Social researcher ShauntiFeldhahn is on a mission to debunk some of the rampant myths she says cloud perceptions about marriage and divorce.
In her new book, “The Good News About Marriage,” the author tackles a number of misconceptions that she believes are damaging to the institution of marriage: that half of marriages end in divorce, that church-going couples divorce just as often as the general public and that most marriages aren’t happy.
Feldhahn, who conducted an extensive eight-year research study on the subject, claims that the actual divorce rate has never even gotten close to 50 percent, that churchgoers have significantly lower divorce rates and that most marriages are actually successful. “One of the biggest patterns that I’ve seen over the years as a social researcher is that there’s one common denominator about whether marriage survives or fails,” she told TheBlaze. “If a couple thinks they’re going to make it, they generally do. The outcome is very different if they think, ‘This is never going to change. We’re never going to make it.'”
The perception that half of all marriages end in divorce, she says, results in a cumulative cultural negativity about marriage.
“There are certainly some things that we believe that are a concern about marriage that are accurate,” she said. “It is true for example that many, many more people are cohabiting today than they use to and there are some issues with that in terms of marital success.”
But when it comes to discouraging factors, she believes marriage myths are needlessly bringing people down.
“There is no such thing as a 50 percent divorce rate. It’s never been close,” she said. “Right now … 72 percent of people are still married to their first spouse — that’s Census Bureau data.”
And of the 28 percent who are no longer married to their first spouse, Feldhahn said that a good chunk of those people were married when their husband or wife died and were never actually divorced. So, theoretically, the divorce rate must fall somewhere below the 28 percent mark.
Feldhahn believes that knowing how much lower it is than the oft-times touted 50 percent provides more hope to couples.
Feldhahn believes the 50 percent figure comes from a variety of experts who are making a projection: sociologists and demographers who believe that, at some point in the future, the divorce rate will eventually be 50 percent.
“Those projections are too pessimistic. Starting in the 1970s — that’s when those projections started — when no-fault divorce started, the divorce rate skyrocketed,” she said. “Suddenly there was this explosion in divorce … it has fallen according to the crude divorce rate … 32 percent since 1980.”
Despite these changing social tides, Feldhahn said that the divorce rate projections have never really been adjusted.
And after digging into marriage data compiled from the Barna Group, a research firm, the author said that she discovered something entirely surprising about the divorce rate for practicing Christians.
When comparing Christians to the general population, Feldhahn said that asking the question nominally presented some problems. For instance, if someone says they are a Christian, it doesn’t necessarily mean that person is a practicing believer.
So, Feldhahn partnered with Barna and re-ran their data to focus in on church attendance in the past week — one of the clearest indicators of how deeply one practices his or her faith. While the divorce rate was similar for nominal Christians and the general public, she found something profound among practicing believers.
“The divorce rate dropped by 27 percent between those who went to church last week,” Feldhahn said. “The theory is that attendance in other worship faiths would have a similar impact — being part of a community where people are around you will notice when something is going wrong.”
Determining the actual divorce rate is difficult and it varies based on a variety of factors, including the number of times a person has been married and how one defines divorce.
But the Census’ average divorce rate is 31 percent and Barna’s is 33 percent based on a simple “have you ever been divorced” question (this includes those who have been divorced and later remarried as well), giving a lens into what the proportions might look like.
When it comes to divorce, Feldhahn truly believes that “we have been believing a complete myth.”
An expert on relationships, she has spoken extensively with TheBlaze in the past about the secrets to having a happy matrimony, positing that most couples are actually quite happy.