Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from a Jacobite and Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Themes: Bible Study - John 21, Samson
Volume 8 No. 475 April 13, 2018

IV. General Weekly Features

Family Special: Does Divorce Make People Happy?

Findings from a Study of Unhappy Marriages

Call it the "divorce assumption." Most people assume that a person stuck in a bad marriage has two choices: stay married and miserable or get a divorce and become happier.1 But now come the findings from the first scholarly study ever to test that assumption, and these findings challenge conventional wisdom. Conducted by a team of leading family scholars headed by University of Chicago sociologist Linda Waite, the study found no evidence that unhappily married adults who divorced were typically any happier than unhappily married people who stayed married.

Even more dramatically, the researchers also found that two-thirds of unhappily married spouses who stayed married reported that their marriages were happy five years later. In addition, the most unhappy marriages reported the most dramatic turnarounds: among those who rated their marriages as very unhappy, almost eight out of 10 who avoided divorce were happily married five years later.2

The research team used data collected by the National Survey of Family and Households, a nationally representative survey that extensively measures personal and marital happiness. Out of 5,232 married adults interviewed in the late Eighties, 645 reported being unhappily married. Five years later, these same adults were interviewed again. Some had divorced or separated and some had stayed married.

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. "Staying married is not just for the childrens' sake. Some divorce is necessary, but results like these suggest the benefits of divorce have been oversold," says Linda J. Waite.

Why doesn't divorce typically make adults happier? The authors of the study suggest that while eliminating some stresses and sources of potential harm, divorce may create others as well. The decision to divorce sets in motion a large number of processes and events over which an individual has little control that are likely to deeply affect his or her emotional well-being. These include the response of one's spouse to divorce; the reactions of children; potential disappointments and aggravation in custody, child support, and visitation orders; new financial or health stresses for one or both parents; and new relationships or marriages.

The team of family experts that conducted the study included Linda J. Waite, Lucy Flower Professor of Sociology at the University of Chicago and coauthor of The Case for Marriage; Don Browning, Professor Emeritus of the University of Chicago Divinity School; William J. Doherty, Professor of Family Social Science and Director of the Marriage and Family Therapy program at the University of Minnesota; Maggie Gallagher, affiliate scholar at the Institute for American Values and coauthor of The Case for Marriage; Ye Luo, a research associate at the Sloan Center on Parents, Children and Work at the University of Chicago; and Scott Stanley, Co-Director of the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver.

Marital Turnarounds: How Do Unhappy Marriages Get Happier?

To follow up on the dramatic findings that two-thirds of unhappy marriages had become happy five years later, the researchers also conducted focus group interviews with 55 formerly unhappy husbands and wives who had turned their marriages around. They found that many currently happily married spouses have had extended periods of marital unhappiness, often for quite serious reasons, including alcoholism, infidelity, verbal abuse, emotional neglect, depression, illness, and work reversals.

Why did these marriages survive where other marriages did not? Spouses' stories of how their marriages got happier fell into three broad headings: the marital endurance ethic, the marital work ethic, and the personal happiness ethic.

In the marital endurance ethic, the most common story couples reported to researchers, marriages got happier not because partners resolved problems, but because they stubbornly outlasted them. With the passage of time, these spouses said, many sources of conflict and distress eased: financial problems, job reversals, depression, child problems, even infidelity.

In the marital work ethic, spouses told stories of actively working to solve problems, change behavior, or improve communication. When the problem was solved, the marriage got happier. Strategies for improving marriages mentioned by spouses ranged from arranging dates or other ways to more time together, enlisting the help and advice of relatives or in-laws, to consulting clergy or secular counselors, to threatening divorce and consulting divorce attorneys.

Finally, in the personal happiness epic, marriage problems did not seem to change that much. Instead married people in these accounts told stories of finding alternative ways to improve their own happiness and build a good and happy life despite a mediocre marriage.

