If you're married, it's likely that the thought of divorce has crossed your mind at some point. The question is, what did you do with that thought? That’s exactly what researchers with the National Divorce Decision-Making Project wanted to know.
While research exists about what leads to marital breakdown, we know very little about what actually causes people to consider divorce. The project surveyed 3,000 married people in order to better understand thought processes concerning divorce.
Researchers wanted to know things such as:
How long have they had these thoughts?
Who do they talk to about their thoughts and feelings?
What marital problems are they facing?
What do they do to address their problems and how helpful are these efforts?
How do they make the decision about divorce and whether or not to stay together?
The findings, listed below, might surprise you.
Thoughts about divorce are common. More than half of married individuals (ages 25-50) report thoughts about divorce, either in the past or currently. Those thoughts occur well into the second decade of marriage.
Many in the study thought about divorce in the past, but decided to stay. Almost all of them are glad they did. They are not only surviving, but thriving. Thoughts about divorce don’t have to be a sign that separation is imminent.
Recent thoughts about divorce are common. One in four spouses surveyed had thoughts about divorce in the last six months. While more than half have ever had thoughts- that’s exactly what they are, thoughts – they are not necessarily a prelude to marital dissolution. They may even be a spur toward relationship repair strategies.
More-recent thinkers of divorce want to stay, not leave. They want to fix their problems, and they are not cavalier about divorce.
People appear to rely on tools like patience, changed attitudes and commitment to resolve or simply outlast their marital problems. Fixing problems through counseling, while helpful for some, doesn’t seem to be the primary path for repairing relationships.
Based on their findings, the researchers developed practical recommendations for anyone who might be thinking about divorce. There are also tips for their friends and family.
If you’re married: Those thoughts don’t necessarily mean you are heading for divorce court. Many people experience serious marital difficulties, but with patience and commitment, you can work through or outlast your problems and have a thriving marriage.
If you’re a friend or family member: Realize that just because someone says they are thinking about divorce does not necessarily mean they will pursue one. Listen, give emotional support and offer an outside perspective. Those are the top three most helpful responses a confidant can give to someone who is distressed about their marriage.
A word of caution: Abuse, affairs and addiction are serious. Encouraging individuals to seek help from a qualified professional who can assess the severity of the problem is a good thing.
Based on this study, we know that people may entertain occasional thoughts about divorce when the going gets tough. But, those thoughts don’t necessarily mean they are really ready to call it quits. Perhaps in many instances the old adage, “This too shall pass” is a good thing to remember.
Survey responses also indicate that couples who hunker down, commit to working on problems and seek help when needed eventually reach a much more satisfying place in their marriage. And, they're actually thankful they did not throw in the towel.
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