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Why Not Divorce?

Why Not Divorce?

Alas, in the United States today the divorce rate is said to be about 50%, double that of 40 years ago. Perhaps one of the reasons why people are so quick to divorce is that they don't look carefully at the downside of divorce. What arguments are there against it?

God's Opinion

The strongest argument against divorce is that God "hates divorce," as he said in Malachi 2:15, 16): "Take heed to yourselves, and let none be faithless to the wife of his youth. ‘For I hate divorce, says the LORD the God of Israel...'"

Jesus is likewise down on divorce:

Some Pharisees approached Jesus and to test him asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?" Jesus answered them, "...from the beginning of creation, 'God made them male and female.' 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one.' So they are no longer two but one. Therefore what God has joined, man must not divide." And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. And he said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery." (Mk 10:2, 6-12)

It strikes this author that no one who knows and loves God would want to face God without being able to tell him, "I did absolutely everything possible to save my marriage. Everything!"

Institute for American Values Study

In addition to God's disdain for divorce, it would seem to be worthwhile to consider the experiences of couples who have struggled in their marriages. Did divorce make them happier than those who stayed with their marriages? And how did those who stayed survive? In 2002 The Institute for American Values published a study entitled, Does Divorce Make People Happy? (by Linda J. Waite, Don Browning, William J. Doherty, Maggie Gallagher, Ye Luo, and Scott M. Stanley). The study is no longer in print but can be downloaded from

The authors looked at data from the National Survey of Families and Households (NSFH), in which couples indicated their marital happiness and overall happiness in the late 1980s, and then again five years later.

Unhappy partners who divorced and remarried because of violence in the home, did report less violence in the later marriage. The percentage of those who were unhappy who suffered violence went from 23% to 10% among those who remarried.

However, 64% of spouses unhappily married but who stayed married indicated they were happy in their marriage five years later! The unhappier the marriage, the greater the improvement: 78% of adults who were very unhappy in their marriages but stayed with them, indicated they were happy five years later.

The authors also addressed the question of how unhappy marriages improve. To augment the NSFH data they gathered testimonies from 55 spouses from various focus groups on what made their marriages unhappy, how they held on, and what increased their marital happiness.

Why Didn't They Divorce?

When asked why they didn't divorce, a number cited the high cost as the reason. Others said they couldn't do that to their children, knowing the devastating effects divorce has been shown to have on children. A number of men-but no women-cited an intact marriage as key to their vocation as a parent.

A good number of people who stayed married even when they were unhappy did so because they had a very negative view of divorce. When they considered divorce, they saw it as far worse than their unhappy marriage.

Among those who stayed married despite difficulties, many cited camaraderie as a key element in their happiness. Others mentioned reaching a comfort zone with each other. Several didn't want to be alone. Formerly misbehaving husbands who reformed, were "deeply grateful to their wives" for putting up with them for so long.

How Did Difficult Marriages Improve?

Gallagher, Waite and co. saw three main ways things improved: "the marital endurance ethic; the marital work ethic and the personal happiness epic." In the first of these, the couples didn't so much work on their problems as survive them. They found that as time wore on, the problems seemed less important and things improved, bringing more happiness. Some wives whose husbands were never home, indicated they decided not to complain so much and hang in there. Others just adapted, and found life bearable.

Those with the "marital work ethic" worked on their problems by behaving differently or communicating better. When the problems were solved, life got better. How did they work on problems? By going on more dates together or just finding more time for each other, or by getting help from others, either family members, or clergy or marriage counselors. Men often changed to heroically serve their wives and children. This coincides well with the nature of manhood which is to strive for virtue and to succeed.

In the "personal happiness" group, the spouses didn't solve their problems, they discovered other ways to find happiness. This, despite an unfulfilling marriage. One wife who told this author she was bored took my suggestion that she find an enjoyable activity to do weekly. She did, and found life wasn't so bad after all. Many spouses found other interests and friends and their outlook improved.

A number of badly behaving husbands got good advice from family, friends or clergy. In other cases the wives got others to speak to their husbands. One woman told her sister she wanted to divorce, and the sister told her, "You don't want to get a divorce. I've been divorced, I don't think this is what you want." She told her to shape up, and she did. Many pointed to religion as a key factor to deter them from divorce.

Wake Up Calls

One of the biggest devices wives utilized was the "divorce threat." "Many wives (but no husbands)" pointed to their threatening divorce as a key to getting their spouses to behave better. Some husbands agreed that this helped them to reform. Wives utilized outside help far more than did husbands, from divorce lawyers, counselors or in-laws. And, "many wives but no husbands saw themselves as vulnerable to exploitation by their spouses, unless they stood up for themselves and got help from others."

