Ever since the 1970’s, divorce has become commonplace. In fact, the definition of family has changed dramatically. Less than fifty percent of families are intact families with the original mother and father. Families now include single heads of households—with women as the head of household, couples living together and step-families that become “blended” through divorce and re-marriage.
Included in the rising divorce rates are long-term marriages. Why, we ask, would someone get divorced after more than twenty years of marriage? Before we take a look at the top reasons for why some long-term marriages end in divorce, let’s first see why some long-term marriages succeed or just “go along to get along.” “Success” means that BOTH partners report being happy.
Good Reasons Why Some People Stay in Long-Term Marriages—What Makes These Good, Happy Marriages Work?
Good, happy marriages consist of people who:
- Are both truly happy, optimistic people who know how to problem-solve.
- Tended to get married when older and more settled in their careers/education and more mature.
- Are financially comfortable.
- Have college degrees or technical training.
- Find ways to “renew” the marriage spark. Some couples do this by traveling, taking classes of some kind together, doing a large project together (building a dream house, etc.), volunteering together and basically finding a new shared interest etc.
- Are happily involved with their grandchildren and/or adult children.
- Have good health.
- Don’t criticize and reject each other.
- Respect and like each other.
- Have more than “weathered or gotten through” major stresses such as affairs, financial or emotional problems. Instead, they triumph over these issues and grow.
- Have a wildcard factor—a highly personalized reason for being happy and together!
Make a checklist of which ones are part of your marriage. Now let’s take a look at why some unhappy, long-term marriages continue.
Why Some Unhappy, Long-Term Marriages Continue
- It’s been said that some marriages keep women off welfare, out of the poor house and out of the mental institution. So, some people stay in bad marriages because divorce or singlehood seems worse than their current situation.
- Some couples agree to live separate lives while still being legally married. Usually, they agree to this arrangement because of financial and psychological reasons. Psychologically, the spouse serves as an “emotional safety net” in case a partner needs emotional and financial support. Or, the couple might be raising the grandchildren and need to stay together because of them. In fact, some grandparents agree to raise their grandchildren as a way to find joy and to put a “buffer zone” between them and their spouse.
- The “shame” of divorce is worse than the marriage. Some couples feel social, religious and family pressure to stay married.
Why Some Long-Term Marriages End in Divorce
- The marriage was never really very good, and they wait to divorce until after the children are older.
- One person is having an affair—and is discovered. About 25-33% of marriages cannot recover from affairs.
- One person falls in love with another person.
- One spouse can no longer tolerate the abuse—verbal, physical or sexual. Abuse is still one of the highest reasons people divorce. Often, one spouse tolerates the abuse for a relatively long time. What makes that person say “enough” is: (a) maturity; the person is in therapy and the help kicks in; (b) one or more of the children are “little adults” who speak up; and (c) the legal system has finally listened or responded—there are charges, trials and/or prison sentences.
- One person matures and grows out of the marriage. This maturity can be sparked by time, death of a parent or other close person, new job or completion of education/training that makes the more financially dependent spouse able to support him/herself.
- One partner develops serious problems that do not change. These types of problems include substance abuse, mental instability, felonies and other illegal acts.
Did you see your top reasons in these sections? Think about what you want to do about it. Remember, every marriage is different.
Dr. Wish as a member of the National Association of Social Workers. To read more articles by Dr. Wish on this site, please click here.