The Powerful Effects of Commitment

Spouses interviewed in the focus groups whose marriages had turned around generally had a low opinion of the benefits of divorce, as well as friends and family members who supported the importance of staying married. Because of their intense commitment to their marriages, these couples invested great effort in enduring or overcoming problems in their relationships, they minimized the importance of difficulties they couldn't resolve, and they actively worked to belittle the attractiveness of alternatives.

The study's findings are consistent with other research demonstrating the powerful effects of marital commitment on marital happiness. A strong commitment to marriage as an institution, and a powerful reluctance to divorce, do not merely keep unhappily married people locked in misery together. They also help couples form happier bonds. To avoid divorce, many assume, marriages must become happier. But it is at least equally true that in order to get happier, unhappy couples or spouses must first avoid divorce. "In most cases, a strong commitment to staying married not only helps couples avoid divorce, it helps more couples achieve a happier marriage," notes research team member Scott Stanley.

Would most unhappy spouses who divorced have ended up happily married if they had stuck with their marriages?

The researchers who conduced the study cannot say for sure whether unhappy spouses who divorced would have become happy had they stayed with their marriages. In most respects, unhappy spouses who divorced and unhappy spouses who stayed married looked more similar than different (before the divorce) in terms of their psychological adjustment and family background. While unhappy spouses who divorced were on average younger, had lower household incomes, were more likely to be employed or to have children in the home, these differences were typically not large.

Were the marriages that ended in divorce much worse than those that did not? There is some evidence for this point of view. Unhappy spouses who divorced reported more conflict and were about twice as likely to report violence in their marriage than unhappy spouses who stayed married. However, marital violence occurred in only a minority of unhappy marriages: 21 percent of unhappy spouses who divorced reported husband-to-wife violence, compared to nine percent of unhappy spouses who stayed married.

On the other hand, if only the worst marriages ended up in divorce, one would expect divorce to be associated with important psychological benefits. Instead, researchers found that unhappily married adults who divorced were no more likely to report emotional and psychological improvements than those who stayed married. In addition, the most unhappy marriages reported the most dramatic turnarounds: among those who rated their marriages as very unhappy, almost eight out of 10 who avoided divorce were happily married five years later.

More research is needed to establish under what circumstances divorce improves or lessens adult well-being, as well as what kinds of unhappy marriages are most or least likely to improve if divorce is avoided.

Other Findings

Other findings of the study based on the National Survey Data are:

The vast majority of divorces (74 percent) took place to adults who had been happily married when first studied five years earlier. In this group, divorce was associated with dramatic declines in happiness and psychological well-being compared to those who stayed married.

Unhappy marriages are less common than unhappy spouses; three out of four unhappily married adults are married to someone who is happy with the marriage.

Staying married did not typically trap unhappy spouses in violent relationships. Eighty-six percent of unhappily married adults reported no violence in their relationship (including 77 percent of unhappy spouses who later divorced or separated). Ninety-three percent of unhappy spouses who avoided divorce reported no violence in their marriage five years later.


1. Examples of the "divorce assumption:" In a review of Cutting Loose: Why Women Who End Their Marriages Do So Well by Ashton Applewhite in Kirkus Reviews, the reviewer writes that "if Applewhite's figures are correct, three-fourths of today's divorces are initiated by women, and if her analysis of the situation is correct, they are better off, at least psychologically, for having taken the big step." The book's publisher describes the book this way: "Cutting Loose introduces 50 women . . . who have thrived after initiating their own divorces. . . . [T]heir lives improved immeasurably, and their self-esteem soared." In an oped in the New York Times, Katha Pollit asks, "The real question . . . [is] which is better, a miserable two-parent home, with lots of fighting and shouting and frozen silences and tears, or a one-parent home (or a pair of one-parent homes) without those things" (June 27, 1997). In a review of The Good Divorce by Constance R. Ahrons in Booklist, we are told that Ms. Ahrons "offers advice and explanations to troubled couples for whom 'staying together for the sake of the children' is not a healthy or viable option."

