By Mary Garden<br />WEnews commentator” align=”right”/></p>
<p><P>QUEENSLAND, Australia (WOMENSENEWS)–New “research” proclaims that if you just hang on in that miserable marriage for even five years you will avoid the misery that comes in the wake of divorce and be happier than those people who choose to end their marriages.</P><P>This study, “Does Divorce Make People Happy? Findings from a Study of Unhappy Marriages,” comes at a time when the U.S. Republican leaders in Congress are fighting hard to include stronger pro-marriage initiatives in new federal welfare legislation now under consideration and expected to be passed before year’s end.</P><P>Similar efforts are being conducted here in Australia. Tony Abbott MP, our Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, urged us to look at statistics to realize that divorce does immense damage to children and society. In a recent address to the Centre for Independent Studies here, he said there was no such thing as a happy divorce.</P><P>In the U.S., the United States’ pro-marriage movement rejoiced in the study, published by the New York-based Institute of American Values. It was described by Dianne Sollee, director of their Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education, as “one of the most important tools in our arsenal.”</P><P>Both need to look a little more carefully at the statistics.</P><P>For example, the lead researcher and author of the study was sociology professor Linda Waite. She and her team followed a group of 645 adults who described themselves as unhappy in the 1987-88 U.S. National Survey of Families and Households. Five years later 167 had either divorced or were separated and only about half described themselves as “happy.”</P><P>In contrast, about two-thirds of the 478 who had stayed married described themselves as happy. To find out why some marriages survive while others did not, the researchers also conducted focus group interviews with 55 formerly unhappy husbands and wives who had turned their marriages around.</P><P>But how much of it really is good news?</P><P>University of Washington sociology professor Pepper Schwartz dismisses the study outright and says it is flawed because the researchers combined both divorced and separated couples in the study.</P><P>She points out that separated people are obviously less happy because they are in transition. Schwartz claims that if they are taken out of the data to leave only the divorced people, then the data would show that divorced people are happier than the people who stay in unfulfilling marriages.</P><P>In addition, the study ignored the significant gender differences in the way people experience marriage and divorce. Perhaps the divorced women were happier than the divorced men and therefore should have been compared to the women who stayed married. </P><P>Professor E. Mavis Hetherington of the University of Virginia warns that women in troubled relationships are likely to experience depression, immune-system breakdowns and other health-related problems. Women in particular can emerge from divorce enhanced and showing competencies they may never have developed in an unhappy marriage. This is especially so if they had left husbands who had been contemptuous or belligerent, undermining their self-esteem and childrearing practices. Hetherington says substantial research findings confirm that the vast majority of women move on successfully after divorce–more successfully than men.</P></p>
<h2>Divorces Could Be a Sign of More Troubled Marriages</h2>
<p><P>It makes no sense to be studying a group that had separated or divorced during a five-year period. Some may have just left each other and others may have been apart for several years. We cannot assume, as these researchers have done, that the group that separated might have been happier if they had stayed together. How are we to know that any problems experienced after divorce would have been avoided had the couples stayed together?</P><P>The report mentions (in passing) that there is some evidence that the marriages of the divorcees had been much worse than those who had stayed married. There was evidently more conflict–21 percent of divorced couples had reported violence compared to 9 percent of those who had stayed married.</P><P>Another difficulty with indicators of happiness is that they don’t measure denial or resignation. Most of us have met or know people who say they are happy (or their marriages are happy) when it is blatantly obvious they are not. It is interesting that the report mentioned that “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.” Were the latter in denial? Or were they blind to the stress or pain they were causing their partners? Or were those that said they were unhappy just going through a “bad patch”? </P><P>The major problem with these findings is that there is the implication that people leave marriages easily. The truth is, people usually struggle with their feelings for years and divorce is turned to as a last resort. Ending any marriage–even an abusive or violent one–is often difficult. Some people will tolerate the most destructive situation if it’s familiar instead of facing the unknown. Before “no-fault divorce” laws were introduced in the 1970s it was even more difficult; some people were simply stuck, in extremely unhappy, or even destructive, relationships.</P><P>Waite, however, believes that spouses should stay together regardless of problems–with the exception of physical violence. But what about cold, relentless psychological warfare? Or ongoing tension and unresolved conflict?  </P></p>
<h2>Marriage Movement Judges What an Ideal Family Is</h2>
<p><P>And so what was the point of doing this study in the first place? To prove that marriage is good and divorce is bad? Would the report have been released if researchers had found that after five years the divorced were much happier than those married?</P><P>The real problem with the marriage movement is that it stigmatizes and discriminates against adults and children who do not belong or aspire to their ideal model of a family. Research such as Waite’s diverts attention from the real needs of families and children. Families can already be broken without a divorce.</P><P>What we need to do is find ways for couples to build healthier relationships and resolve conflicts whether they stay together or not. We need to be wary of research that so blatantly dismisses and ignores healthy relationships within a variety of living arrangements. We also need to ignore the wailing of politicians and journalists who, fuelled by such research, want us to return to a romanticized version of nuclear family life in the 1950s that simply never existed.</P><P>Divorce could have been the best thing that could have happened to some of those women and their children trapped behind those white picket fences. </P><P><I>Mary Garden is an author from Queensland, Australia whose current research focuses on social issues.</I></P><P></P><P></P><H2>For more information:</H2><P>Institute for American Values:<BR> <A HREF=http://www.americanvalues.org

Alternatives to Marriage Project:
http://www.unmarried.org

Australian Institute of Family Studies:
http://www.aifs.org.au