The Truth about Divorce

Categories The Early Years

Ok, so this is kind of random and not typical blog like material from me. However, I think it’s kinda relevant to a lot of people. The style of this writing may seem boring to some of you, and that’s only because I was required to write this for a class in APA format. However, I was really excited about writing this, and put a descent amount of thought into it. I could have made it 10 pages longer, but we had a maximum of 10 pages :/ If you have any questions or thought, please give me input!!! Also, the ending analysis is kind of cheesy, for the purpose of the class I had to relate the subject topic to a career I might be interested in.

So here it is:


The desire for marriage is often characterized by cultural, moral, and religious values. 2,213,000 individuals were wedded in the United States in 2006 (Center for Disease Control, 2006). 48 percent of this number of marriages ended in divorce in the same year. While America’s core philosophy speaks to individual freedom to exercise life according to individual preference, researchers are increasingly concerned with such a high rate of divorce. The Barna Group reported in 2008 that 78% of Americans do get married. However, they also indicated that divorce is equally represented throughout all ethnicities, religions, genders, ages, and political groups. Though there exists no concrete experiment to attest to the issues and causes associated with divorce, many researchers have conducted specific surveys in attempts to diagnose the problem and address it with a solution. Some of the most current problems identified by researchers that contribute towards divorce are: financial disputes, spouse role disagreements, and abusive or unfaithful spouses. Many of these disturbances of marriage could be easily countered with marital counseling, which aims at helping partners understand their differences and learning to work through them towards a healthy relationship.

Traditional marriages 50 years ago were almost all distinguished by a male provider and a female housewife. However, with the recent movement towards gender equality women have increasingly become an important part of the work force. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (2009) shows that from 2000 thru 2008 women experienced an increase of ~25% in pay while men only received ~20% increase. This 5% difference that arose in only eight years signifies that women are rapidly becoming more equal in their salaries. This proposes a threat to many men who feel that according to traditional culture, they should be the primary source of income for the household. This growing commonality of egalitarian culture serves as a hindrance to many marriages. It seems as though culture isn’t keeping up with society; that is, a large portion of the American population still exhibits a negative response to women and men having an equal role in the work force and in household duties. Dakin & Wampler (2008) explain that many couples exhibit the use of money as the means of power in the relationship. Traditional gender roles would suggest that the man is in control and the woman is in submission. This helps explain some of the gender role communication discrepancies associated with egalitarian women and traditional men. If the male does not earn as much as his wife, he feels like he has lost his power. If he has lost his power, he feels like he has failed his gender role as husband and provider. According to McClelland (1958), every human’s satisfaction is marked by a certain need for achievement (nAch). That is, individuals ascertain a certain expectancy of themselves in an area of their life, and are either fulfilled or dissatisfied based on their success or failure towards those goals. It seems that a husband’s nAch would be unsatisfied if he felt like he wasn’t fulfilling his gender role. Sensibly, extended periods of an unfulfilled nAch would contribute to an unhappy life, which would most commonly carry into a marriage. Dakin & Wampler also reported that 50% of Americans experience financial insecurity on a daily basis. Being that this is such a large percent of the population, it is understandable that most couples would incur a significant amount of trouble maintaining desirable need for achievements, with respect towards finances, without causing distress to the marriage. In addition, it seems significant that the number of couples who experience this financial uncertainty is similar to the number of divorces per marriage, 50%. Furthermore, 75% of couples don’t ever create any sort of formal budget and 20% of couples never engage in any financial planning at all (Dakin & Wampler). These astonishing statistics point to one obvious solution to the problem of marital financial dissatisfaction: couples should maintain serious financial discussion on a routine basis and outline a clear expectancy of each spouse in regards to preserving the family’s financial integrity while maintaining an appropriate lifestyle.

As previously explained, gender role plays a significant effect on marital satisfaction per individual spouse. Mickelson, Claffey, & Williams (2007) were among the first researchers to evaluate the effects of differing interpretations of gender roles and how they moderate the quality of marriage on each individual partner. This group of researchers examined gender role attitudes of traditional men, traditional women, egalitarian men, and egalitarian women to gain insight on both marital quality and conflict from two perspectives: the level of emotional support and the amount of instrumental support (house duties) felt by one spouse in regards to their partner. They discovered that all genders and attitudes felt the need for emotional support, but traditional men and egalitarian women required more emotional support and required more instrumental support from their partners than did traditional women and egalitarian men. Because of this, egalitarian men and women felt more dissatisfaction and conflict between their marriages than did traditional women and men. This conveys the idea that society is still dominated by traditional gender roles. While egalitarian individuals desire an equal balance of work and house duties between them and their spouse, their spouse may not necessarily possess those same beliefs. In order for the quality of a marriage to be acceptable, both spouses must have a mutual understanding of what is expected of the other. While neither egalitarian nor traditional attitudes are necessarily better to the quality of a marriage than the other, the couple must come to a consensus on what they both expect of each other. If the egalitarian female expects the traditional male to cook dinner four nights a week, and the egalitarian male expects the traditional female to work forty hours a week, the marriage probably won’t experience the highest level of quality that is possible if they haven’t previously expressed these expectations. To minimize this gender attitude conflict, it is recommended that soon-to-be wed should undergo a pre-marital counseling program. Since most couples who divorce the first time have done so by ten years, most first divorce causes can be classified by relatively early marital problems. In such cases, it is probable that the spouses have differing views on what was expected out of the marriage. Counseling programs would help expose couples to the problems they might face in the future. This would alleviate a large portion of gender role assumptions that might lead to long-term disputes which cause marital conflict and divorce. Even after a couple is married and is experiencing difficulties in promoting a healthy relationship, counseling is still very effective in providing hostility relief by exposing the underlying communication errors that lead to divorce. On top of that, marital counseling is about 90% cheaper than divorce. The average divorce costs roughly $30,000 while marital counseling averages around $3,000 (Diamond, 1998). In addition, researchers are proposing that divorce doesn’t actually solve the problem of unhappiness. Waite, Browning, Doherty, Gallagher, Luo, & Stanley (2002) comment about their research on divorce and well being,

