes to love and marriage. 🙂

      Reply
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  6. Maryanne

    My husband and I just celebrated the 30th anniversary of our first kiss and later this year, we’ll hit our 25th wedding anniversary. Whew! For us, there are 2 key things: one is that we talk constantly (not that we agree constantly, but we TALK); the other is that we make each other laugh all the time, even at silly things (mostly, he makes me laugh, and that’s my daily Valentine’s gift).

    Reply
    1. Kassandra Lamb Post author

      Good communication and humor–sounds like an excellent formula for marital success to me, Maryanne. And you actually remember the date of your first kiss after 30 years? I’m impressed!!

      I remember my husband’s and my first date (which would have been when the first kiss occurred <3 ), but I couldn't even tell you the month. It was autumn, but other than that, I couldn't say.

      Reply
  7. Karen McFarland

    Look at that baby bathinette! Wow, I haven’t seen a picture of one of those in years. Love that crop of hair Kassandra! Yes, hubby and I will celebrate our 40th Anniversary this year. I was twelve okay? lol. Anyway, we of course were attracted to one another physically, but we’ve always been best friends. Do we drive each other nuts? You betcha. And sometimes I live for it, you know? lol. Yet, for us, our christian background and principles have always played a key part in our relationship. I’m hoping for 40 more! 🙂

    Reply
  8. Kassandra Lamb

    Happy 40th in advance, Karen! You probably won’t be surprised to hear that many research studies have found that the secret to a happy marriage is being best friends. 😀

    Reply
  9. Marcy Kennedy

    My husband and I celebrated our 4th anniversary this past September, so I don’t know that I have anything to add that hasn’t already been said well by people who’ve been married much longer 🙂 I have enjoyed reading through everyone’s comments though. My husband and I fall into the best friends category, as well as having the shared beliefs and laughing a lot together. I guess if I’m able to add something from my limited experience, I’d add that it helps to look at their weaknesses not as a horrible flaw but as a place where your strengths can make the partnership better, and to be grateful for all the good things rather than focusing on the bad.

    Reply
    1. Kassandra Lamb

      That is a wonderful addition to the discussion, Marcy! It’s also important that we recognize our weaknesses and let our partners shine in that area. My husband is a lot better at that than I am.

      I am very organized. He is very random. He gets that this is a disadvantage at times and is happy to let me balance the budget and plan our vacations, as well as other areas where advanced planning and attention to details is important.

      He on the other hand has far more patience than I have. When our son was little it was Dad who always checked his homework and taught him things like how to ride a bike. I made sure that I was out of earshot because I would get frustrated just listening to him explaining something for the umpteenth time.

      Reply

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