I’ve been reading a very interesting book—The Good News About Marriage by Shaunti Feldhahn. In it, she debunks some of the common myths about marriage.
You’re probably familiar with this statistic that has been bandied about: The divorce rate is about 50 percent, and it’s the same even within the Church. I had even heard it was slightly higher within the Church. Feldhahn classifies this as urban myth. The truth is the prevalence of divorce is nowhere close. One study that is widely quoted to support the 50 percent myth is the Centers for Disease Control’s data taken from the National Survey of Family Growth, 2006-2010. The purpose of the study was to look at fertility rates and emphasized those who had married very young—a high-risk group. In addition, the very young married couples are only a small portion of the population, so you really can’t generalize to the population as a whole.
Keep Hope Alive
What are the implications of this widely-circulated and grossly erroneous information? For one, it robs you of hope. As Feldhahn points out, if you and your spouse are struggling and you believe the divorce rate is 50 percent, you will probably say, “I guess we are in the lower half. We are doomed to get divorced.” If you are not married and you believe this statistic, you may well say, “With odds like that, why get married at all!” However, if you knew that 80% of couples say they are happy in their marriage and that even couples who struggle will become happy with their marriage if they stay together for five more years, wouldn’t that change your response? You’d probably say, “Most other couples succeed. I bet we can too!”
Focus on the Good Stuff
A second implication is in the area of marriage ministry. Bob and I visited a megachurch and because we are interested in marriage ministry, we scoured their bulletin and brochures to see what offerings they had. When we couldn’t find anything, we decided to ask at the information kiosk. The response: “Oh, do you need marriage counseling?” What! We appreciated that they had help available, but—seriously—is that the first step? If most marriages are in crisis, then this is a reasonable approach. If most marriages are happy—and even the ones that are struggling can get happy if they stick it out—we need to change our focus. Instead of classes on “How to fix your marriage,” we should emphasize “How to make your marriage even better.”
Hit the Pews
No matter what the state of your marriage currently, there are ways you can improve your odds of moving in to the “happy” or “very happy” category. One study specifically looked at the impact of church attendance on happiness. Among those who regularly attended church, 72 percent said they were “very happy.” Want to improve your marriage? Put aside some of the things that have gotten in the way of going to church and start attending regularly. And here’s another tip that will give your marriage the edge: A 2011 Center for Marriage and Families report found when both partners agreed that, “God is at the center of our marriage,” they were twice as likely to be in the highest level of marital happiness as compared with those who didn’t share that commitment.
I highly recommend Shaunti Feldhahn’s book. And, I recommend hanging on to hope—attending church regularly—putting God at the center of your marriage—and betting on your marriage.