Why Is the Divorce Rate So Low?

No, that is not a typo in the title. I am asking why the divorce rate is not higher. Why am I asking this question? Because my husband and I are about to celebrate our 36thanniversary and I am absolutely amazed that anybody makes it this long 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.

 If we count the number of people who are STILL MARRIED in any given year and compare that number to the divorces, we get a very different picture. To get that statistic, however, requires a more complicated and costly process, so it’s only done about every ten years. 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.


 When calculated this way–comparing those getting divorced to those still married–the divorce rate in the U.S. peaked in 1979 at 23% and it has been going down very, very gradually ever since. These days it hovers around 20%. Much better odds than 50-50!


 I am a psychologist by the way, and I teach developmental psychology, but if you don’t want to believe me, here are some links to check out. Those of you who could care less about these statistics, jump ahead to the good stuff further down.


 Good article on the topic at PsychCentral:




 Charts and study from Center for Disease Control:




Anyway, 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. This is mostly because women, in general, like to process things, especially their feelings, out loud. Men are more inclined to mull things over in their own heads. Also men are more action-oriented; they like to fix things. (More on these differences in a later post.)


 She says: What’s wrong, honey?


He says: Nothin’.


She says: Come on, I can tell something’s wrong. What’s wrong?


He says: Nothin’. I’m fine.


She says: Is it me? Did I do something?


He says (through gritted teeth): Nothing. Is. Wrong.


 She says: Something really upsetting happened at work today.


He thinks (cuz if he’s been married for very long, he’s hopefully learned not to say it): Cut to the chase so I can tell you how to fix it.


She says: Yada, yada, yada, yada…


He nods off.


She gets pissed.


 Neither approach is right or wrong; they’re just different. But we don’t get that these differences exist and we keep expecting our mates to react to things the way we do. And then we get hurt and/or angry when s/he doesn’t understand where we’re coming from.


 Okay, now 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 three months old; would you look at that hair!


Then we’ve got the whole aging process (more on this next week, cuz I’ve got a birthday coming up, and it’s a biggie!) 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 ways as our partners do, however.

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 of 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 here, 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 Anniversary 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?


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

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  • Reply
    August McLaughlin
    August 28, 2012 at 3:09 pm

    Gorgeous post, Kassandra. Happy anniversary!

    It seems to me that people are marrying for love rather than societal pressure or need than ever before. I feel blessed to have a choice, and to have had the choice to get OUT of “marriage” (I use that term loosely) #1. I love that fact you shared about best friendship being the key ingredient. Thanks for the awesome inspiration.

  • Reply
    Kassandra Lamb
    August 28, 2012 at 5:15 pm

    Thanks, August! I came from a family that “stayed together for the sake of the kids” so although I take my marriage vows very seriously, I'm also a believer in getting out when you know the relationship is irreparably broken. Glad you had the courage to do that and move on to better things. And, yes, I think it's a good sign that fewer people are getting married; young people are thinking it through more, waiting until they are more mature and choosing more carefully. Thanks for stopping by.

  • Reply
    Ginger Calem
    August 28, 2012 at 5:27 pm

    Wonderful post, Kassandra and very interesting about the statistics. When I was in high school (in San Diego), everyone had divorced parents, step-parents and more often than not, lived with a single parent. In the town where we are raising our children, it's the opposite. Not very many single parents. I think it's a combination of the times/generation and the specific demographics/location.

    You are right that a marriage isn't 'easy' and staying married takes hard work, laughter and being friends. Happy Anniversary!

  • Reply
    Kassandra Lamb
    August 28, 2012 at 6:15 pm

    A good point, Ginger, about the demographics of where you happen to be. And also about the laughter! How could I forget laughter as a major ingredient in a successful marriage. Thanks for your well-wishes and for stopping by!

  • Reply
    Karen McFarland
    August 28, 2012 at 7:14 pm

    First of all, “Happy Anniversary” Kassandra to you and your hubby!
    Your anniversary is about eight months behind mine. See, I tell people all the time that it IS possible to stay together and you just proved it through your post. And yes, sometimes I think it is somewhat of a miracle that we've stayed together for this long. Only because we haven't killed each other. LOL! Just kidding. But where have all the years gone Kassandra? The last ten have especially gone by like a blink of an eye. Yikes! Marrying your best friend and communication is the key along with common interests. And fortunately, we can laugh at ourselves and each other. I hope that you both enjoy this wonderful, happy day! 🙂

  • Reply
    Kassandra Lamb
    August 28, 2012 at 9:57 pm

    Thanks, Karen! I agree, the time flies by sometimes. It seems like it was maybe three years ago when we “retired” in 2004. Guess what was waiting for me when I got home today–two dozen red roses! (I guess this means I should let him live for another year. 🙂

  • Reply
    August 28, 2012 at 10:12 pm

    Ah that tux! I feel like I've seen an endangered species! lol Let's see, I think my hubby and I make a good life-team because even though we are complete opposites, we have the same goals and values in life. Plus, we are both willing to speak up if something bugs us and change if it becomes problematic for the other person.

    Happy Anniversary! 🙂

  • Reply
    JoAnn Bassett
    August 28, 2012 at 11:11 pm

    First off, congratulations, Kass! Thirty-six years is like 250+ dog years (or 500 people-on-a-plane-with-a-grumpy-baby years), so that's huge. I've done both–marriage and divorce–and I'll take marriage any day. What I learned after thinking that divorce was the “easy way out” is that there is no easy way in life. No easy way to raise kids, no easy way to say “I'm sorry”, no easy way to do much of anything important. So after learning that, being married was much more satisfying. We've been married for twenty years now, and life is good. Perhaps realistic expectations are one of (if not the most) important aspect of staying happily married. Realizing that was the ah-ha moment for me.

  • Reply
    Kassandra Lamb
    August 28, 2012 at 11:15 pm

    LOL Hubby may not let ME live when he sees that I've posted that photo! Another good point, Shannon. We've got to be willing to work on our own issues when they create problems in the relationship. Not always an easy thing!

  • Reply
    Coleen Patrick
    August 28, 2012 at 11:33 pm

    Happy Anniversary! Love the photos 🙂 I think an important part of my relationship with my husband is our ability to laugh and make each other laugh. 🙂

  • Reply
    Kassandra Lamb
    August 28, 2012 at 11:56 pm

    Thanks, Coleen! I agree. Laughter is a major ingredient.

  • Reply
    Kassandra Lamb
    August 29, 2012 at 3:24 pm

    LOL, JoAnn. 250+ dog years of marriage; that certainly puts it in perspective! Definitely realistic expectations are so important. And one of those is that one does not expect their partner to change who they are. It took me six years to realize I wasn't going to turn my slobby husband (he's the first to admit he's a slob) into an organized neat person like myself. So we sat down one day and talked about how to keep his slobbiness from affecting me quite so much. We created 'slob zones' in each room, and that has worked beautifully ever since.

  • Reply
    Reetta Raitanen
    August 29, 2012 at 11:27 pm

    Happy Anniversary! Fascinating facts about the divorce rate. I agree with you that being best friends and sharing your lives, even the little things is the secret of a long marriage.

  • Reply
    August 31, 2012 at 3:46 am

    Congratulations! My husband and I are coming up on our second anniversary. We've had our share of fights already in the two years, but I can honestly say that he's my very best friend. He's the one person I tell everything to and the one person who has my back no matter what.


  • Reply
    Kassandra Lamb
    August 31, 2012 at 5:44 pm

    Hey Reetta and Marcy, Got caught up in life and haven't been checking in like I should. My apologies! Thanks for the well wishes. Yup, best friends who share it all. That is what marriage is all about.

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