|HEY OFFER ADVICE to people in pain. On the surface, their advice sounds forward-looking, pragmatic, and helpful: Get On With Your Live ... GOWYL.|
Psychologists and counselors are dealing with a problem that many in America consider inevitable: divorce. "We think of a marriage as a crap shoot, with worse than 50-50 odds of finding and marrying 'the right person,'" writes Diane Sollee of Smart Marriages. "If we marry 'the wrong person', we want the right to exit and try again." GOWYL.
It's hard to imagine a family that hasn't been touched by divorce today. The method preferred by social scientists in determining the divorce rate is to calculate how many people who have ever married subsequently divorced. Counted that way, the rate has never exceeded about 41 percent, researchers say. Rising radically in the 1960s, since the 1970s the rate has steadily been inching downward.
Still, even as divorce rates decline, the number of lives impacted is staggering. In 2003, based on the 45 reporting states (excluding CA, HI, IN, LA, OK), 920,060 marriages were dissolved. Over 1.8 million men and women will have to GOWYL.
Richard Cohen, Washington Post critic-at-large, speaks for the frustrated majority. Conceding the damage divorce does to children, he demands that those who preach family values finally come clean and admit there are no solutions. GOWYL.
As Cohen and so many see it, we are stuck. There is no way out. Without divorce, we are asking people to choose between their own happiness and the happiness and well-being of their children.
"[As] much as we hate the fallout, we've become convinced that divorce is inevitable -- one of life's necessary evils," says Sollee. "This is due to our attitudes about marriage. And, we want to preserve this right for our fellow citizens. No one, we have come to believe, should have to live in an unhappy marriage."
Stuck in the negative, and pushed to accept the inevitable, America has developed an extensive support system designed to make divorce easier and happier. Divorces are no-fault. Property is divided. Child support payments are calculated, if not paid. And life goes on. Make the best of it. GOWYL
But wait. Yes, wait!
We have been encouraged to accept failure as a way of life. And we have created several divorce industries ... lawyers and counselors ... generating millions of dollars for people who profit from the failure of others. It doesn't have to be that way. Failure is not inevitable.
As it turns out, we don't have to choose to be miserable in marriage to make our children happy. The real data on happy and unhappy marriages tells a very different story.
When you look at a nationally representative sample of married people who say they are "very unhappy" in their marriages, and follow them over time, 60 percent of those who stick it out (about 15 percent do not) say they are "quite happy" or "very happy" in their marriages five years later. Another 25 percent of couples report improvement in their marital happiness.
These couples did GOWYL -- but they did it by staying married. They were once unhappy. And, without the help and assistance of divorce attorneys and counselors paving the way, sticking with their marriages, they were able to create a happy marriage once again ... not just for the sake of their kids, but for the sake of themselves.
That's right. Unhappy couples aren't doomed to a life of personal misery in their stoic, chin-up choice to stay together for the kids' sake. They can actually recover, restore and reconnect.
If these couples can do it, why can't other couples do it? And if they can do it, then how?
As sociologists and politicians since the 60s worked to normalize and even elevate the deconstruction of the traditional family, these questions were considered regressive. Divorce was the solution. Marriage was the problem.
Today, as we measure the pain and cost of divorce, these questions offer a long-overdue hope to people everywhere. They create a new focus for GOWYL. Marriage is the solution. Divorce is the problem.
Life is more than just a matter of getting on with it. It's a matter of where we are getting on to and what life will be when we get there. If you're headed toward a solution, a happy marriage is still a wonderful destination.
A former elementary school teacher, Jane Jimenez (firstname.lastname@example.org) is now a freelance writer dedicated to issues of importance to women and the family. She writes a regular column titled "From the Home Front." Her work has appeared in both Christian and secular publications. Jane and her husband Victor live in Phoenix and have two children.
More columns by Jane Jimenez