Since we are the only organization in Wisconsin that openly and proudly continues to aggressively strengthen, preserve, and promote God’s plan for marriage and family, I’m going to take every opportunity we have to do just that.
With that in mind let’s deal with a dangerous misconception about marriage and divorce. Almost anytime I hear someone address marriage and divorce. I hear them say something like this, “Half of marriages end in divorce.” That’s an inaccurate and very unhelpful statement to make about marriage and divorce.
First, to the best of my knowledge, no state tracks all marriages from the time they begin to when they are dissolved either by divorce or death of one of the spouses. For instance, the marriages that happen this year in Wisconsin will not be individually tracked by Wisconsin as to when or how they end. That’s not how the data, currently, is accumulated and analyzed, at least in our state.
Here’s what we do track: we track the number of marriages in any year and the number of divorces in any year. For years in Wisconsin we have had about twice as many marriages as we do divorces, which means the true divorce rate is 50 percent of the number of marriages we have each year. And recently, in most states, the divorce number is going down. For instance, in 2020, we had 26,492 marriages in Wisconsin, and in the same year we had 11,748 divorces, a number lower than the previous two years. These numbers mean we had a divorce rate of about 44%.
Clearing up this misunderstanding is important. When someone says to a group of young people that half of marriages end in divorce, the message that gets communicated is there’s a 50-50 likelihood of their marriage ending in divorce. And then in the mind of a young person, that gets translated to, “Why would I want to get involved in something where there’s a fifty percent likelihood of failure?” No wonder so many young people today are at best skeptical about getting married!
Apparently some tracking of individual marriages has happened. According to data from University of Michigan economist Justin Wolfers provided to the New York Times, about 70 percent of marriages from the 1990s reached fifteen years, which means the divorce rate for those marriages was 30%, The same data shows that through 2014, the divorce rate for people married in the 2000’s was only 15%. These well-below 50% numbers are seldom talked about, unfortunately.
We need to give people every reason to get married and stop giving them misunderstood data that scares them. We also need to make sure people know how they can dramatically reduce the likelihood that their marriage ends in divorce.
First, engaged couples need solid premarital counseling. Research shows, for instance, that premarital counseling done using an assessment tool, such as the one produced by Prepare/Enrich, can reduce a couple’s risk of divorce by 30%. Good premarital counseling takes time and helps couples discover potential points of conflict that need addressing prior to marrying. Obviously, for Christians, the premarital counseling needs to be solidly biblical, but it also has to be thorough, practical, and intensive.
Second, a study released by the Institute of Family Studies found that couples who regularly go to church together report higher levels of happiness than those who don’t. This data correlates with other research that shows that couples who attend church together are less likely to divorce.
Other actions or decisions couples can and should take to ensure they and their marriage don’t become statistics include such things as communicating well, handling conflict biblically, committing to each other from the outset—agreeing divorce isn’t an option, practicing humility and forgiveness, and certainly praying together.
These are the messages young people need to receive today. They need to know success in marriage is very possible. Of course, the fundamental truth they need to embrace is that marriage as God designed it is a monogamous, lifetime relationship between one man and one woman and God declared that as very good. That right there should encourage young Christians to wholeheartedly embrace marriage.
This is Julaine Appling for Wisconsin Family Council reminding you the Prophet Hosea said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”
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