So for those in rural and remote Canada and Australia their summary of the research is quoted below.
The research team used data collected by the National Survey of Family & Households, a nationally representative survey that extensively measures personal & marital happiness.
Out of 5,232 married adults interviewed in the late 1980's, 645 reported being unhappily married. 5 years later, these same adults were interviewed again. Some had divorced or separated & some had stayed married.
The study found that on average unhappily married adults who divorced were no happier than unhappily married adults who stayed married when rated on any of 12 separate measures of psychological well-being.
Divorce didn't typically:
- reduce symptoms of depression
- raise self-esteem
- increase a sense of mastery
This was true even after controlling for race, age, gender & income. Even unhappy spouses who had divorced & remarried were no happier on average than those who stayed married.
"Staying married isn't just for the childrens' sake. Some divorce is necessary, but results like these suggest the benefits of divorce have been oversold," says Linda J. Waite.
Why doesn't divorce typically make adults happier? The authors of the study suggest that while eliminating some stresses & sources of potential harm, divorce may create others as well.
The decision to divorce sets in motion a large number of processes & events over which an individual has little control that are likely to deeply affect his or her emotional well-being.
- the response of one's spouse to divorce
- the reactions of children
- potential disappointments
- aggravation in custody, child support & visitation orders
- new financial or health stresses for one or both parents
- new relationships or marriages.
Marital Turnarounds: How Do Unhappy Marriages Get Happier?
To follow up on the dramatic findings that 2/3 of unhappy marriages had become happy 5 years later, the researchers also conducted focus group interviews with 55 formerly unhappy husbands & wives who had turned their marriages around.
They found that many currently happily married spouses have had extended periods of marital unhappiness, often for quite serious reasons, including:
- verbal abuse
- emotional neglect
- work reversals
Why did these marriages survive where other marriages did not? Spouses' stories of how their marriages got happier fell into 3 broad headings: • the marital endurance ethic • the marital work ethic • the personal happiness ethic.
In the marital endurance ethic, the most common story couples reported to researchers, marriages got happier not because partners resolved problems, but because they stubbornly outlasted them.
With the passage of time, these spouses said, many sources of conflict & distress eased: • financial problems • job reversals • depression • child problems • even infidelity In the marital work ethic, spouses told stories of • actively working to solve problems • change behavior • improve communication When the problem was solved, the marriage got happier.
Strategies for improving marriages mentioned by spouses ranged from:
- arranging dates
- other ways to more time together
- enlisting the help & advice of relatives or in-laws
- consulting clergy or secular counselors
- threatening divorce & consulting divorce attorneys
Finally, in the personal happiness epic, marriage problems didn't seem to change that much. Instead married people in these accounts told stories of finding alternative ways to improve their own happiness & build a good & happy life despite a mediocre marriage.
Other findings of the study based on the National Survey Data are:
- The vast majority of divorces (74%) took place to adults who had been happily married when first studied 5 years earlier. In this group, divorce was associated w/dramatic declines in happiness & psychological well-being compared to those who stayed married
- Unhappy marriages are less common than unhappy spouses; 3 out of 4 unhappily married adults are married to someone who's happy w/the marriage
- Staying married did not typically trap unhappy spouses in violent relationships. 86% of unhappily married adults reported no violence in their relationship (including 77% of unhappy spouses who later divorced or separated).
93% of unhappy spouses who avoided divorce reported no violence in their marriage five years later.
When do People Divorce?
"Marriages are most susceptible to divorce in the early years of marriage
- after 5 years, approximately 10 % of marriages are expected to end in divorce
- another 10 % (or 20 % cumulatively) are divorced by about the 10th year after marriage
- the 30% level is not reached until about the 18th year after marriage
- while the 40% level is only approached by the 50th year after marriage.
"Half of all children will witness the breakup of a parent's marriage. Of these, close to half will also see the breakup of a parent's second marriage." Spouses interviewed in the focus groups whose marriages had turned around generally had a low opinion of the benefits of divorce, as well as friends & family members who supported the importance of staying married.
Because of their intense commitment to their marriages, these couples invested great effort in enduring or overcoming problems in their relationships, they minimized the importance of difficulties they couldn't resolve & they actively worked to belittle the attractiveness of alternatives.
The study's findings are consistent w/other research demonstrating the powerful effects of marital commitment on marital happiness.
A strong commitment to marriage as an institution & a powerful reluctance to divorce, doesn't merely keep unhappily married people locked in misery together.
They also help couples form happier bonds. To avoid divorce, many assume, marriages must become happier. But it's at least equally true that in order to get happier, unhappy couples or spouses must first avoid divorce.
"In most cases, a strong commitment to staying married not only helps couples avoid divorce, it helps more couples achieve a happier marriage," notes research team member Scott Stanley.
"Over the past 30 years a consistent 96% of the American public has expressed a personal desire for marriage.
Only 8% of American women consider remaining single ideal, a proportion that hasn't changed over the past 20 years.
Almost 3/4 of adult Americans believe that "marriage is a lifelong commitment that shouldn't be ended except under extreme circumstances."
Even 81% of divorced & separate Americans still believe that marriage should be for life."
Would most unhappy spouses who divorced have ended up happily married if they'd stuck w/their marriages?
The researchers who conduced the study can't say for sure whether unhappy spouses who divorced would've become happy had they stayed w/their marriages.
In most respects, unhappy spouses who divorced & unhappy spouses who stayed married looked more similar than different (before the divorce) in terms of their psychological adjustment & family background.
While unhappy spouses who divorced were on average: • younger • had lower household incomes • were more likely to be employed • were more likely to have children in the home
These differences were typically not large.
Were the marriages that ended in divorce much worse than those that did not?
There's some evidence for this point of view. Unhappy spouses who divorced reported more conflict & were about twice as likely to report violence in their marriage than unhappy spouses who stayed married.
However, marital violence occurred in only a minority of unhappy marriages: 21% of unhappy spouses who divorced reported husband to wife violence, compared to 9% of unhappy spouses who stayed married.
On the other hand, if only the worst marriages ended up in divorce, one would expect divorce to be associated w/important psychological benefits.
Instead, researchers found that unhappily married adults who divorced were no more likely to report emotional & psychological improvements than those who stayed married.
In addition, the most unhappy marriages reported the most dramatic turnarounds: among those who rated their marriages as very unhappy, almost 8 out of 10 who avoided divorce were happily married 5 years later. Source