Tuesday 5 April 2011

Does divorce make us happier?


Things aren't going so well and we decide to get a divorce. It seems logical that if we aren't happy together, we should be happier apart. However, is that actually the case? Does breaking up lead to two people who smile more, are better off, and in general in a better frame of mind? A second look at some of the reports about this idea should make any of us rethink this so final of all martial solutions. Before giving up and throwing in the towel - the "permanent" solution - have we exhausted all the other avenues, all other possible remedial courses of action? The old saying of "United we stand, divided we fall" may be more meaningful than we realise.

Divorce Magazine, an online publication offering information about divorce, provides stats on divorce in Canada. While this is certainly a long way from a one hundred percent failure rate, it is obvious that statistically divorce is so prevalent, anybody who is married or is considering getting married needs to educate themselves about the numbers and the methods of avoiding it.

  • There were 71,269 divorces in Canada in 2005, or a rate of 220.7 per 100,000 population.
  • About 38% of marriages end in divorce before the 30th anniversary. This figure differs across the country, ranging from 48% in Quebec to 22% in Newfoundland.
  • The risk of divorce is much higher for a first marriage than for a remarriage; 16% of divorces involve men who have been divorced previously, and 15% involve previously divorced women. 20% of Canadian divorces are repeat divorces for at least one spouse. Excluding Quebec, where cohabitation has become the preference, about 70% of divorced men and 58% of divorced women remarry.
  • The average length of marriages that end in divorce is 14.5 years, an increase of 1.7 from ten years ago.
  • The average age at which men divorce is 44 years old, and the average age for women is 41.4. The average age at which men marry is 29.5, and that for women is 26.9.
  • Almost 30% of children born in 1984 experienced their parents' divorce (or ended cohabitation) by the age of 15, according to the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth.
  • About 10% of child-custody orders are joint physical custody, in which the child spends at least 40% of his or her time with each parent. Joint legal custody comprises about 46.5% of all child-custody orders, while only 10% of children live with their fathers.
  • Around 43% of women have a decrease in household income within two years of a separation or divorce; the figure is only 15% for men. The same study finds that 29% of men have an increase in income, as compared to nine percent of women.
  • In a recent survey, 90% of teenagers said they expected not only to get married but to stay with their spouses permanently.
The Vanier Institute of the Family published the report "Families Count - Profiling Canada's Families IV" on October 4, 2010. It stated that 40% of first marriages end in divorce. It went on to state that twenty years after divorce, 69% of women and 82% of men are remarried.

Statistics Canada: we're depressed after divorce
StatsCan reports that the results of a marital breakdown are not good. I suppose that can be expected in one sense; however the longer term results may not necessarily mean that people are happier.

The findings underline depression as being a major result of divorce. Interestingly enough, the conclusions point out that men who experienced a break-up were more at risk of experiencing depression than were women. Why? It may very well be associated with the social support each sex has.

Marital dissolution can change the amount of social support available to an individual. A break-up means not only the loss of a partner, but can also reduce the size of a social network by dividing extended family and mutual friends. The loss of social support may be particularly difficult for men. Many men rely solely on their partner for support, while women tend to have larger social networks.

Does Divorce Make People Happy?
Findings from a Study of Unhappy Marriages (2002)
By Linda J. Waite, Don Browning, William J. Doherty, Maggie Gallagher, Ye Luo, and Scott M. Stanley

I ran across this study done back in 2002 which covered, as the authors called it, the "divorce assumption": stay married and be miserable or get a divorce and become happier. The conclusions are surprising in that this study found no evidence that unhappily married adults who divorced were typically any happier than unhappily married people who stayed married. That in itself is a surprise, but there's more. The researchers found out that two-thirds of unhappily married spouses who stayed married reported that their marriages were happy five years later.

Data came from 5,232 married adults interviewed in the late Eighties, 645 of whom reported being unhappily married. These same adults were then interviewed five years later. Some had divorced or separated and 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 did not typically reduce symptoms of depression, raise self-esteem, or increase a sense of mastery. This was true even after controlling for race, age, gender, and income. Even unhappy spouses who had divorced and remarried were no happier on average than those who stayed married. "Staying married is not just for the children's' 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 and sources of potential harm, divorce may create others as well. The decision to divorce sets in motion a large number of processes and events over which an individual has little control that are likely to deeply affect his or her emotional well-being. These include the response of one's spouse to divorce; the reactions of children; potential disappointments and aggravation in custody, child support, and visitation orders; new financial or health stresses for one or both parents; and new relationships or marriages.

