My salt-of-the-earth-family-values friend was dat- ing my hairdresser, but after four years was still hesitating to pop the question. “I’ve seen so many
friends divorce,” he explained. “I don’t want to do that to us.”
Divorce, in his mind, was like a virus. If you’re not careful, it will sneak up on you, and soon you’ll find yourself
kicked out, broke and crying into your coffee.
Our society treats divorce like it’s a contagion, and it’s
not hard to see why. The divorce rate is close to 50 per cent,
isn’t it? And the even sadder part? Christians divorce at the
same rate as everyone else – and some say even higher.
As a marriage author and blogger, I hear these stats
every day. They’ve always confused me. Do they even pass
the smell test? In the late ’80s and early ’90s, I was involved
with the Queen’s University Christian Fellowship group.
Of the dozens of friends I remember from those days, as
far as I know only three have divorced. The other marriages have so far made it, even 20 years later. If divorce is
really 50 per cent, then we must have either been incredibly lucky or part of a bizarre subgroup with the ability to
But forget anecdotes. What about logic? If Christians
believe God helps us forgive, helps us through grief and
to withstand temptation, why do we not believe God can
make a difference in marriage? Why do we accept these
stats at face value?
Perhaps this “divorce virus” is weaker than we think.
That’s what Shaunti Feldhahn found when she analyzed the studies for her new book The Good News About
Marriage: Debunking Discouraging Myths About Marriage
and Divorce (WaterBrook Multnomah, 2014). In 2006 Feldhahn was trying to dig up the divorce rate for an article.
She asked her assistant, who sought out the original
sources, to check it. And nothing could justify the rate
of 50 per cent – in fact, there didn’t seem to be a credible
source at all. And so the two of them started a six-year
project to uncover the real divorce rate.
What they found was revolutionary.
The divorce rate for first marriages is actually around
30 per cent – and likely closer to 28 per cent. Christians
have between a 30 per cent and 50 per cent lower divorce
rate than the general population – which puts us at around
What’s the Real
the oft-cited sky-high divorce rate among
Christians has been seriously debunked.
14–20 per cent, assuming the lower 28 per cent rate overall. Since these are American figures, we Canucks can
likely shave a few points off. A 15 per cent divorce rate in
the Church still represents a lot of heartbreak. But it also
means the vast majority of marriages are happy.
So where did that “ 50 per cent of marriages end in
divorce” stat come from? In the 1970s, when divorce rates
were skyrocketing, researchers were asked to estimate the
divorce rate. They said, “If divorce rates continue to rise as
they are now, we would expect the divorce rate to be 50 per
cent.” But divorce rates didn’t rise. They fell. And so that
stat – which was only ever a projection – never came true.
What about the idea that Christians have just as high
a divorce rate? That came from a study from the Barna
Group, where respondents were asked to identify their
religion along with their marital status. George Barna himself has disavowed the common interpretation of his study
as one about the divorce rate of Christians. If you really
want to know the Christian divorce rate, you don’t just
ask what religion people claim. You ask about key things,
like if they read their Bible, if they pray or if they attend
church, to help determine if they are serious about their
faith. Do a survey that way and the divorce rate plummets.
Feldhahn’s book is filled with all the analysis that a stats
geek will love even more than Star Trek reruns, but here’s
what it means for the rest of us, and why she wrote it: What
if the biggest threat to marriage isn’t divorce, but discouragement? If we believe 50 per cent of marriages end in divorce,
then marriage looks really risky. People will choose to cohabit rather than take the plunge. Or, once they are married,
if problems crop up, they think, This is why marriages end.
We’re one of the couples who won’t make it.
But if people realize most couples do make it, then
more people will tie the knot. When troubles come, they
can say to themselves, “Most people have problems, but
most people get over those problems, and we will too.”
Those who are married live longer. As the Institute
for Marriage and Family Canada pointed out in a recent
study, they tend to be wealthier and have a much easier
time getting out of poverty. Their kids do better in school,
are less likely to take drugs or alcohol, and are more likely
to delay sexual activity. And, of course, they’re happier.
There’s good news about marriage out there, and we
need to listen and spread the word. Most marriages make
it. Over 90 per cent of married people would marry the
same person again, according to Feldhahn’s research. Marriage is still a wonderful thing. Pass it on. FT
SHEIlA WRAy GREGOIRE is an author and inspirational
speaker ( www.sheilawraygregoire.com).
MessyFaith n BY SHEIlA WRAY GREGoIRE