Divorce and Remarriage
Despite what couples pledge on their wedding day, many marriages do not last until death parts them; instead, marriages are dissolved through divorce. But even though divorce is stressful and difficult, thousands of people each year also choose to try marriage again. Most enter their second (or third or fourth) marriage with renewed expectations of success. Are these new dreams realistic? As we’ll see, it depends on many things; among the most important is whether children are involved.
Divorce. Most couples enter marriage with the idea that their relationship will be permanent. Unfortunately, fewer and fewer couples experience this permanence. Rather than growing together, couples grow apart.
Who Gets Divorced and Why? Divorce in the United States is common, and the divorce rate is substantially higher than it is in many other
FIGURE 11.7 The United States has one of the highest divorce rates in the world.
Source: U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, updated and revised from “Families and Work in Transition in 12 Countries, 1980-2001," Monthly Labor Review, September 2003, with unpublished data. http://www. census. gov/compendia/statab/ tables/08s1302.xls.
countries around the world; as you can see in Figure 11.7, couples have roughly a 50-50 chance of remaining married for life (U. S. Census Bureau, 2008a). In contrast, the ratio of divorces to marriages in Japan, Italy, and Spain are substantially lower (U. S. Census Bureau, 2008a), as are rates in Africa and Asia (United Nations, 2005). However, divorce rates in nearly every developed country have increased over the past several decades (United Nations, 2005).
One factor consistently related to divorce rates in the United States is ethnicity. Of those marriages ending in divorce, African American and Asian American couples tended to be married longer at the time of divorce than European American couples (U. S. Census Bureau, 2008a). Ethnically mixed marriages are at greater risk of divorce than ethnically homogenous ones (U. S. Census Bureau, 2008a).
Men and women tend to agree on the reasons for divorce (Amato & Previti, 2003). Infidelity is the most commonly reported cause, followed by incompatibility, drinking or drug use, and growing apart. People’s specific reasons for divorcing vary with gender, social class, and life course variables.
Former husbands and wives are more likely to blame their ex-spouses than themselves for the problems that led to the divorce. Former husbands and wives claim, however, that women are more likely to have initiated the divorce.
Why people divorce has been the focus of much research. Much of the attention has been on the notion that how couples handle conflict is the key to success or failure. Although conflict management is important, it has become clear that there is more to it than that (Fincham, 2003).
Gottman and Levenson (2000) developed two models that predicted divorce early (within the first 7 years of marriage) and later (when the first child reaches age 14) with 93% accuracy over the 14-year period of their study. Negative emotions displayed during conflict between the couple predicted early divorce, but not later divorce. In general, this reflects a pattern of wife-demand-husband-withdraw (Christensen, 1990) in which, during conflict, the wife places a demand on her husband, who then withdraws either emotionally or physically. In contrast, the lack of positive emotions in a discussion of events-of-the-day and during conflict predicted later
divorce, but not early divorce. An example would be a wife talking excitedly about a project she had just been given at work and her husband showing disinterest. Such “unrequited” interest and excitement in discussions likely carries over to the rest of the relationship.
Gottman’s research is important because it clearly shows that how couples show emotion is critical to marital success. Couples who divorce earlier typically do so because of high levels of negative feelings such as contempt, criticism, defensiveness, and stonewalling experienced as a result of intense marital conflict. But for many couples, such intense conflict is generally absent. Although this makes it easier to stay in a marriage longer, the absence of positive emotions eventually takes its toll and results in later divorce. For a marriage to last, people need to be told that they are loved and that what they do and feel really matters to their partner.
But we must be cautious about applying Gott – man’s model to all married couples. Kim, Capaldi, and Crosby (2007) reported that in lower-income high-risk couples, the variables Gottman says predict early divorce did not for that sample. However, Coan and Gottman (2007) point out that the sample differences among the various studies mean that, as noted in Chapter 1, conclusions about the predictive model must be drawn carefully.
Why people divorce is certainly complex. As shown in Figure 11.8, macro-level social issues, demographic variables, and interpersonal problems all factor into the decision to divorce (Lamanna & Riedmann, 2003). The high divorce rate in the United States and the reasons typically cited for getting divorced have sparked a controversial approach to keeping couples together, termed covenant marriage, which makes divorce much harder to obtain. Other proposals, such as the Healthy Marriage Initiative supported by the Heritage Foundation, raise similar issues. Will they work? That remains to be seen.
Now that some states in the United States as well as some countries worldwide recognize marriage or civil unions between same-sex couples, it is inevitable that some of them will ultimately divorce.
FIGURE 11.8 Many factors on different levels enter into the decision to divorce.
Source: From Bonokraitis, N. (2002). Marriages and families: Changes, choices, and constraints (4th ed., p. 401). Reprinted with permission of Pearson Education, Inc., Upper Saddle River, New Jersey.
However, as discussed in the Current Controversies feature, divorce between same sex-couples poses numerous legal challenges.
Effects of Divorce on the Couple Although the changes in attitudes toward divorce have eased the social trauma associated with it, divorce still takes a high toll on the psyche of the couple. Both partners in a failed marriage feel deeply disappointed, misunderstood, and rejected (Brodie, 1999). Unlike the
426 CHAPTER 11