Summary: Despite what you might have heard, marriage is actually doing pretty well these days.
One of the reasons I like to read good social science is that much of the world is actually doing pretty well. Of course, we would like things to be better than they are, but stories about the world doing pretty well don’t sell well. So we tend to hear about how bad the world is.
If you want a Christian perspective about how the world is doing I would first commend Bradley Wright’s Upside, which generally looks at a variety of different ways of measuring the world, happiness, economics, health, etc.
Shaunti Feldhahn, who became well know because of her For Men Only and For Women Only books has stayed on the same general theme and instead of focusing on what men and women need to know about their spouse, is writing this book to encourage people more generally about marriage.
Her main point is that Christians in particular have been emphasizing the problems of marriage in order to uphold its importance. But in doing so, we are likely discouraging couple from either getting married, or if married, communicating that marriage is primarily hard work.
Instead Feldhahn starts with the divorce rate and shows why what we all think we know is wrong. The rate of divorce has never been 50% or higher in the general population and it has been decreasing steadily since the high point of around 1980. She estimates that first marriages have less than 30 percent chance of getting a divorce. And later marriages, and more highly educated couples have even lower rates of divorce.
And second and third marriages are not nearly as prone to divorce as what we think either. It is likely that second marriages only have about a 35% chance of divorce, and third marriages are just a bit high rate than that.
It is not only that couple are less likely to get divorced that we thought. They are actually more likely to be happy in their marriage than what we think. Feldhahn’s own research indicates that about 70% of couple both rate their marriages a very happy. And depending on how the question is asked about 90% of couple would get married again if they had the chance to do it all over again.
I think the most important information that we should be talking about more is that most bad marriages get better. When people do rate their marriage as low quality or unhappy, most people have gone to the highly satisfactory within 5 years. And the vast majority of couple that contemplated divorce, but did not, are glad they did not get a divorce.
The main takeaway of the book is that the church has been in crisis mode about marriage for a long time. But what couples actually need isn’t crisis management, but simple encouragement and small scale equipping to do a bit better.
While I don’t think this is a bad book, the main takeaways are probably better in a magazine length format. I do think that pastors and others involved in marriage counseling or preparation should read the book, but most of us just need to know that our marriage, while it isn’t going to be always perfect, is much better off as an institution than what we usually hear.