Reconsidering Divorce

All marriages journey through highs and lows, and many couples who are at a difficult low point may decide that divorce is the best path to take. There is evidence, however, that persevering and giving the relationship time can indeed revive many struggling marriages.

In 2003, Brent A. Barlow, Ph.D., published an article in the Journal of Marriage and Families, entitled Marriage Crossroads: Why Divorce is not Always the Best Option: Rationale, Resources, and References. This research of over a decade ago, certainly still applies today.  

The article explains how many marriages eventually reach a point called “the crossroads,” during which a couple is considering whether or not they should divorce. While these couples may feel concerned about living with the difficulties in their marriages, Barlow points to study findings which indicate that the consequences of divorce may outweigh the benefits of avoiding  most marital difficulties. There are important factors a couple should seriously consider to evaluate if divorce is worth the cost, before making the move to split up. Here are some from Barlow’s article:

  • Only 30% of divorces are from couples in high-conflict marriages. It is likely that many of the other 70% could have worked through problems and stayed married. Out of the top ten reported reasons why marriages ended, “no longer in love” was the second most common.
  • Stable marriages yield benefits in all aspects of health (emotional, physical, and mental) according to decades of consistent research. Additionally, financial costs of divorce can be astronomical.
  • Though many children of divorced parents grow to be successful adults, it is irrefutable that children of divorce are at increased risk for having social and emotional problems, considering suicide, involvement in drugs and alcohol, and academic problems. According to Barlow, nearly 50 percent of parents who divorce and have children are in poverty after the divorce.
  • Barlow estimates that in the years after a divorce, 1/3 of couples regret their decision, 1/3 have mixed feelings about it, and 1/3 feel that it was the right decision. In a poll in Minnesota, “66 percent of those who are currently divorced answered “yes” to the question, “Do you wish you and your ex-spouse had tried harder to work through your differences?”
  • 86% of people who were unhappy in their marriage and then decided to stay together and “stick it out”, are happier in their marriages 5 years later, according to the National Survey of Families and Marriages. 77% of marriages who rated their marriages as “very unhappy” in the late 1980’s but stayed married, later rated their same marriages as “very happy” or “quite happy” in the 1990’s.
  • Barlow recalls that right after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2011, many couples across the U.S. withdrew their divorce papers which had been on file. Sometimes having a reminder of what is truly valuable is what is needed to help rebuild a marriage.

Nearly three decades of research evaluating the impact of family structure on the health and well-being of children demonstrates that children living with their married, biological parents consistently have better physical, emotional, and academic well-being.

Barlow emphasizes in the article that there are some cases where a couple should divorce, especially in the presence of abuse and physical danger. However, this is not the majority. Love can be rebuilt and regained with patience, effort and devotion.

The best scientific literature to date suggests that, with the exception of parents faced with unresolvable marital violence, children fare better when parents work at maintaining the marriage. Consequently, society should make every effort to support healthy marriages and to discourage married couples from divorcing.

For more information and research on marriage and the negative impact divorce can have on families, check out the following ACPeds resources below:

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Read the full article at:

Barlow, B. (2003) Marriage crossroads: Why divorce is often not the best option: Rationale, resources, and references, In Marriage and Families: 10(5). Retrieved from:

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