Marriage is beautiful. And hard. My wife and I just celebrated our fifteen-year anniversary. We splurged and bought a king-size bed, a purchase I highly recommend. Some friends joked early on in our marriage that if we could make it to year seven, the odds were in our favor for staying together. It seemed a bit cynical to me to joke about something so heavy. But I understood. Everyone knows that 50 percent of marriages end in divorce.
Or do they? According to The Upshot, the actual rate of divorce has been steadily declining for the last thirty years. In fact, “70 percent of marriages that began in the 1990s reached their 15th anniversary.” And marriages in the 2000’s show even lower divorce rates. If the arrow for divorces continues to point downward, then “nearly two thirds of marriages will never involve a divorce.”
But the divorce myth lives on. It was cited by the executive producer of Bravo’s 2014 reality show Untying the Knot; a show about soon to be divorced couples meeting with a mediator who helps them divvy up their loot. Op-eds trumpet the rise of so-called “gray divorce” among aging Baby Boomers. And reality TV celebrities have split up with such frequency that entertainment media now regularly refer to the Reality TV “divorce curse.”
Why do we glamorize something that carries so much pain for so many people?
HBO’s new series, Divorce, starring Sarah Jessica Parker, is supposed to be an honest take on divorce, showing real flawed characters, warts and all. I think, to some extent, transparent characterizations of divorce can be helpful. But if all it does is endorse couples giving each other the trendy “turn and bird,” (the behind-the-back-strong-middle-finger at your exiting spouse), then perhaps we should dig deeper for a more hopeful story to tell.
Marriage is a magical world of trust, loyalty, and love. Not a Love Actually kind of love; more of a Braveheart kind. And not magical as in the wide world of Disney, but magical in the sense of surprising, adventurous, even rigorous. But this world cannot exist in a vacuum.
A new study by Harvard scholar Tyler J. VanderWeele has confirmed that “religious service attendance is associated with greater marital stability—or more specifically, with a lower likelihood of divorce.” Couples who attend religious services, according to VanderWeele, are 47 percent less likely to divorce.
It has long been noted that couples who “pray together stay together” but the new study offers some thoughts on why that is: “Religious teachings often indicate that marriage is something sacred.” “Religious teachings often place a strong emphasis on love and on putting the needs of others above one’s own. Finally: “Religious communities can provide important resources for a healthy marriage.”
What I see here is the value of sacredness in the context of marriage, the strength of selfless love, and the undeniable importance community plays in our lives as individuals and married couples. Religious service attendance isn’t a savior. But it does remind us of what we are. We are relational souls. We thirst for the deep and meaningful (sacred) in this world. We desire sacrifice; for others and from others.
Divorce may be all the rage in Hollywood, but for the rest of us, it’s time to stop citing phony statistics and give marriage a chance.