2. Spouses were asked to rate their overall marital happiness on a 7-point scale, with 1 being the least happy and 7 the most happy. Those who rated their marriage as a 1 or 2 were considered to be very unhappy in their marriages. Almost 8 out of 10 adults who rated their marriage as a 1 or 2 gave that same marriage a 5 or more when asked to rate their marriage five years later. 

Family Special: Why Marriage Matters: Twenty-Six Conclusions from the Social Sciences

Why Marriage Matters, Second Edition: 26 Conclusions from the Social Sciences was produced by a politically diverse and interdisciplinary group of leading family scholars, chaired by W. Bradford Wilcox of the University of Virginia and includes psychologist John Gottman, best selling author of books about marriage and relationships, Linda Waite, coauthor of The Case for Marriage, Norval Glenn and Steven Nock, two of the top family social scientists in the country, William Galston, a Clinton Administration domestic policy advisor, and Judith Wallerstein, author of the national bestseller The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce.

Since 1960, the proportion of children who do not live with their own two parents has risen sharply—from 19.4% to 42.3% in the Nineties. This change has been caused, first, by large increases in divorce, and more recently, by a big jump in single mothers and cohabiting couples who have children but don't marry. For several decades the impact of this dramatic change in family structure has been the subject of vigorous debate among scholars. No longer. These 26 findings are now widely agreed upon.

Five New Themes

In addition to reviewing research on family topics covered in the first edition of the report, Why Marriage Matters, Second Edition highlights five new themes in marriage-related research.

Even though marriage has lost ground in the minority communities in recent years, marriage has not lost its value in these communities.

An emerging line of research indicates that marriage benefits poor Americans, and Americans from disadvantaged backgrounds, even though these Americans are now less likely to get and stay married.

Marriage seems to be particularly important in civilizing men, turning their attention away from dangerous, antisocial, or self-centered activities and towards the needs of a family.

Beyond its well-known contributions to adult health, marriage influences the biological functioning of adults and children in ways that can have important social consequences.

The relationship quality of intimate partners is related to both their marital status and, for married adults, to the degree to which these partners are committed to marriage.

Update Research Findings

Among the research findings summarized by the report are:

About Children

Parental divorce reduces the likelihood that children will graduate from college, and achieve high-status jobs.

Children who live with their own two married parents enjoy better physical health, on average, than children in other family forms. The health advantages of married homes remain even after taking into account socioeconomic status.

Parental divorce approximately doubles the odds that adult children will end up divorced.

About Men

Married men earn between 10 and 40 percent more than single men with similar education and job histories.

Married people, especially married men, have longer life expectancies than otherwise similar singles.

Marriage increases the likelihood fathers will have good relationships with children. Sixty-five percent of young adults whose parents divorced had poor relationships with their fathers (compared to 29% from non-divorced families).

About Women

Divorce and unmarried childbearing significantly increases poverty rates of both mothers and children. Between one-fifth and one-third of divorcing women end up in poverty as a result of divorce.

Married mothers have lower rates of depression than single or cohabiting mothers.

Married women appear to have a lower risk of domestic violence than cohabiting or dating women. Even after controlling for race, age, and education, people who live together are still three times more likely to report violent arguments than married people.

About Society

Adults who live together but do not marry—cohabitors—are more similar to singles than to married couples in terms of physical health and disability, emotional well-being and mental health, as well as assets and earnings. Their children more closely resemble the children of single people than the children of married people.

Marriage appears to reduce the risk that children and adults will be either perpetrators or victims of crime. Single and divorced women are four to five times more likely to be victims of violent crime in any given year than married women. Boys raised in single-parent homes are about twice as likely (and boys raised in stepfamilies three times as likely) to have committed a crime that leads to incarceration by the time they reach their early thirties, even after controlling for factors such as race, mother's education, neighborhood quality and cognitive ability.

