For years now, I have gone around telling bad news about marriage. But I recently found out this particular information was wrong, which is really good news! Actually, most people in the marriage ministry world have been wrong.
We were led to believe by statisticians that in America about half of all marriages end in divorce, which led me to believe that about two-thirds of stepfamily couples divorce. But it turns out that the pessimism that currently exists about the institution of marriage is misguided.
The good news about the bad news
In May of 2014, Shaunti Feldhahn and Tally Whitehead released a stunning book about the marital divorce rates in America. Entitled The Good News About Marriage, the book presents a thorough and comprehensive examination of how divorce rates are calculated, and ultimately challenges the societal assumptions we make about marriage based on those rates.
The book’s conclusions are not without controversy in the academic and marriage ministry world, but we should not ignore the overall “good news” offered in the book. In brief, they are:
- While the projected divorce rate (the risk of divorce over someone’s lifetime) has been reported to be around 50 percent, the current divorce rate (those already divorced at any given point in time) has never actually hit 50 percent. In other words, our predictions are worse than reality.
- Estimates of the current divorce rate for first marriages is only 20-25 percent, for all marriages it’s 31 percent, and for remarriages it’s 34 percent.
- The blended family divorce rate is difficult to calculate because we have little research to go on. Based on data presented in the The Good News About Marriage, I now estimate the current divorce rate to be 45-50 percent and the projected rate to be 50-60 percent (far below the two-thirds or higher rate I reported previously).
- Christian couples (i.e., those who practice their beliefs and attend church regularly) do not divorce at the same rate as non-Christians. Numerous studies point to a rate of 15-20 percent.
- Most couples are happy. About 80 percent of couples report being “somewhat happy to very happy.”
Of course, we wish the divorce rate was zero. But you have to admit, a divorce rate of around one-third is a lot better than half. In short, the good news about the bad news about marriage is that it’s wrong—which, if my math is correct, means it’s good news!
The good news for your marriage
Have you ever found yourself a little pessimistic about your new marriage lasting a lifetime—you know, because so many other stepcouples divorce? Have you found yourself backed into a corner in a debate because the person questions a Christian’s right to lecture on marriage when Christians divorce at the same rate as non-Christians? Or perhaps you’re currently living with someone who is apprehensive to take the plunge into marriage because the risk of divorce is just too high.
This new information should begin to take some of that anxiety away. Academics love playing with new numbers, and with regard to marriage, their statistics have caused more harm than good. Here are several ways that this more accurate information can help your relationship.
First, if you have been worried about the vulnerability of your marriage, adjust your level of fear or intimidation.
Ironically, living in fear of another breakup or becoming another divorce statistic leads couples to do things that actually make their marriages more unstable. Instead, live with confidence. Love, laugh, and face the future with optimism.
Second, don’t let people put you back on your heels because you are a Christian.
Let’s get up on our toes. Those who live the gospel within their marriage and family are happier and healthier than those who don’t. We have nothing to be ashamed of.
Plus, Ephesians 5:22-32 tells us that one purpose of marriage is to reflect the truth about God. Your marriage is a living testimony of the love of God toward His people. Use your marital optimism as a beacon of hope to friends, neighbors, and co-workers. They will see something special in your marriage that they want, and you can tell them how—through Christ—to get it.
Blended family couples can also use their marriage as a beautiful testimony of God’s great redemptive power. You can be the proof that “nothing is impossible with God” (Matthew 19:26), and it’s never too late to follow God’s blueprints for a successful marriage.
Third, encourage couples to stick it out.
The research clearly finds that stepcouples who stay together beyond five years have a much lower divorce rate. I’ve said for years that the first five to seven years are the most challenging on average for stepfamilies.
Encourage your friends to find answers to their dilemmas and not give up too quickly because in just a few years, they could begin to see the reward for all their hard work, and their relationship and their children will be blessed accordingly.
1. All stats are taken from Shaunti Feldhahn and Tally Whitehead, The Good News About Marriage, Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah, 2014.
2. Ron L. Deal, The Smart Stepfamily: Seven Steps to a Healthy Family, Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2014, pg. 101-102.