I wrote here only the other week that, contrary to popular perception, divorce can actually be a good thing. That was meant as a general comment applicable to the family as a whole. As I said then, rather than remain in an unhappy relationship that is bad for not just the spouses but also, of course, their children, divorce enables the family to move on to something better.
But a new study looks at the post-divorce happiness levels of the individual spouses, and comes up with some findings that may not be expected.
The study, commissioned by the Sunday Times Style magazine, involved a survey of 1,060 men and women who had been through a divorce, asking them about their lives and the reasons behind the breakdown of their marriages. The participants were aged between 18 and 87, with an average age of 54.
Amongst the main findings of the study were that:
- Over half of the women involved (53%) reported that they are ‘much happier’ post-divorce, compared to only 32% of men.
- 54% of those surveyed were single and not looking for a relationship, with women being more likely than men (61% versus 47%) to put themselves in that category.
- Men were more likely to harbour feelings for a former partner (17% versus 8% for women), but they were quicker to start dating again, with more than 30% likely to be in a new relationship.
- 90% of participants agreed that staying in an unhappy marriage can be even more destructive than getting divorced.
- As for the reason for the marriage breakdown, the most common one given (by 49% of participants) was that they or their partner had changed as a person.
So what, if anything, are we to make of all of this?
The first thing is that the study confirms that yes, divorce can be a positive thing. You can be much happier as a ‘singleton’, rather than in a marriage that is not all it should be (or worse). Personally, I won’t speculate as to why far more women seem to be happier after divorce than men, but Style mentions one woman who said that being single “shows real strength”, and another who said that she planned to enjoy her independence, suggesting that perhaps women more than men can find marriage to be restricting of their freedom.
The second thing is to do with the future expectations and desires of the participants. It is striking in particular that so many, with an average age of 55, were not looking for another relationship. Style suggests that these people are “the first cohort no longer to believe in the institution of marriage.” I’m not sure I would go that far, but certainly the idea that you don’t have to be married to be happy does seem to be gaining traction.
And as to the reason for the marriage breakdown, it is interesting that by far and away the most common one really has no connection with the artificial reasons that our present divorce law requires. People do change, and just because you and your spouse were compatible on your wedding day does not mean that you still will be twenty years later. Change always happens, there is little or nothing that we can do to stop it, and it is no one’s fault. Anyway, hopefully it will soon no longer be necessary for anyone seeking a divorce to give reasons for the breakdown.
But going back to the main point of this post, the message is simple: divorce, as awful as it may be at the time, does not necessarily spell the end of happiness. On the contrary, it can be the beginning of a happier period of your life, particularly if you overcome the fear of loneliness and grasp the new opportunities that being single brings your way.
On the other hand, I wouldn’t go so far as to endorse the advice that some of the participants in the survey apparently gave: don’t get married. Whilst I certainly agree with one participant who said that you don’t need to get married to sustain a happy, long-term relationship, I don’t think that anyone should be put off of marriage, and the idea that you can’t be happy within a marriage would, I’m sure, be refuted by many who remain blissfully tied together within that institution.
You can read more about the study here (behind a paywall, but limited free access is available upon registration).