Lesson 4 of 7  - optimize your relationships

The Silent American
Divorce
Epidemic

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW

Member NSRC Experts Council

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The Web address of this article is https://sfhelp.org/relate/mates/epidemic.htm

Updated  02-05-2015

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      This brief YouTube video provides perspective on what you'll read in this article:

      This is one of a series of articles in self-improvement Lesson 4 - optimize your relationships. It adds to articles proposing how to make three wise courtship decisions with and without kids from prior unions.

U.S. Marriage and Divorce Statistics

       The 11/7/07 online newsletter of Life Innovations, Inc., a nonprofit marital enrichment program, published these statistics. No sources were given.

  • Of the 2.3 million marriages in 2006, about half (53%) took place in a religious setting.

  • The average cost of a wedding is $27,500.

  • Of the U.S. 111 million households, 52% are now made up of married couples with and without children.

  • There is less than a 50% chance that couples currently married will reach their 25th anniversary.

  • While the average (legal) divorce rate is 50%, it is 40% for first marriage, 60% for second marriages and 73% for third marriages.

  • Couples separate on the average seven years after marriage, and divorce after eight.

  • Over 90% of people get married once. But those marrying are waiting until they are older and they are less likely to remarry following a divorce.

  • Over 6 million couples now cohabit, a dramatic increase from only 500,000 cohabiting couples in 1970.

      The National Center for Health Statistics estimated that in 1993, about 1,187,000 U.S. divorces were granted, affecting 1,075,000 children. The numbers don't tell how many of those were re/divorces. At this rate, during each 25-year generation there are ~60 million American men and women and over 27 million children affected emotionally, spiritually, developmentally, and financially by marital and biofamily separations and the stressors that cause them. These numbers exclude millions of co-parents and kids living in daily misery because marital separation or legal divorce are not practical options.

      For perspective, between 1918 and 1920, the Spanish Flu killed an estimated 50 million people, dominated worldwide headlines, and was labeled a pandemic. Can you recall reading an headlines about the American divorce epidemic?

      Roughly 70% of divorced American women and men remarry within 10 years. About 70% of them are parents, creating or expanding a stepfamily. Recently, about nine of ten re/marriages follow the prior divorce of one or both partners, vs. the death of a mate. The "/" notes that it may be one mate's first divorce.

      Many authors claim that over half of U.S. stepfamilies legally re/divorce within 10 years of exchanging vows, compared to ~47% of recent first-time marriages. An unknown percentage of stepfamily kids and adults live in significant misery because couples are psychologically divorced. In 1996 the government stopped compiling statistics on national marriage and divorce patterns, so (to my knowledge) meaningful stepfamily re/divorce-rate estimates are not available.

      The point: the total number of American adults and kids seriously afflicted by legal and psychological divorce and what causes it is surely far greater than those affected by AIDS - yet the media is silent about this.

      Regardless of the redivorce rate, research since 1970 consistently suggests that typical American stepfamily life is significantly stressful for most adults and kids. My experience as a full-time stepfamily therapist and researcher since 1979 suggests that average adults are unprepared to...

  • make informed commitment and cohabiting choices, and...

  • manage complex stepfamily role and relationship problems effectively...

for up to five reasons. The good news is - once mates are aware of these factors and commit to reducing them together, they can better fill their and their kids' developmental and adjustment needs.

      Options for reacting to the unremarked U.S. "divorce problem." are to...

  • wring our hands and ignore it (the current choice);

  • acknowledge and analyze (intellectualize) it;

  • react to its personal and social consequences; or...

  • act to prevent this crippling national trauma.. 

      The American "divorce problem" is stale news. This is in spite of roughly 15% to 20% of typical U.S. families being stepfamilies, most of which follow one or more divorces and are significantly troubled. The current American subculture of millions of re/divorced adults and kids is largely invisible and has no voice.

      As a therapist, stepson, and stepfather, I've worked full time since 1979 to understand family and relationship health in general, and stepfamily functioning and health in particular. During those decades, I have never seen or heard...

  • an informed opinion that America has a socially-significant redivorce "problem," or...

  • a practical, research-based plan on how average communities can reduce or prevent widespread psychological and legal divorce from depleting their citizens, resources, and social harmony.

We Americans appear to be in cultural denial, like a nation of active addicts.

      The self-improvement Lessons in this site are based on my 36 years of profession-l study of  low-nurturance ("dysfunctional") families. They reflect over 17,000 hours' consultation with over 1,000 typical Anglo adults, couples, and some of their kids. My experience as the son of two alcoholics and a divorced stepfather contributes too. So does my "ACoA" recovery since 1986 from the wounds from a very dysfunctional childhood.

      If you may marry or you already have, I urge you to protect yourself and those you care about by studying this free self-improvement course. Start by assessing what you don't know you need to know.  

        Would you board a jet with your children if a sign by the entrance said "Note - there is a 50%  chance this aircraft will crash"?

      I believe this UCLA research report suggests the real problem - the legacy and effects of the lethal [wounds + ignorance] cycle. If you care for one or more kids, you can make a meaningful difference via education and action. Please act to Break the Cycle!

  For more perspective, see these research summaries, these Q&A items, and this worksheet.

      Pause, breathe, and recall why you read this article. Did you get what you needed? If so, what do you need now? If not - what do you need? Is there anyone you want to discuss these ideas with? Who's answering these questions - your wise resident true Self, or ''someone else'?

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