National Post

Friday, July 12, 2002

Endurance beats divorce, study finds

'Life gets easier, problems get easier'

Mary Vallis
National Post

An American study has found that unhappily married people who tough out the hard times end up happier than those who divorce.

About half of the divorcees studied were happy five years later, while two-thirds of those who stayed put found happiness over the same period.

The most common reason the married people became happy was because they stubbornly outlasted their problems, said Maggie Gallagher, a co-author of the research and affiliate scholar at the Institute of American Values in New York, a non-partisan think-tank that specializes in family issues.

"We've oversold the benefits of divorce as a way of making adults happy," she said.

"[The participants] told us that with time, if you're determined to stay married, life gets easier, problems get easier, you'll get used to one another and you get happier down the road. That's not a story that we hear get told very often."

The researchers dubbed the phenomenon the "marital endurance ethic." Others in the study found solace by maintaining mediocre marriages and finding other ways to make themselves happy.

The findings were presented yesterday at a conference on marriage in Arlington, Va.

Led by Linda Waite, a sociologist at the University of Chicago, the researchers analyzed data on 5,232 married adults interviewed for the National Survey of Families and Households, including 645 who were unhappy.

Five years later, the adults were interviewed again: 167 of the unhappy were divorced or separated; 478 had stayed married.

The researchers analyzed the subjects' responses with 13 measures of psychological well-being. They controlled the results for age, income and gender. They held additional focus groups with 55 other married individuals who had worked through unhappiness without divorcing.

Even unhappy partners who divorced and married other people were no happier than people who stayed together, the study found. Further, divorce did not enhance self-esteem or alleviate symptoms of depression.

People who see divorce as an escape from an unhappy situation often forget it creates new problems, said Robert Glossop, executive director of programs at the Vanier Institute of the Family, an independent institute based in Ottawa.

"You can end a marriage simply through the stroke of a pen by a judge, but that does not end the family obligations that were entailed by the fact you were married," he explained.

"Marriages may not be forever, but family is. With that come all sorts of complexities and challenges."

Subsequent custody disputes, child support and visitation orders, financial instability, communication with a former spouse and new relationships can all make a person unhappy, the researchers point out.

Jude Driscoll, an occupational therapist in Alexandra, P.E.I., admits there have been times when quitting her marriage seemed easier than persevering.

"That usually happens when you have really young kids, when you're exhausted and they're totally dependent on you," she said.

"When you're working and your kids aren't sleeping because they're sick, you think, 'Hey, I could be that gorgeous person with that nice suit on, a nice car and no one hanging on my legs.'

"But in the long run, the benefits of hanging in there, for me, are that closeness and that connectedness."

Mrs. Driscoll volunteers with Worldwide Marriage Encounter, an organization that organizes weekends to help married couples strengthen their relationships. She and her husband, Frank, will celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary next month.

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