I heard a story today from a woman who has been married for well over 30 years. She talked about how the first few years of her marriage were really hard, especially after the birth of their first child. She said that she went through a period of unhappiness where she felt a lot of hurt and anger towards her husband. She even said that the thought of leaving her husband crossed her mind more than once.
Her story really touched me and brought me to tears. I would be lying if I said I never thought about ending my marriage. Even though I have only been married for two-and-a-half years, they have still not been easy ones. Days full of school, work, and child rearing, as well as a heaping dose of financial struggles lead to high, emotional stress. And sometimes the easiest solution is to get angry and blame one another.
But what the woman that I met today and my own personal experiences taught me is that although marriage is hard, there is a greater abundance of love on the other side. We just have to choose to love more!
About 40-50% of marriages end in divorce in the United States. Utah’s average for divorce is slightly higher than that. Most divorces occur within the first 5 years of marriage with the main reasons being “lack of commitment,” “unrealistic expectations,” “too much arguing,” and “lack of preparation. On average, in 75% of divorced couples at least one partner had regrets about the decision to divorce one year after breakup.
Marriage is not like rotten fruit that you throw away once it goes bad. In a national survey, two out of three unhappily married couples who decided to stay together reported being very happy or happy five years later. And those who were the unhappiest improved the most! Over 75% of individuals who reported being miserable in their marriage but stuck it out said they were now happy in their marriage. This shows that couples who may be experiencing unhappiness have the possibility of overcoming their challenges and becoming happier later.
I do want to point out that in the marriages that reported greater satisfaction and happiness in their marriage later on did not have violence and abuse in their relationship. 77% of the couples that divorced and 85% of the couples that stayed together never had an argument that resulted in physical abuse.
Of the couples that were surveyed, most of the common reasons for divorce were said to be “solvable irritations” meaning there were problems in the marriage that needed to be better communicated (See Couple Talks post for common miscommunication topics). Also, half of couples that did divorce came from low-conflict relationships meaning their differences and disappointments probably could be addressed and the relationship repaired. Instead, these divorces resulted from other problems like unrealistic expectations or not knowing how to work out their differences effectively.
If you have seen the movie “17 Again” you can see a perfect example of a couple who realizes that their lack of communication has sent them in completely opposite directions with their lives. But when they are able to try harder and remember the reasons they married, they were able to overcome their differences and stay together.
Studies have also shown that many reasons for divorce are usually caused by outside factors—losing a job, health problems, death of a family member—and the outside stress eventually goes away. Couples who are patient and persevere through difficult times can find happiness again. Sometimes the relationship can feel “sucky” for a while, but the marriage can still be sound.
One person who was interviewed in a survey regarding their relationship said, “We both had to look at ourselves…We started trying. We didn’t just wait for things to happen. We scheduled things for ourselves. Not just routine, routine, routine. Every Saturday we had to do something for ourselves.”
The woman I met had a similar ending as well. She said that although she felt discouraged and unhappy in her relationship, she decided she needed to try harder to show love in her marriage. Once she started purposely putting forth an effort, she started to appreciate her husband more and found the happiness she had been missing.
I know for me personally it took a lot of personal work and heart-to-heart discussions for me to come back from wanting to call it quits. Last year, my husband and I also attended couple’s counseling for 4 months which helped us understand and overcome some (not all) of our differences. I can tell you now that our marriage has never been better but I know it took a lot of work.
The issues and decisions regarding divorce are very personal. Each situation is different. And I’m not here to tell you divorce is wrong and it should never happen. But it should also be carefully considered.
If possible, it is important to take the necessary steps to try and resolve issues before thinking divorce is the only option. It is not the only option. There are usually other ways to find happiness in your marriage again.
The Utah Commission on Marriage has some wonderful tools to help you decide if you should get a divorce. The Crossroads of Divorce handbook is an informational and interactive guide to help you evaluate your own marriage and carefully, thoughtfully consider the direction you should go.
I also want to reiterate that if you are in a situation where abuse (physical, emotional, or verbal) is prevalent, you need to get help and get safe and may need to get out of the relationship.
But if you are in a marriage in which you are disappointed with your relationship and have thought about leaving your spouse, I encourage you to get the necessary individual or couple help you need before making your ultimate decision. There is a good chance you can find happiness with your spouse again, if you are willing to work at it.