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Divorce rates: Are they as bad as we think?

Based out of Dallas, Texas, Mary McCoy is a writer and social worker for disenfranchised women and children. She's a single mom, lover of Texas barbecue, and a die-hard fan of yoga

The state of American marriages

Half of all marriages end in divorce. The rate is even higher for remarriages. And of those couples who stay married, most aren't particularly happy.

Our collective wisdom about marriage sounds pretty dismal, indeed. As a result, I was more than a little skeptical when Shaunti Feldhahn, an innovative and respected researcher on marriage, informed me that our collective wisdom isn't so accurate, after all.

What if everything we believe about marriage is wrong?

"Unfortunately, most Americans believe that marriage is in trouble," said Feldhahn. "What's even worse is that these beliefs are mostly based on projections and urban legends, rather than facts." Feldhahn told me that she and her research partner have spent years culling data and analyzing results, and what they found may completely change what you think about American marriages. In fact, Feldhahn explained that the following myths are entirely bunk.

Half of marriages end in divorce. "This belief came about when laypeople interpreted research projections as research facts," stated Feldhahn. Apparently, highly-regarded researchers projected that the American divorce rate would soon approach 50 percent, and the media reported it as a present reality. "It's always a little hard to get a complete picture, but U.S. Census Bureau records tell us that the divorce rate has never been close to 50 percent of first marriages, and it's likely closer to only 25 percent."

Sixty percent of remarriages end in divorce. You've likely heard that remarriage is even riskier than a first marriage, but Feldhahn adamantly stated that this myth simply isn't true. "We traced hundreds of news reports back to three original sources for this myth, and those sources were nothing more than urban legend," she said. The rate of divorce for remarriage, in fact, is only about 30 percent.

After the honeymoon, most marriages aren't very happy. The old ball and chain, right? Not at all, actually. According to Feldhahn, the vast majority of married couples — 80 percent, in fact — report that they are happily married. There's no reason to believe that the ship will sink once couples say "I do."

Marriage is far too complicated. "There's an insidious belief that marriage is a complicated endeavor," said Feldhahn. "It's not. Most couples don't require five years of psychotherapy to make it work." The happiest marriages, according to Feldhahn, are those that remain hopeful about the future and believe the best about their partners, which sounds pretty simple after all.

The problem with faulty marriage data

Until I spoke with Feldhahn, I had no clue that my beliefs about modern marriage were completely inaccurate. Unfortunately for me and my peers, inaccurate information about marriage is more than just annoying — it can actually contribute to discouragement and cynicism that undermines relationships. "Most people really want the commitment of marriage, but it's hard to take the leap when it seems that most marriages fail," Feldhahn explained. "We see this trend, in that 41 percent of American children are now born out of wedlock. This is concerning, because it suggests that men and women choose to not marry because it appears hopeless, even though the commitment and stability of marriage remains desirable."

Interesting, right? Attitudes seem to shape behavior. And a cynical view of marriage, coupled with hopelessness, can seriously undermine the very relationships we most want to keep.

Tip: Want to learn more? Check out Feldhahn's book, The Good News About Marriage, or read more about how to make a relationship last by checking out the ChristianMingle and JDate's State of Dating in America.

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