Divorce and How to Avoid It
Q. What things can I do to avoid a divorce?
A. If you are not yet married, don't have a baby out-of-wedlock, finish high school, don't marry until your 20s, know your partner for at least a year, don't live with too many partners outside of marriage, and get a decent job. All of those things are associated with a relatively low risk of divorce. If you already are married, think about and work hard on two things: commitment and companionship. The happiest couples are friends who share lives and are compatible in interests and values. A number of good marriage education programs, which teach communication and conflict resolution skills, are now available, and many people have found them useful in preparing for or strengthening their marriages.
Q. Does living together before marriage really lead to a higher risk of divorce?
A. There is no evidence that if you are already engaged or committed to the relationship, and live with your partner before marriage, your risk of divorce increases. But in circumstances other than that, living together before marriage does increase your divorce risk considerably. This is especially true if you live together outside of marriage with many partners for long periods of time. The reasons for this are not well understood, but one might be the attitudes about relationships that are generated through cohabitation. Typically, cohabitation takes place because people are not yet ready to commit to the long term, and the purpose of the relationship is to test things out. If things don't work out, you leave. If you want a long-lasting marriage, however, you have to have exactly the opposite attitude -- you are going to keep the relationship going no matter what problems arise.
Q. I have read that, while divorce may cause problems to many of the children who are affected by it, by and large these problems are not long lasting and the children recover rather quickly. Is that true?
A. According to the research, children are negatively affected by divorce much more than most adults are willing to admit. First, about 25 percent of children who grow up in divorced homes have serious problems in life, for example delinquency, drug abuse, unwed teen pregnancy, or dropping out of high school, compared to only 10 percent of children who grow up in non-divorced, intact homes. Second, recent research suggests that, among those children from divorced homes who don't have serious problems, many nevertheless have more difficulties and anxieties in life than do other children. A big problem is in interpersonal relationships. One research study found, for example, that a child of divorce has a 50 percent higher divorce risk than a child from a married home. And if two children from broken homes marry each other, their risk of divorce is 150 percent higher.
Originally published on LHJ.com, February 2006.