At the age of 27, for the first time in my life, I worried that time was passing too fast. For the next few years, the speed with which most of my friends were getting married was the next source of concern.
It seemed to me that everything was happening too fast and I was losing my friends to their partners, with whom they were starting an exclusive story. I sought to memorize special moments from the early years of my friendship with them, or their wedding day, so that I could use them in what I sensed would be epic encounters over decades, when, all old and grey, we could laugh together, retelling each other’s lives seen through our eyes. I did not intuit for a moment that, when meeting after some time, I would not see all of them with the partners I saw them fall in love with when they were twenty-somethings.
Since these divorces began to occur, I am much more attentive to any discussion on the subject. This is how I was drawn to the 2002 study by a team led by Linda J. Waite of the University of Chicago, apparently the first study to attempt to empirically address a question that, according to conventional logic, is almost rhetorical: Does divorce make us happier than continuing in an unhappy marriage?
Some of the study’s findings have the potential to excite readers about the possibility of a new, more valid perspective on the subject. The study showed that unhappy partners who divorced (whether they went on to remarry or not) were no happier, on average, than unhappy partners who did not give up their marriage. Unhappy partners who divorced did not experience a decrease in the symptoms of depression, or an average increase in self-esteem compared to those who did not divorce.
Seventy-five per cent of the spouses who were dissatisfied with their marriage, and no less than 80 per cent of those who declared themselves not just unhappy but very unhappy, but avoided divorce or separation, ended up having a happy marriage within the next five years. It seems that the most unhappy marriages were the same ones that, with patience and commitment, went on to experience the most dramatic transformations for the better.
Moreover, from a sociological point of view, despite relatively minor distinctions, we cannot say that people who were dissatisfied with their marriage and divorced and those who have not divorced are two categories with different sociological profiles, adds Waite. Also, the marital problems that led to the divorce are not essentially different from those that many spouses decide to overcome together. So what drives people to divorce? An illusion, Timothy Keller answers succinctly, and for the argument behind this answer I invite you to read his book, The Meaning of Marriage.
Linda Waite and her team instead found that what saved and transformed the marriages of those who decided not to divorce was solid ethics, which led them to not give in to the serious problems of their marriages, and the belief that divorce would not benefit them. Family members, friends, and counsellors who supported them in this direction also had a role to play.
Far from proposing the easy yet harmful replacement of one myth with another, at the end of this editorial, I propose a question that I would like to mark the beginning of a careful analysis with hopefully beneficial effects: Is it possible that the way we think, a priori, about marital problems and how they should be solved is perhaps one of the most important predictors of the future of our marriages?
Norel Iacob is the editor-in-chief of ST.network and The Signs of the Times Romania.