We are approaching wedding season! April, May and June are filled with shopping the registries, excitement for friends, and final preparations for an awesome day for a beautiful bride and groom.
And yet . . . even as they prepare for a lifetime together, how many times will that bride and groom (or the rest of us) hear those sneakily discouraging statistics that make them wonder whether a lifetime together is possible? (Even, perhaps, at the wedding, the well-meaning officiant might say something like, “You need to work hard! Half of all marriages end in divorce!”)
Or how many times have we, ourselves, been shocked and saddened to hear that friends we know are suddenly getting a divorce? It looms large in our eyes that a seemingly normal husband and wife with kids, a dog and a mortgage could end like this. It makes us (and that bride and groom) think, subconsciously: “If they’re getting a divorce, what chance do we have?” Or “half of marriages end in divorce anyway so it shouldn’t surprise us.”
Many brides and grooms today are subconsciously going into their marriages believing they have a flip-the-coin chance of making it—when that is not true at all!
Just recently I had a series of all-day meetings with my Senior Researcher, Tally Whitehead, who flew down from Ohio. We were pulling together an update on the latest good news data about the state of marriage in our country, which has always been better than we think . . . and has only gotten better as new studies have been released!
We detail a lot of this in our book, The Good News About Marriage: Debunking Discouraging Myths about Marriage and Divorce. But I’m going to repeat some of it here, because we must spread the good news far and wide, reassure those brides and grooms we know, and uphold the fact that as we head into “marriage season,” the idea of love for a lifetime is not old fashioned and it’s also not mythical.
Here are the few important key facts about marriage we’d like to share with you—and have you share with those who are getting married this year!
You need to know: The divorce rate for society as a whole is not 50% and has never been anywhere close.
Everyone believes there is a 50% divorce rate. There isn’t, and there never has been, for society as a whole. For high-risk groups, yes. (If you get married as a teenager, that group hits that rate—but that is less than 5% of the population!)
What’s the divorce rate, then? Let me say that understanding this is incredibly complicated, controversial, and there is no way to know one “real” number. That is why it took us 8 years before we published The Good News About Marriage (and why we need to point you to the book for the hundreds of citations and sources!) But the bottom line is this: in looking at data from the Census Bureau and other reliable sources, it appears that somewhere around 25% of first marriages end in divorce—and the divorce rate has only continued to decline since we published the book! That’s still too high but it’s a universe different from what we think it is!
This means, if you’re getting married, you can be assured of this awesome fact: Most marriages are strong and happy for a lifetime!!!
Jeff and I have seen in our research with thousands of people for our books, that when people get into trouble in their marriage, there’s a sneaking feeling that arises: “If the ship is going to sink anyway, why bother trying to bail it out?” It makes an enormous difference if you think to yourself (or tell a troubled friend), “The ship isn’t going to sink! You’re going to make it. Most marriages do.”
You need to know: the rate of divorce in the church is not the same as society—in fact, it’s nowhere close.
Although there is controversy about what the divorce rate is, there is no controversy about this. Every demographer knows that statement is true: it’s just that every churchgoer doesn’t!
In fact, a long-term Harvard study, published in 2018, that found that in the population they tracked, the divorce rate for those who attended church regularly was 50% lower than the divorce rate of those who didn’t!
You need to know: Remarriages don’t have an insanely high divorce rate.
Do you know anyone who is heading into a second marriage? I talk to people all the time who are—and who are subconsciously expecting that they have a high chance of failure. Because that is what they’ve heard.
Just as for first marriages, no one knows what the exact divorce rate is for second and third marriages. But it turns out all those super high divorce rates you’ve heard—66%, 72%, etc.— are an urban legend. We detail more in The Good News About Marriage but the bottom line is we traced all those references and they tie back to sources that don’t exist.
My favorite example was from Dr. Jennifer Baker who is a well-known researcher that was quoted in a popularly-referenced Psychology Today article as saying she discovered these super high divorce rates. When we asked to look at her study so we could see her methodology, she emailed us back saying “Unfortunately, these statistics are not mine, and even though I have asked the website to remove my name as a source, I’ve been unable to get them to do so.”
It would be funny if it hadn’t caused so many people to give up on their second marriages.
So if you’re in a second or third marriage, please know that although no one knows exactly what those divorce rates are, they’re a whole lot closer to first marriage divorce rates than people think. Based on Census Bureau data, the divorce rate for remarriages is probably more like 30%.
Most marriages aren’t just “meh”; they’re actually happy!
Both our studies and all the other studies on satisfaction in marriage that have ever been done in recent years have found that contrary to popular opinion, most marriages are not “just sort of bumping along”. They’re made up of two people who actually really enjoy being married and enjoy being married to each other.
The average percentage of couples being happy in marriage hovers around 80%. (Our study for our book The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages, which independently surveyed both the husband and the wife, found that 71% percent were both happy, and others studies have found more than 90%!)
Again, that bride and groom getting married this year need to know: the bottom line is that most marriages not only last for a lifetime—but they are happy!
These are just a few of the truths that we cover in The Good News About Marriage. We would love for you to share this with a bride or groom you know or with a struggling couple who could use some encouragement. Because it’s worth spreading the word that lifelong, happy love in marriage is not only possible—but likely. And that is good news, indeed.
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Shaunti Feldhahn loves sharing eye-opening information that helps people thrive in life and relationships. She herself started out with a Harvard graduate degree and Wall Street credentials but no clue about life. After an unexpected shift into relationship research for average people like her, she now is a popular speaker and author of best-selling books about men, women and relationships. (Including For Women Only, For Men Only, and the groundbreaking The Good News About Marriage).
Her latest book, Find Peace: A 40-day Devotional Journey For Moms, focuses on discovering biblical direction to become a woman of serenity and delight in all seasons – and have impact for generations to come.
Visit www.shaunti.com for more.