While the mention of divorce and contacting a lawyer often got the attention of an extremely obstinate husband, the authors of the study cautioned against using divorce as "a constant threat," since this can undermine the confidence needed for a good marriage. When mentioning divorce brought about change, the wife's aim was not divorce, but improved behavior, and that was clearly stated.

One husband and wife came to me for counseling when he was ready for change. Alas, she had already decided to divorce him. It was such bad timing, because she had finally gotten his attention and he was ready to reform when she quit. Women have a moral obligation to take some strong measures to get their husbands' attention before they are so emotionally drained that they just don't care. So many marriages could be saved by her doing this.

How does she do it? Say in as dramatic fashion as possible, "I am very, very unhappy. We need to get counseling right away if we're going to save this marriage; and even then I can't promise anything." If that doesn't wake him up, she must be ready to a. Get counseling herself and b. Separate as a last resort, with the intent to stir him to save the marriage.

From what I have seen, when a dependable husband says, "I will do anything I can to save this marriage," he usually does.


Just slightly more than a third of spouses whose marriages had improved reported they had gone for marriage counseling. Most spouses said the counseling was helpful, but a low percentage claimed it was the main factor in saving their marriages. Religious counselors rated higher than secular. Alas, some secular marriage counselors encouraged divorce. One reason why priests and ministers were preferred to professional counselors is that they were seen as taking an interest in the couple and their marriage, rather than just charging by the hour.

One thing couples can do themselves, without counseling, is to sit down every month or so and suggest one thing they want each other to do differently. This can work wonders.


One thing that the researchers found was that commitment to a life-long marriage was a major factor for happiness. This was fully in keeping with findings from other studies, some of which the authors cited. They noted that, "commitment, it turns out, is not just a side effect; it is also a cause of relationship happiness." Those who were more willing to consider divorce, undermined satisfaction in their marriage and the security of the spouses.

The authors cited "a growing literature on sacrifice" as a great help for marital success. There is a high correlation between a husband's willingness to sacrifice for his wife and his commitment to a life-long marriage. I have seen many couples who were deeply committed to marriage, rebound remarkably from situations which appeared hopeless.

* * *

In Summary, then, while the grass often looks greener when marriage gets tough, it isn't. In the study considered, by highly respected researchers, close to two-thirds of those who stayed in problem marriages found marital happiness five years later.

So, why not get a divorce? Because God "hates" divorce, and in most cases, it won't make you happy! The answer to a difficult marriage is to seek real help, work at changing yourself, and learn to cope!

Great Books on Marriage Healing or Improvement:

Hidden Keys to A Loving Lasting Marriage by Gary Smalley, Zondervan. One section for men and one for women. Or, for his and her books with the same material, If Only He Knew for him, and For Better or for Best for her. Awesome.

His Needs, Her Needs by Willard Harley, Jr. After years of marriage counseling and saving few marriages, Harley came to a new approach. He discovered that Men wanted sexual fulfillment and recreational companionship. Women wanted affection and conversation. Explains how each can provide these and other needs to spouse. Sold 3 million copies.

Fascinating Womanhood by Helen Andelin, Bantam. 2 million copies sold! Helps women to become women again, the kind of women men delight in. Saved many marriages.

The Divorce Remedy: The Proven 7-Step Program for Saving Your Marriage by Michele Weiner Davis, Simon & Schuster. With the exception of her treatment of masturbation (p 289), this is excellent. Many good stories. Can work with only one person trying.

The Power of A Praying Wife by Stormie Omartin. Harvest House. Christian best-seller on how praying for your spouse can change YOU and save your marriage.

Love Must Be Tough: New Hope For Marriages in Crisis by James Dobson, Focus On The Family. How to save your marriage when your spouse wants a divorce.

The Secrets of Happily Married Men by Scott Haltzmann, Jossey-Bass. How men can use their problem-solving abilities to make their wives happy.

You Don't Have to Take It Anymore by Stephen Stosny. "Turn your resentful, angry, or emotionally abusive relationship into a compassionate, loving one." Stosny has been on Ophrah, CNN's Talkback Live, CBS Sunday Morning. Quoted in NY Times, Wash. Post, Wash. Times, Esquire, etc. Great!

Woman First, Family Always by Kathryn Sansone. Few minor flaws but filled with great advice for the busy, over-committed moms of this world. Great!

Personality Plus by Florence Littauer. Hilarious explanation of the 4 personality types and how spouses can cope with a spouse of a different type.

The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands by Dr. Laura, Harper Collins. Her great common sense, many stories.!

After The Affair by Janice Abrahms Spring, with Michael Spring. Explains devastating effect of infidelity on the other spouse, and how to "heal the pain and rebuild trust." 300,000 copies sold!

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