Fundamental Conclusions

The authors conclude with three fundamental conclusions:

Marriage is an important social good, associated with an impressively broad array of positive outcomes for children and adults alike.

Marriage is an important public good, associated with a range of economic, health, educational, and safety benefits that help local, state, and federal governments serve the common good.

The benefits of marriage extend to poor and minority communities, despite the fact that marriage is particularly fragile in these communities.

Source: Institute for American Values

Poem: Rise to Life
Composer/Lyricist: Justin James Sinclair

Oh Lord we're suffering
Oh Lord we're weak
Oh Lord we're sheep in danger
Lord we need a savior

But we're one in suffering
We're one in pain
We're one with Christ our King
As we die with Jesus

His body and his blood
Can be our only hope
Because our only hope
For life is death
Proclaiming now his death
And our inheritance
We gladly with him die
And rise to life

So in our suffering
We will rejoice
Because the hope of heaven
For his Bride the Chosen

And in our suffering
True faith is proved
Lord may our lives be such
That with Christ we suffer

His body and his blood
Can be our only hope
Because our only hope
for life is death
Proclaiming now his death
And our inheritance
We freely with him die
And rise to life

With our freedom we will follow You
Death to sin for life in Christ
Father free us to humility
May our suffering give rise to Jesus' righteousness

From the album Songs for Our Family

Many Who Are Last Shall Be First: A Meditation on the Great Reversal Declared in Scripture

by Msgr. Charles Pope

One of the strong traditions of Scripture is of the great reversal that will one day come for many. I have been sobered by it when I consider how blessed I have been in this life; I have been consoled by it when I struggle to understand why some people seem to suffer so much more than I or others do.

Life seems a very uneven proposition if we only look at our side of the equation. Only God sees the whole picture. To some extent, though, He has revealed that those who suffer much in this life will be rewarded in the life to come; there will be a great reversal.

The theme of the great reversal is most fully developed in the New Testament where the understanding of the life to come is also most developed.

Consider the following texts:

[Jesus said], "But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first" (Matt 19:30, 20:16; Mark 10:31).

[Mary said], "He has cast down the mighty from their thrones but has lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things; but the rich he has sent away empty" (Lk 1:52-53).

Abraham replied [to the rich man], "My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented" (Luke 16:25).

Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven. For their ancestors treated the prophets in the same way. But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. But woe to you who are filled now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will grieve and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way (Luke 6:21-26).

Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more (Luke 12:48).

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us (Rom 8:18).

For this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to what is seen but to what is unseen; for what is seen is transitory, but what is unseen is eternal (2 Cor 4:17-18).

While less prominent in the Old Testament, the notion of the great reversal is set forth there as well. Here is one example:

The bows of the mighty are broken, while the tottering gird on strength. The well-fed hire themselves out for bread, while the hungry batten on spoil. The barren wife bears seven sons, while the mother of many languishes. The Lord puts to death and gives life; he casts down to the nether world; he raises up again. The Lord makes poor and makes rich, he humbles, he also exalts. He raises the needy from the dust; from the ash heap he lifts up the poor… He will guard the footsteps of his faithful ones, but the wicked shall perish in the darkness. For not by strength does man prevail; the Lord's foes shall be shattered (1 Sam 2:3-8).

As I have said, I am both challenged and consoled by these texts.

I am consoled because I, like others, have suffered and experienced setbacks in this life. The Lord promises that sufferings and setbacks, if endured with faith, ultimately produce profit, not loss. Much of this profit may wait until Heaven, but sufferings endured with faith are like treasure stored up in Heaven. First comes the cross, but then the crown. Hallelujah!

I am also consoled on behalf of others. I, like you, know people who have suffered far more than seems fair. Loss after loss mounts up, grief after grief. My humanity recoils and I often cry to God on behalf of those who seem to suffer so much more than others. Lost health, lost jobs, lost home, lost family members. Why, O Lord?

