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!
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!
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.
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