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Misleading Statistics: It is not as simple as “half of all marriages end in divorce.”

“Half of all marriages or more will end in divorce!” is the cry heard throughout our country since the 1970’s. Census polls tell us that over half of all marriages end in divorce — not a romantic concept for most couples. Many blame the cultural influence of the hopeless romantic and happily-ever-after model of marriage portrayed in Hollywood; others note the significance in marrying for love rather than necessity, a cultural shift from decades and centuries ago. It is true that the divorce rate has increased in recent decades, but statistics can be misleading.

Taken out of context, the message that half or more of marriages end in divorce is a disheartening and pessimistic attitude. Couples who believe this may find themselves meeting a self-fulfilling prophecy rather than a given fact. The reality is that many factors contribute to the likelihood of divorce, and it is these factors, not the bare-boned statistic, that prospective couples should consider and remain aware of when they consider marriage.

For example, divorce is significantly more probable for couples that marry under the age of 20. While it is impossible to scientifically identify the causal relationship between these two factors, it can be assumed that a possible contributor to the high divorce rate for couples who married at a young age is the immaturity of romantic partners and the lack of relationship experience. Not only are the brains of adolescents not fully formed, but most individuals undergo significant life changes in their twenties and even into their thirties, reducing the likelihood that a mate found in adolescence will still be a satisfying partner throughout the rest of one’s life. Changes in personality, interests, schooling, and career can make a partner from one’s adolescence incompatible with who one becomes as an adult. This is not meant to say that such a trajectory is impossible, but a marriage stands a higher chance of lasting if the partners wait to marry in adulthood when they have fully matured.

Another contextual factor that sheds a different light on the divorce statistic is that partners who date for three or more years prior to getting married are significantly less likely to get divorced. Again, while this is not scientifically proven, my professional assessment of this fact is that partners with an established friendship foundation, who have survived past the romantic love phase, have a stronger connection and fortified relationship, reducing the likelihood of dissolution.

Romantic love refers to the initial head-over-heels phase of a relationship, and on average, it lasts about two years. After this time, reality sets in, and we are able to see our partners in a new (and sometimes harsher) light. During romantic love, it is easier to idealize our partners and only see how wonderful, attractive, and smart they are. Later on, cute habits may become annoying habits, and sexual frequency may decrease.

For some couples, the cessation of romantic love leads to a deeper connection and attachment that allows one to love a partner for his or her faults as well as that partner’s positive attributes. This deeper connection serves as a healthy foundation for couples entering marriage, and it is much less fleeting than romantic love.
Partners who choose to get married in the throes of romantic love may not have an accurate picture of one another. This can lead to fights where one blames the other for having changed or developed an irritating habit that is unacceptable. Some couples can power through this in early marriage and continue to have a long-lasting, healthy relationship. However, for many couples that marry during romantic love, the wave of reality washing in also washes away one’s commitment to the relationship.

The takeaway on the divorce statistic is not to believe everything you hear, as it is often taken out of context. What is important is to have accurate, shared expectations prior to marriage and a strong emotional attachment as the foundation for your relationship. Talk with your partner about what it means to be married, and consider seeing a premarital counselor to discuss issues that are often overlooked prior to marriage but have a big impact on newlyweds (common topics include: finance management, living arrangements, family planning, and sexual expectations).

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