In modern society, divorce has become an increasingly popular solution to marital difficulties. While we know the blessings of marriage can be sealed upon us for eternity through temple covenants, the marriage must thrive in mortality if we are to qualify for those blessings. Sadly, some Latter-day Saints are surrendering and ending their marriages rather than working through their difficulties.
Circumstances may dictate that a few marriages must end, but many couples can and should seek other solutions. Research shows that many couples who work through their difficulties and do everything reasonably possible to avoid divorce will eventually achieve happy and successful marriages—and prevent the hardships and consequences that divorce often creates for both adults and children.
The purpose of this article is to give hope and encouragement to those whose marriages seem to be failing, who are considering divorce. Couples who try to salvage their relationship often find that after the troubles are resolved their marriage is once again a happy, loving one—the kind of relationship they want to take with them into the eternities.
It is currently projected that approximately 50 percent of married couples in the United States will divorce before either the husband or wife dies. The divorce rate for couples in second marriages is even higher, approaching 60 percent. 1 A significant number of married couples in the United States also give divorce serious consideration but then decide to stay married.
These trends in society do not simply bypass Latter-day Saint couples. Indeed, our leaders frequently express concern over the troubles that plague LDS marriages. For instance, President Gordon B. Hinckley has said: “I have witnessed much of the best and much of the worst in marriage. Every week I have the responsibility of acting on requests for cancellation of temple sealings. Divorce has become a very common phenomenon throughout the world. … I am grateful to be able to say that divorce is much less frequent with those married in the temple. But even among these there is far more divorce than there should be.” 2
God “Hateth Putting Away”
An interesting scriptural passage about marriage and divorce recorded several thousand years ago has contemporary significance. In ancient times the Lord condemned the men of Israel for abandoning spouses through divorce. About 430 B.C. the prophet Malachi declared:
“Yet ye say, Wherefore? Because the Lord hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant. … Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth.”
Then comes this insight and warning: “For the Lord, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away [or divorce]” (Mal. 2:14–16).
Notice that the scripture does not say that God hates divorced people. But He likely does hate what divorce can and often does to people. Why?
Teachings on Divorce
Before discussing many of the consequences of divorce, let’s first note that divorce is warranted in a few instances. The Savior noted that divorce may be justified when sexual unfaithfulness had occurred (see Matt. 19:9).
President Hinckley has taught: “There may be now and again a legitimate cause for divorce. I am not one to say that it is never justified. But I say without hesitation that this plague among us, which seems to be growing everywhere, is not of God, but rather is the work of the adversary of righteousness and peace and truth.” 3
President James E. Faust, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, has similarly observed: “What, then, might be ‘just cause’ for breaking the covenants of marriage? … In my opinion, ‘just cause’ should be nothing less serious than a prolonged and apparently irredeemable relationship which is destructive of a person’s dignity as a human being.” 4
While noting the importance of marriage and the disruption of divorce, we should also offer hope and encouragement to Latter-day Saints and others who have chosen to divorce, and in some cases rightfully so.
It has been estimated that about 30 percent of divorces in the United States result from physical and mental abuse, excessive conflict, or other serious events. 5 But what about the other 70 percent? Why should these couples work at reconciliation? What are the consequences of divorce?
Why Marriage Matters
In 2002 the Institute for American Values published a report titled Why Marriage Matters: Twenty-One Conclusions from the Social Sciences (see sidebar, next page). This report summarized the findings of more than a dozen family scholars and included over 93 citations from research and published articles.
And what was the report’s fundamental conclusion? “Marriage is an important social good, associated with an impressively broad array of positive outcomes for children and adults alike.”
The accompanying outline of the report’s 21 reasons why marriage matters is divided into five major categories.
These findings affirm that a stable marriage has significance for men, women, and children. They give additional insights into why, as Latter-day Saints are taught, “marriage is ordained of God” (D&C 49:15). Couples contemplating divorce should seriously consider the possible consequences. One contemporary therapist, lecturer, and author, Michele Weiner-Davis, has written:
“The decision to divorce or remain together to work things out is one of the most important decisions you will ever make. It is crucial for those considering divorce to anticipate what lies ahead in order to make informed decisions. Too often the fallout from divorce is far more devastating than many people realize when contemplating the move.” 6
The Big Bounce Back
One more reason for troubled married couples to avoid divorce where possible is noted in another documented trend: many married couples recover from marital distress.
Researchers have asked this question:
“How many unhappy couples turn their marriages around? The truth is shocking: 86 percent of unhappily married people who stick it out find that, five years later, their marriages are happier, according to an analysis of the National Survey of Families and Households. … Most say they’ve become very happy indeed. In fact, nearly three-fifths of those who said their marriage was unhappy in the late ’80s and who stayed married rated this same marriage as either ‘very happy’ or ‘quite happy’ when interviewed again in the early 1990s.”
