DATA FROM THE Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows there was a 5.8 per cent rise in divorces between opposite-sex couples in England and Wales in 2016 (the latest year for which there is data) compared with 2015. This works out at a total of 106,959 divorces in 2016. In fact, estimates suggest that forty-two per cent of marriages will ultimately end in divorce. This is a rise from the twenty-two per cent seen in the 1970s.
The average (median) duration of marriage at the time of divorce, again in England and Wales, was 12.2 years for opposite-sex couples; this matches the high last seen in 1972. Meanwhile in the USA the average length of marriage is just over eight years.
However you look at it these are sobering statistics. Against the background of fewer couples choosing the tradition of marriage and plumping for civil ceremonies or co-habitation instead, you might expect the average longevity of marriages to rise. After all, those who choose the tradition are more likely to stick at it, no?
Clearly the figures suggest this is not the case. Which begs the question; why is this so? Many sociologists/relationships gurus/marriage counsellor-type people have expressed their opinions on the phenomenon in the past and all are more expert than I, but I have few thoughts on the issues here.
As we all know people are living longer, and there is an argument that marriages were never designed to last as long as they can do now as most people died before then, either of disease, conflict, or the myriad of other conditions that affected previous generations.
For example, in 1905 the average lifespan across both sexes was under fifty years; now it is over eighty. The prospect of sticking with one partner in marriage ‘’til death us do part” now means something it didn’t a century ago, and perhaps it’s not surprising that fewer people are prepared to stick the course.
Then there’s social acceptance; the more people get divorced the more socially accepted it becomes, and so it becomes a sort of self-licking lollipop. (Ugh! Ed.) Unlike fifty years ago, there is no social disgrace attached to it any more, further reinforced by the comparatively recent advent of the ‘no blame divorce’, where there is now no longer any requirement to prove infidelity or various other triggers as were required in the past.
A number of patterns can be discerned of which much has already been written, but a couple of aspects in particular come to my notice. The first is that, speaking generally and anecdotally here, men tend not to leave their wives; they may have affairs and stray from the path of righteousness, but they tend to come home for their tea in the end.
Women, on the other hand, do seem to leave their husbands, and in ever-increasing numbers if personal observation serves me well. The current paradigm seems to be that when the children leave the home, the wife subsequently leaves the husband. It’s the classic manifestation of the so-called empty nest syndrome and it’s endemic, at least in that broad spectrum of modern society that we might still reasonably refer to as the middle classes. I can think of half a dozen couples who have so parted in my own little circle.
There are, of course, many myths surrounding married couples’ parting of the ways. The most egregious of these is the oft-quoted ‘amicable divorce’. Frankly, there is no such beast. Yes, it may start off as a measured and reasonable discussion between two respectful individuals who have decided to split, but as soon as money and lawyers become involved it all goes to rat-shit. Anger, spite, and recrimination are the stuff of most divorces and don’t believe anyone who might tell you it is not so.
Another is that ‘the children are not affected’, a sort of salve-your-conscience ‘get out of jail free’ card much loved by those trying to absolve themselves of blame and deflect guilt. Nonsense. Of course the children are affected, how could they not be? And the younger they are the more it is likely to affect them in later life. Children are resilient, though, and most get over it in time, but to say they are not affected is just, well, wishful thinking.
The other great myth is that time is the great healer and everything will return to normal in due course. No it won’t, not necessarily. In fact, it’s just as likely to go the opposite way. Many people experience an increasing level of anger and disappointment the further away they get from the traumatic and disagreeable time of the event itself. True, some people do and up on civil terms eventually, but others just can’t bring themselves to speak to their former spouses let along be in the same room as them.
The solution? Don’t get married in the first place, as I have advised my offspring, if there’s any chance that it may turn out to be merely a temporary solution. A vow is a vow is a vow. If you’re going to make one, keep it; if you’re not, don’t bother in the first place. And, whatever you do, don’t spend a small fortune on the full fairytale wedding if there’s an iota of a chance it’s all going to go tits-up after a few years.
As a general observation, very few of my circle of friends who have got separated or divorced are any happier. In fact I can’t think of any, but that’s not to say it doesn’t happen of course, and I’m discounting those who have suffered domestic abuse or other criminal behaviours from the equation. Most people I know just get on with it and make the best of a bad deal.
In short, everything that divorce touches becomes broken; broken families, broken dreams, broken spirits. By common consent it is usually crippling both emotionally and financially and nobody comes out of it well. If you can’t stick to your marriage through thick and thin then better not to get married in the first place. IMHO.
‘There is no loneliness like that of a failed marriage’, said Alexander Theroux. Be warned.
Photo of angry couple by milanmarkovic78 from Adobe Stock
© Stuart Crawford 2021