By Alex Murashko
Many of the most demoralizing beliefs about marriage, especially when it comes to discouraging statistics commonly passed around, are just not true, says social researcher and best-selling author Shaunti Feldhahn.
“A subconscious sense of futility about marriage is everywhere, as everything we hear says marriage is ‘in trouble,'” states Feldhahn. “And while some of the bad news is accurate (for example, 41% of children are born out of wedlock), many of the most demoralizing beliefs just aren’t true. For example, the notion that half of all marriages end in divorce or that the divorce rate is the same in the church… neither are anywhere close to true.”
The Christian Post recently conducted an interview with Feldhahn, whose recently released, The Good News About Marriage, is the result of an 8-year investigative study that she believes reveals the truth about the state of marriage and divorce in today’s culture and churches. Below is the interview.
CP: What compelled you to do this study?
Feldhahn: I started learning just how much of our discouraging conventional wisdom about marriage and divorce was wrong – and how much it was killing marriages.
In all my own research with individuals and couples for my books like For Women Only I kept seeing that whether a couple “made it through” a tough time was directly tied to whether they had a sense of hope or a sense of futility. If someone thought, “We’re going to make it,” it was a completely different situation than once they started to think, “This is never going to get better.” So the sense of futility was killing marriages – and yet, I noticed, we have a culture-wide feeling of futility about marriage. Everyone thinks of marriage as being “in trouble.” Everyone just knows that “fifty percent of marriages have ended in divorce.” Everyone just knows that “the rate of divorce is the same in the church as it is outside the church.” Everyone who has ever been divorced just knows that “60 percent of second marriages don’t make it.”
And yet I started coming across all this data that seemed to completely contradict the conventional wisdom. Like that according to 2009 Census Bureau numbers, 72% of people are still married to their first spouse – and the 28% who aren’t, includes people who were married for years until a spouse died!
When I would share some of those numbers with people, the reactions were sometimes dramatic. Standing in front of me, I saw the difference between being defeated and feeling hopeful. People were grasping the good news like a life-preserver! I felt like this study had to be done.
It started pretty casually, but it became a drive for me and Tally Whitehead, my senior researcher, to understand and dig out any good news that was there. And to get enough clarity to publish The Good News About Marriage, it ended up taking eight years!
CP: What was some of the most important good news that you learned?
Feldhahn: The most important big-picture truth: contrary to popular opinion, most marriages are strong and happy for a lifetime. That doesn’t mean most marriages are perfect; there are still plenty of legitimate concerns out there. But for our culture as a whole, the marriages that are unhappy, the ones that don’t make it, are the exception rather than the rule.
To prove that, we debunk five different discouraging pieces of conventional wisdom about marriage in the book. Let me just mention two here.
First, is the idea that, half of all marriages are ending in divorce. While some high risks groups (like those married as teenagers) may have a 50% divorce rate, we’ve never come close as an overall average. After looking at dozens of studies, I believe one of the most meaningful statistics is the one I mentioned earlier: 72% of people are still married to their first spouse.
Now, that is only an overall average at one point in time, and the real question is what the numbers are for people who have had many years of chances to get divorced. And that is where I was really astonished. The highest-risk age group today is baby boomers, and many of that group have had thirty years of chances to get divorced. And among those who have only been married once, even seven in ten baby boomers are still married to their first spouse! Among those on their second and third marriages, the divorce numbers in that group are higher, but still: overall, this is good news!
Another very important finding was that the rate of divorce is not the same in the church. That is a misunderstanding of Barna Group data – because Barna was not trying to study divorce “in the church.” They were studying beliefs, so those who said they held Christian beliefs had the same divorce rate as those who said they didn’t. But since Barna wasn’t studying actions, the researchers didn’t include worship attendance in the analysis.
So I partnered with Barna and we re-ran the numbers: and if the person was in church the prior week, their divorce rate dropped 27% compared to those who weren’t! Many studies have found that church attendance drops the divorce rate 25-50% compared to those who don’t attend. It also increases happiness in marriage and has several other dramatic life and marriage outcomes that we cover in the book.
Read more: ChristianPost.com
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