At first glance, one would think that divorce is the solution to an unhappy relationship. However, other problems which naturally occur because of divorce may end up being as substantial as the unhappiness of the marriage. I can't help thinking of a saying I heard a long time ago.

You get tired of what's good.
You seek what's better.
You find what's bad,
And you quit looking out of fear of what's worse.

How do unhappy marriages get happier?
The researchers interviewed 55 formerly unhappy couples who turned their marriages around. While they continued to have unhappy periods, they had in general survived a potential break-up. The study listed 3 methods of survival.

Marital Endurance 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 and distress eased: financial problems, job reversals, depression, child problems, even infidelity.

Martial Work Ethic
In the marital work ethic, spouses told stories of actively working to solve problems, change behavior, or improve communication. When the problem was solved, the marriage got happier.  Strategies for improving marriages mentioned by spouses ranged from arranging dates or other ways to more time together, enlisting the help and advice of relatives or in-laws, to consulting clergy or secular counselors, to threatening divorce and consulting divorce attorneys.

Personal Happiness Ethic
Finally, in the personal happiness ethic, marriage problems did not seem to change that much. Instead married people in these accounts told stories of finding alternative ways to improve their own happiness and build a good and happy life despite a mediocre marriage.

Researchers noted that those who stayed together had a low opinion of the benefits of divorce and they had friends and 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, and they actively worked to belittle the attractiveness of alternatives.

I find it an interesting statement made in the study that a strong commitment to marriage as an institution and a powerful reluctance to divorce does not merely keep unhappily married people locked in misery together, they also help couples form happier bonds. Curious. In order to avoid divorce, couples must become happier. Of course, to get happier within, they must first avoid divorce, but if a couple who stays together does eventually get happier, is this part of our natural ability to adapt to different circumstances and become happier? After all, who can stay angry or depressed permanently? Sooner or later, we all get happy or happier. Heck, it's a sunny day. Who doesn't feel good on a sunny day?

The researchers are unable to conclude whether or not those who divorced were unhappier than those who stayed together, but there seemed to be some evidence supporting this idea. Then again, there will always be speculation around the idea of somebody bowing out at the first sign of trouble. And certainly there will be questions to be raised about whether or not professional help was sought in order to do everything possible before taking the ultimate step of divorce.

Final Word
Getting married is fun. Being married is a joy. Divorce sucks. Now on top of an unhappy marriage and an inability of working things out with one's partner, we discover that we may not necessarily be so much better off after divesting ourselves of our spouse. In fact, a multitude of new problems such as finances, rebuilding a support network of friends, and trying to reconcile family with split spouses, may add up to a substantial burden and contribute to the post-divorce depression anyone would feel after having their world up-ended.

I am reminded of the old saying, "I cried because I had no shoes, then I met a man who had no feet." Except here, it's like somebody else says to me, "I'll help you solve your problem of having no shoes" then proceeds to amputate both of my feet. Well, I no longer need to worry about having no shoes!


Divorce Magazine: 10 years of helping generation Ex
Ten years ago, individuals who reached out for help during separation and divorce often came up empty handed. Aside from a few books or the occasional newspaper article, "help" wasn't really out there. That's why Divorce Magazine was founded. Today, we proudly produce the only divorce magazine and top divorce-focused Web site. Since our first issue, we have published 100s of informative articles, 1,000s of pieces of advice on every divorce-related topic, and scores of interviews with leading divorce experts. And we've done it in six regional editions, so the information is local and relevant to you, our reader. Our Web site, DivorceMagazine.com, has had more than 10 million visitors since it was launched in 1996, providing surfers with unprecedented resources for every region of North America as well as full online access to our magazine articles and more. Today, we also offer a Divorce Guide, free online eNewsletter, and two other divorce-related Web sites, BestDivorceHelp.com and GuideToDivorce.com.

Divorce Magazine: Sample Canadian Stats on Divorce


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Unknown said...

as a kid who had divorced parents ... it certainly didn't make me well adjusted.

i can see how people would be depressed.

if you love someone, the greatest gift you can give is to work at the relationship ... it's not for the lazy

Molly @ Postcards from a Peaceful Divorce said...

I've seen this study. I'm not sure what to think about it because I am so much happier since my divorce. I think in my case, the fact that he was suffering from depression took its toll on me over time. It does give married people food for thought though.

roymanseras said...

Marriage for me is an eternal commitment between two people. This may sound so ideal, yet if we only have to live with it, everybody might be happy. Divorce rate is rising and this becomes an alarming issue for the government. I hope they would do something better for it.