Further findings: A year after they’re legally split, half the divorced wish they weren’t
It’s always a matter for profound satisfaction when some academically hallowed and irrefutable social science agency formally announces the discovery of something you’ve known all along. I was therefore profoundly satisfied last week when the National Divorce Decision Making Project, having studied 3,000 Americans, age 25 to 50, found that about half them a year after a divorce wished they hadn’t done it.
The study was a joint undertaking of the University of Alberta’s Department of Human Ecology and a parallel faculty at Brigham Young University in Utah. Its conclusions were twofold: If you’re considering divorce, don’t act precipitously; think it over. Second, talk it over at great length with your spouse. Thirty per cent of the people interviewed said they once considered divorce; ninety per cent of these were glad they didn’t do it.
The study allowed that some divorces — those caused by violence or persistent adultery, for instance–could be considered inevitable. But one could conclude from the study that many divorces are far from inevitable, and leave the divorced much worse off than if they had persisted with the marriage, One recalls the furor that descended upon the anti-feminist constitutional lawyer Phyllis Schlafly (1924-2016) when she defiantly observed: “The chief cause of female poverty is divorce.” Many people didn’t want to hear that, but it is nonetheless a self-evident fact.
There is another implication to this study. For years, the liberally minded deplored the state of marital law in Canada with some justification. Divorce laws were much stricter and establishing justifiable grounds was costly and difficult. Believe it or not, a divorce in Quebec required an act of Parliament. But then came the shining era of liberaldom. “No fault” divorce was enacted, and people lived happily ever after.
Or did they? As a matter of fact, no. Today, we’re told, one marriage in two fails. Women, correctly discerning that easy divorce laws do not create stable families, refuse to have children. To meet the needs of the economy for an ever-expanding consumer base, we have to import people from other parts of the world. They do not share our liberal visions on this and many other things, and therefore go on having children the way we once did. Soon therefore there will be more of them than there are of us. Among other things, that will be the end of liberaldom. Its vaunted freedoms will have led to our own undoing.
I can truly say that in a 65-year marriage, the thought of divorcing my wife never once crossed my mind as a remote possibility, though I’m sure there were times that it crossed hers. We had some economically tough years back in the early ‘fifties, when we had four children in five years. “I only once thought of leaving you,” she told me years later,” but when I realized that this would entail the horror of going back with mother, I dropped the idea immediately.”
Societal conditions have changed drastically, however, and we have seen four divorces at fairly close hand. Curiously, all four were done at the instigation of the wife, not the husband. Which does not necessarily mean, of course, that she was at fault. Moreover, the law is no longer much concerned about “fault.”
Even so, all four came upon us as a tragedy. No one can see very far inside somebody else’s marriage. But from what was visible on the outside, all four seemed, not just workable, but truly successful partnerships. Moreover, all four occurred among people with the hard-going behind them. They had more time, more money, and fewer serious economic responsibilities than ever before. All were in good health. Their kids were all grown up, many of them through university and working. So there the parents stood, on the threshold of what certainly promised to be the happiest years of their lives.
Then bang!!! Over a period of two or three years, and to the dismay of their friends, four marriages die. Why? What happened? That. of course, is what this project is no doubt trying to discover, and at the very least trying to prevent. It’s hard to imagine a more valuable undertaking. “Talk,” they say. “Make sure you talk to each other,” One of our own kids once described her parents — meaning us– as, “Yak, yak, yak.” She was right. The surest sign of a perfect marriage is yak, yak, yak. It means the couple plainly cherish each other’s company.
Ted Byfield was founder and publisher of Alberta Report news magazine, general editor of Alberta in the Twentieth Century. a 12-volume history of the province, and general editor of The Christians: Their First Two Thousand Years, a 12-volume history of Christianity. His column on education appears in The Christians.com, a web journal. He has recently authored two little books on modern pedagogy: Why History Matters and The Revolution Nobody Covered. You can order both copies here.