I often think of my poor sister who was mentally ill and horribly afflicted by demons and voices that spoke to her, haunted her, and increasingly robbed her of any touch with reality. Ultimately her life ended tragically when she died in a fire. She was surely among the "last" in this life. But she loved God and wanted desperately to get well. The day after she died I offered Mass for her and I heard her speak to me in the depth of my heart. She said, "I'm OK now, Charlie." And somehow I knew that God was taking care of her, purifying and clearing her mind.

I also knew, because she was among the last, but believed, that I would one day see her among the first in the glory of Heaven (pray God I get there). I suspect that she will be close to the throne and that I, who have been among the first here in this world, will have a "mansion" far less spacious than hers.

I am consoled for my sister's sake as well as the sake of those who, unlike me, live in great poverty in other parts of the world. The bounty of American living is but a dream to them. Perhaps there is war, or famine, or natural disaster. Perhaps they are victims of despotic and corrupt governments. They are less free, less blessed, under greater stress, and often in desperate need. They are among the "last" in this world. But if they have faith they will be blessed to be among the first in the great reversal that is coming when the Kingdom fully breaks in. Faith is essential. Jesus did not say that all the last shall be first, but rather that many who are last shall be first. I am sure that it is living faith that makes the difference.

But I am also challenged. I am among those who are first. What will happen to me in the great reversal that is coming upon this world? I have good health. I enjoy bountiful blessings. I am more blessed than I deserve. I live in the greatest, richest, and most powerful country in the world. My needs are largely provided for. I sit here in my air-conditioned room with time enough to write and ponder things. I am far beyond mere subsistence. I am surely among the first, the rich. Even the poorest in this country are blessed compared to many others in the world.

Where shall I be when the first trumpet sounds, when the great reversal sets in?

Indeed, not everything is as it appears. We crave wealth, power, and access and call it a blessing. We want to be first. But God warns that this may well be a curse:

Those who want to be rich are falling into temptation and into a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils, and some people in their desire for it have strayed from the faith and have pierced themselves with many pains (1 Tim 6:9-10).

Despite being familiar with this text and other like it, we still want to be rich, on top, first. We are very obtuse!

And so I am challenged. I am not, however, defeated or fatalistic. God has not utterly forsaken the "first." He has left us a way. He has given us instruction on how to avoid the "curse" of our wealth and good fortune. Simply put, we must use our status as "first" to bless others. Our many gifts should be placed at the service of the human family. A few texts come to mind:

[Jesus said], "I tell you, make friends for yourselves with deceitful wealth, so that when it fails, they [likely the poor whom we befriended] will welcome you into eternal dwellings" (Luke 16:9).

Tell the rich in the present age not to be proud and not to rely on so uncertain a thing as wealth but rather on God, who richly provides us with all things for our enjoyment. Tell them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, ready to share, thus accumulating as treasure a good foundation for the future, so as to win the life that is true life (1 Tim 6:17-19).

And so it is that the Lord instructs us who are "cursed" to be first, to store up our true treasure in Heaven (Matt 6:19). Of course we do not store up our treasure in Heaven by putting it in a balloon or a rocket. Rather, we store it up by generously dispensing it to the poor and needy. Perhaps it is by a simple gift, or by providing jobs and economic opportunity for others. Perhaps it is by sharing our gifts of knowledge, time, or other talents. In so doing, perhaps the curse of being among the first will be overcome and the challenge will be met.

The great reversal is coming! Where will I be when the first trumpet sounds?

This chant of the funeral Mass refers to the great reversal, but prays that the deceased will be found with Lazarus, who once was poor. The text says,

In paradisum deducant te Angeli; in tuo adventu suscipiant te martyres, et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Jerusalem. Chorus angelorum te suscipiat, et cum Lazaro quondam paupere æternam habeas requiem.

(May the angels lead you to paradise and at your coming may the martyrs receive you and may they lead you into the Holy City Jerusalem. May a choir of angels receive you and with Lazarus, who once was poor, may you have eternal rest.)

Source: Archdiocese of Washington


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