The same researchers concluded:
“Permanent marital unhappiness is surprisingly rare among couples who stick it out. Five years later, just 15 percent of those who initially said they were very unhappily married (and who stayed married) ranked their marriage as not [happy] at all.” 7
An Exalting Relationship
Since ancient times apostles and prophets have confirmed the importance of marital relationships in society. President Hinckley has stated, “God-sanctioned marriage between a man and a woman has been the basis of civilization for thousands of years.” 8
Marriage is also the basis of great joy and happiness in life. “The Lord has ordained that we should marry,” said President Hinckley, “that we shall live together in love and peace and harmony. …
“I am satisfied that if we would look for the virtues in one another and not the vices, there would be much more of happiness in the homes of our people. There would be far less of divorce, much less of infidelity, much less of anger and rancor and quarreling. There would be more of forgiveness, more of love, more of peace, more of happiness. This is as the Lord would have it. …
“You will know no greater happiness than that found in your home. … The truest mark of your success in life will be the quality of your marriage.” 9
President Boyd K. Packer, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, summed up what we should feel toward marriage by saying: “Eternal love, eternal marriage, eternal increase! This ideal, which is new to many, when thoughtfully considered, can keep a marriage strong and safe. No relationship has more potential to exalt a man and a woman than the marriage covenant. No obligation in society or in the Church supersedes it in importance.
“I thank God for marriage. I thank God for temples. I thank God for the glorious sealing power, that power which transcends all that we have been given, through which our marriages may become eternal.” 10
Summary from Why Marriage Matters: Twenty-One Conclusions from the Social Sciences
Marriage increases the likelihood that fathers have good relationships with their children.
Cohabitation is not the functional equivalent of marriage.
Growing up outside an intact marriage increases the likelihood that children will themselves divorce or become unwed parents.
Marriage is a virtually universal human institution.
Divorce and unmarried childbearing increase poverty for both children and mothers.
Married couples seem to build more wealth than singles or cohabiting couples.
Married men earn more money than do single men with similar education and job histories.
Parental divorce (or failure to marry) appears to increase children’s risk of school failure.
Parental divorce reduces the likelihood that children will graduate from college and achieve high-status jobs.
Physical Health and Longevity
Children who live with their own two married parents enjoy better physical health, on average, than do children in other family forms.
Parental marriage is associated with a sharply lower risk of infant mortality.
Marriage is associated with reduced rates of alcohol and substance abuse for both adults and teenage children.
Married people, especially married men, have longer life expectancies than do otherwise similar singles.
Marriage is associated with better health and lower rates of injury, illness, and disability for both men and women.
Mental Health and Emotional Well-Being
Children whose parents divorce have higher rates of psychological distress and mental illness.
Divorce appears significantly to increase the risk of suicide among both adults and their adolescent children.
Married mothers have lower rates of depression than do single or cohabiting mothers.
Crime and Domestic Violence
Boys raised in single-parent families are more likely to engage in delinquent and criminal behavior.
Marriage appears to reduce the risk that adults will be either perpetrators or victims of crime.
Married women appear to have a lower risk of experiencing domestic violence than do cohabiting or dating women.
A child who is not living with his or her own two married parents is at greater risk of child abuse.
Project cosponsored by Center of the American Experiment; the Coalition for Marriage, Family, and Couples Education; and the Institute for American Values. See online report in archives, Feb. 14, 2002, at http://www.americanvalues.org.
For more information on this topic, please see: Gordon B. Hinckley, “The Women in Our Lives,” Ensign, Nov. 2004, 82–85; Spencer W. Kimball, “Oneness in Marriage,” Ensign, Oct. 2002, 40–45; Gordon B. Hinckley, “What God Hath Joined Together,” Ensign, May 1991, 71–74. These magazine articles are also available at www.lds.org under Gospel Library, Church Publications, Magazines. See also the author’s article “Marriage Crossroads: Why Divorce Is Often Not the Best Option” at www.utahmarriage.org.
David Popenoe and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, The State of Our Unions: The Social Health of Marriage in America (1999), 23.
“Loyalty,” Ensign, May 2003, 59.
“What God Hath Joined Together,” Ensign, May 1991, 74.
“Father, Come Home,” Ensign, May 1993, 36.
Paul R. Amato and Alan A. Booth, A Generation at Risk: Growing Up in an Era of Family Upheaval (1997), 220.
Divorce Busting: A Revolutionary and Rapid Program for Staying Together (1992), 25.
Linda J. Waite and Maggie Gallagher, The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially (2000), 148–49.
“Why We Do Some of the Things We Do,” Ensign, Nov. 1999, 54.
“Living Worthy of the Girl You Will Someday Marry,” Ensign, May 1998, 51.
“Marriage,” Ensign, May 1981, 15.