The study found that on average unhappily married adults who divorced were no happier than unhappily married adults who stayed married when rated on any of 12 separate measures of psychological well-being. Divorce did not typically reduce symptoms of depression, raise self-esteem, or increase a sense of mastery. This was true even after controlling for race, age, gender, and income. Even unhappy spouses who had divorced and remarried were no happier on average than those who stayed married.

This study counters what researchers refer to as conventional wisdom in regards to divorce — that couples in unhappy marriages who get divorced are likely to be much happier. It is important to keep this in mind when couples are considering a divorce. While many people would like to think that divorce is the easy way out, that may not be the case. Additionally, Waite et al. point out that couples who have signified some of the worst scores on well being were among the happiest couples after five years of working through their differences. Having a fundamental understanding of this concept would be beneficial to preserving the time, money and emotional state of many couples who assume that a divorce is the answer to their problems.

The good thing about the previously mentioned conflicts in marriages is that they are both controllable by each individual spouse; meaning, each person has a chance to change themselves to make the marriage work. However, not all marital problems are so simple. In the case of abuse and adultery, one spouse is typically the victim of the other’s actions, leaving the victim little to no control over improving the relationship. While such taboo topics are hard for researchers to examine at an accurate level, Whisman, Uebelacker, and Bruce (2006) were able to successfully diagnose the effect of alcohol disorders on previously happily married couples. They performed a longitudinal study on 1,675 happily married non-alcoholic individuals for 12 months. At the conclusion of their study, Whisman et al. discovered that individuals who developed an alcohol disorder were almost four times as likely to develop into unhappy marriages. While not all alcoholics are abusers and not all abusers are alcoholics, this study serves a great purpose in generating a broad outline for both psychological and sociological patterns in relation to abuse and divorce. A large percentage of alcoholics display similar characteristics to abusers: irrational thinking, selfishness, no clear concern for those around them, and disorderly conduct. Because of their similar behaviors, a line can be drawn between diagnosed alcoholics and abusers. This is suffice to say that just as alcoholics have been proven to be the cause of dissatisfactory marriages, abusers seem to be just as likely to be such a cause. With this concept in mind, psychologists can come to the conclusion that spouses that have been exposed to long term abuse are likely to be dissatisfied in their marital relationship. Unfortunately, without changing the behavior of the abuser the victim spouse is not likely able to make any changes that would promote a healthy relationship. Situations like these provoke controversy within the field of psychology as to whether or not a divorce is acceptable for the victim. This is especially controversial when the abuse is emotional instead of physical as there is no clear line to distinguish the presence or level of abuse. However, it is the contention of many medical and psychological specialists that if a spouse’s behavior is causing physical harm to the victim spouse and intervention is unsuccessful, that a divorce would be appropriate. Similar to abuse, adultery serves as a divorce causing factor in relationships. There is even less research that has been performed on this subject by psychologists. And, while many religions debate the legitimacy of divorce based on adultery, the law states that it is grounds for divorce. Because of the high sensitivity to the subject, individual discretion rather than societal or even religious standards is typically used to determine the course of action following the acknowledgement of an unfaithful partner. Marital counseling is still recommended to determine the situational causes of the act, but current research doesn’t seem likely to have a significant impact on divorce rates based on adultery.

Even though divorce is socially acceptable among the general population of America, the trend is decreasing. Divorce rates were at an all-time high in 1981 at 5.3 per 1000 persons, compared to today’s 3.6 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2008). American researchers are consistently looking at ways to minimize these divorce rates, as America leads the world in divorce rates per year, almost double Canada at second place (Burgatta, & Montgomery, 2000). In a particular field of interest, marital counseling, this information is specifically useful in reducing tension between couples and alleviating conflict. A counselor of any group of individuals should be aware of the truth about divorce. Society tends to seek out individuals with graduate degrees in psychology when they have a problem, no matter the specific area of psychology of the psychologist. Since all psychologists have a large opportunity to encounter couples with marital problems, they should have a basic method for implementing peace between them. In knowing these basic conflicts of marriage, any psychologist should be able to successfully educate couples in distress, allowing them to make wise decisions for their future.

Nonetheless, people will still go through with divorce because of financial disagreements, gender role miscommunication, abuse situations, or adulterous acts. However, researchers can still expose the causes of such reasons for divorce and aim towards providing solutions that would minimize unnecessary divorces, promoting the general well-being of the population by means of healthy marital relations. Further research would be highly useful, especially in the areas of intervening abuse situations and diagnosing causes for adulterous acts. By understanding why a spouse might commit such behaviors, a partner can aim at adjusting their own attitudes and behaviors to better suit their partner. Not that spouses should sacrifice their own individualism and identity for the sake of a dying marriage, but for the sake of preserving the sacrament which the couple partook in on the day of their wedding. That in wedlock, the couple becomes unified. They become one. And as they are one, each partner should understand their spouse as well as their own self so that they can make conscious and healthy decisions that promote and develop the well being of that unity.

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