Working it out

Couples who are in unhappy marriages are faced with two opposing choices. Stay and work on their relationship in the hope that things will get better or separate in the hope of finding happiness elsewhere perhaps with someone else. But do couples who separate and/or divorce find themselves any happier than if they had decided to stick it out?

A study by the University of Chicago (which was released back in 2002) settles this question but it will undoubtedly upset the “progressives”. The study was based on analysis of data from the US National Survey of Family and Households measuring personal and marital happiness of married couples in the late 1980’s. The data showed that 645 or 12.3% of the 5,232 married couples that were surveyed said that they were unhappily married.

What is surprising though is what the same couples reported when they were re-interviewed five years later. While those who were in very bad marriages tended to separate, two-thirds of those in unhappy marriages who didn’t separate said that their marriages were now happy.

Furthermore the married couples who separated were, on average, no happier than they were before they separated. Even those of them who had remarried reported that they were no happier either. This suggests that most couples who are unhappy in their marriages stand a better chance of being happy in a relatively short time, if they stick it out.

This is supported by another study released last year from the Vanier Institute of the Family by York University Professor Anne-Marie Ambert titled “Divorce: Facts, Causes and Consequences”. Professor Ambert found that “a sizable proportion of marriages that end in divorce were actually quite ‘salvageable,’ even happy, and that many of these ex-spouses are no better off after.”

Why do so many salvageable marriages unnecessarily end in separation and divorce? The decline of religion and the rise of secularism is one reason as this promotes a culture that weakens and devalues marriage. In such a society, separation and divorce loses its stigma and the reasons for separating become more and more trivial.

Arguably for some relationships there may be no choice other than marital separation, particularly if physical violence, emotional abuse etc is involved. Otherwise, couples who are unhappily married should be aware that they may not be any happier if they separate. Indeed their marriages are likely to be salvageable if they seek help and try to work things out. In the long term this will be better for them, better for their children and better for society.