How often do you hear someone toss out negative comments about the state of marriage today? For example:
- “Half of marriages end in divorce.”
- “The pandemic was brutal for marriages.”
- “Divorce has been rising for years.”
- “Churchgoers don’t do any better at marriage.”
Most conventional wisdom about marriage today is depressing—and yet most of it is also not true!
Unfortunately, there are damaging consequences to believing these urban legends. Young couples become more skeptical and more likely to avoid getting married. Struggling couples subconsciously think failure is inevitable eventually, so they lose motivation and stop trying.
Even your ordinary churchgoer is affected; they might wonder if doing what the Bible says about marriage doesn’t make a difference, what does that say about the Bible?
Instead of believing and spreading the falsehoods, let’s be aware of and spread the truth: that there is far more good news about marriage than most people realize. Yes, there is also much to work on. But we can have hope for marriage! We need to share that truth and the following positive facts.
And if you’ve been following my blog for a while and are already benefitting from knowing these truths about marriage, I encourage you to share this article with someone who needs to hear this encouraging news!
Some key good-news facts about marriage:
In an eight-year investigative study on marriage and divorce statistics, resulting in our book The Good News About Marriage, my senior researcher Tally Whitehead and I debunked common marriage myths with the following truths:
1. The actual divorce rate for society as a whole has never been close to 50%. Some high-risk groups (for example, those who marry very young) have hit that rate, but not the population as a whole. And rather than “increasing” (as many people think), the divorce rate has been declining for decades.
2. Most marriages aren’t just so-so. The vast majority are happy.
3. The rate of divorce in the church is not the same as among the non-churchgoing population; it’s significantly lower.
4. Remarriages aren’t doomed. A large majority survive and thrive.
5. Most marriage problems aren’t caused by big-ticket issues. So being in a marriage, or fixing a troubled one, doesn’t have to be as complicated as people think. Little things often make a big difference.
So those are the truths we covered a few years ago in The Good News About Marriage. What has happened since then?
The state of marriage keeps getting better!
Since we published the book in 2014, the research shows that the state of marriage continues to improve. Yet because the average person doesn’t know these facts, skepticism about marriage continues. We can turn the tide by sharing the truth! Here are just a few updates that every couple and marriage champion needs to know:
6. Divorce rates continue to fall
In 2019 (the most recent year for this statistic), the divorce rate declined to levels not seen in 50 years—with only about 15 marriages in every 1,000 resulting in divorce. This is a 34% fall from its peak in the 1980s.
7. Most marriages continue to be happy
This was true even during the pandemic! A 2021 Monmouth Poll found that 92% of married couples were either extremely or very satisfied in their marriage. And the percent of those who were “extremely satisfied” rose 14% during the pandemic shutdowns in 2020!
“Too often we’re quick to doubt relationships and see them as more fragile than they are,” said Dr. Gary Lewandowski, professor of psychology at Monmouth University. “In reality, our relationship is a tremendous source of strength and stability in uncertain times. Our poll [in 2020] found more than half thought the pandemic would strengthen their relationship. That seemed like wishful thinking, but these numbers show that optimism was warranted.”
8. Divorce continues to be lower in the church
As we detail in the book, the belief otherwise is based on a misunderstanding of an old George Barna study that was researching divorce rates by belief system (people who self-identified as Christian, Jewish, agnostic, and so on) but excluded church attendance from the analysis.
Research continues to consistently show that divorce rates are significantly lower among those who actually attend church. A 2020 report from the Institute of Family Studies (IFS) found that the likelihood of divorce drops considerably for those who attend church two to three times a month or more compared to those who attend church once a month or less. (The former group also gets married at higher rates.)
A December 2021 report published by IFS found that when controlling for various factors, simply being raised in a church-attending home drops our chances of divorce by 10% compared to those who don’t have that upbringing. (Which is also encouraging for everyone who is raising a child now!)
And that’s not all….
9. “Grey divorce” is not a major risk
News stories about “grey divorce” for older couples make it seem like a much bigger risk than it is. If a marriage is going to fail, it’s far more likely to fail in the first four or five years. The longer people are married, the lower the risk of divorce. Research shows people might think about divorce from time to time, but most want to stay married and work problems out.
10. Big life stressors can make marriages stronger
Finally, it’s easy to think that stressors are only negative for a marriage. And yet the upheavals of the last few years have demonstrated that such times often bring couples closer. In an American Family Survey, 58% of respondents (married or cohabiting) said that they appreciated their partner more during onset of the pandemic period of 2020. Marriage researcher Dr. Scott Stanley told us, “Similarly, a study from 2011 examined married respondents’ experiences of the great recession. Among those who reported that their commitment levels were affected by the recession, twice as many reported that their commitment increased than reported that it decreased.”
Given the bad news that upheavals don’t seem to be going away, it’s great news that our marriages can be such a source of strength. In his report on marital improvements during the COVID-19 era, Stanley emphasized that times of stress and uncertainty might be the best opportunity for marriages to “reinforce the simple power of listening and paying attention to one’s partner—of being responsive and caring.” He also added, “Feeling heard and supported in the time of worry is a way to make intimacy.”
It’s good news that many marriages seem to be doing just that. So the next time you hear someone mention a depressing marriage myth, be sure to tell them the true facts.
This article was also published at Patheos.
Check out the online courses of Shaunti’s research and teachings at SurprisingHope.com.
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