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For decades, the "fact" that one out of every two marriages ends in divorce has permeated the U.S. culture. And a raised eyebrow has been constantly directed at the Church, whose divorce rate was thought to have reached 50 percent as well.

These condemning statistics — and many more — have been repeatedly quoted by leading experts, the media, and even from the pulpit as fact.

But the results of an intensive study have revealed that oft repeated "facts" on marriage statistics are fiction. Moreover, these "facts" are not even close to accurate.

Shaunti Feldhahn
Feldhahn

Shaunti Feldhahn, a Harvard-trained social researcher, spent eight years researching the facts about marriage statistics with her senior researcher, Tally Whitehead. What they discovered surprised even them — marriage in the United States is an incredibly successful institution.

According to their findings, the urban legends that became "marital facts" were based on decades-old "projections," not facts. The actual numbers tell quite a different story.

When comparing the actual statistics to what are now nothing more than "marriage urban legends," the differences are shocking:

* More than 70 percent of all first-time marriages are still intact. Of the less than 30 percent no longer together, that figure includes widows/widowers whose spouses have died.

* The divorce rate of those who attend church is less than that of those who do not attend — up to 50 percent less. Based on her exhaustive research, Feldhahn says the divorce rate of those who regularly attend church is likely in the teens to single digits.

* Feldhahn's study found that 80 percent of married people consider themselves happily married.

* She also discovered that most remarriages are successful.

Dr. Greg Smalley, vice president of Family Ministries at Focus on the Family, adds that there's even a statistical difference when it comes to Christian marriages. "The truth is, there's a huge difference between Christlike marriages and two Christians who are married," he states. "There is almost no divorce with the first — people who pursue Christ, they're staying together because Christ makes a difference."

Smalley also cites another significant study concerning couples who described their marriages as "in crisis" five years ago. Of the couples who chose to stay together, two-thirds now rate their marriages as satisfying.

Greg Smalley
Smalley

"When people hit rocky times, their hearts tend to shut down, they give up and they believe their marriage is over . . . the media and statistics continually reinforce that message," Smalley observes. "But for those who hang in there, weather the storm, and get the help they need, two-thirds now love their marriage!"

Roger Gibson, senior director of Adult and Family Ministries at the AG national offices, was greatly encouraged by Feldhahn's findings.

"Overall, this is groundbreaking for the church and culture," Gibson says. "I think a lot of pastors, leaders and couples have been so influenced by the negative press of divorce statistics that we simply started to give up on marriage. Against such a pessimistic cultural view, Shaunti's research puts the fight back into the case for marriage."

In her quest for the truth, Feldhahn says that she "spoke with leading researchers, dug into the complexities, and began realizing the vast scope of misinformation, incorrectly-interpreted research, studies that downplayed positive findings, and quite often, commonly-cited statistics based on studies that didn't even exist."

One of the most troubling results of her findings is that for decades, some of the most common statistics about marriage were not only unfounded, they discouraged those considering marriage and those who were already married. The statistics seemed to unequivocally declare that the chances of having a lasting marriage, much less a happy one, were far from certain — and the odds were getting worse all the time.

But even that's not true. Feldhahn says that in fact, divorce rates have been declining, despite the promulgation of the urban legends surrounding marriage.

Gary Allen
Allen

Gary Allen, a former U.S. Navy and police chaplain who spent nearly 30 years pastoring Assemblies of God churches, is currently the pastoral advisor/counselor at the AG National Leadership and Resource Center (NLRC). He says Feldhahn's findings confirm what he has personally believed, but had no way to prove.

"In all my years as a chaplain, neither the Navy or police stations I worked with had a divorce rate near 50 percent," Allen states. "And in the churches I served, the couples I married, I believe nearly all of them are still married."

Allen adds that he read on an online dating site that in a survey of more than 19,000 couples married between 2005 and 2012 through the help of this online service, the marital break-ups were under four percent.

Although the time frame is relatively brief (7 years), Allen says this example shows the importance of being intentional in marriage. "As a pastor, couples who came to me went through six weeks of intensive pre-marital counseling," he says. "So, I believe, through my personal experiences, the online study, and Feldhahn's research, with just a little effort on the front end, marriage should be an anticipated successful venture — nothing like this 'roll of the dice,' 50-50 chance that we've been led to believe."

Smalley agrees and says that you can't underestimate the impact of hope — or the lack of it — in marriage.

"I've interviewed many millennials," he says, "and even though they've come from the most divorced generation in the history of our nation, their desire is to be married for a lifetime, but they're not sure it's possible. They've heard over and over again the 50 percent divorce rate; that statistic sticks with them and they're afraid."

And even when marriage is entered into, there is still the spiritual aspect to consider.

"Satan is so attacking us during this time," Smalley says. "We don't often talk about the spiritual battle that is going on, but Satan wants to destroy marriages - he's saying 'You're right, you'll never make it, your marriage is doomed.'"

Roger Gibson
Gibson

But Smalley says when young people are given hope, when they hear that 60-70 percent of marriages are making it, there's a different mindset about marriage, not to mention the ability to weather the difficult times marriages can experience.

"Give people even a tiny bit of hope to hold on to," Smalley observes, "and they start thinking that if someone else can make it, maybe they can too!"

Gibson says Feldhahn's research could ultimately shape the culture of future generations who might think marriage is "old school."

"With cohabitation on the rise over the years, it is obvious many couples don't value marriage or the covenant between husband, wife and God," Gibson says. "However, with Shaunti's new discovery of marriage between husband and wife showing a higher level of happiness, it could be the tipping point to the revitalization of the family."

Feldhahn's findings are also significant for churches and ministries.

"This is our opportunity to cultivate a different mindset about marriage," Smalley says. "Marriage is amazing. God designed it — it's His idea, and God doesn't create junk. It is not only possible, but it's expected that you will have a successful marriage!"

 


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Young adulthood brings big changes to families

Wed, 16 Jan 2013 - 3:43 PM CST

Kilsdonk, daughter-mother
Lisa Kilsdonk (right) of Baker, Montana, misses daughter Tessa now that she is halfway across the country attending Evangel University in Springfield, Missouri.

Childhood is fleeting. That explains why even the smallest milestones - from the first wobbly steps to the loss of a baby tooth - can trigger a swell of parental emotion. Yet few things prepare parents for the often-jolting transition from full house to empty nest.

"It hits us at different times - and sometimes when we least expect," says Susan Yates, a mother of five grown children and co-author of the book, Barbara and Susan's Guide to the Empty Nest.

Unlike the preschool years, which have a clear beginning and end, the empty nest is not neatly defined, Yates says. One parent may feel sad as a son or daughter enters the final year of high school. Another may not grieve until the last child graduates college or weds.

Whatever the timing, launching offspring into the adult world can be a poignant adjustment for families. Yates, who interviewed empty nesters across the country, says most parents reported varying degrees of loneliness. One reason seemed to be a lack of social support, she says.

"When the kids are little, we schedule play dates and seek out adult friends," Yates says. "But during the teen years, parents get so busy with the kids they put everything else on the shelf - including other relationships. By the time this major life change comes along, they can feel isolated."

Marriages may suffer as well. A study by Bowling Green State University in Ohio identified a disturbing trend among older couples. The divorce rate for people age 50 and older more than doubled between 1990 and 2008, researchers found. At the time of the study, this demographic accounted for more than a quarter of the nation's failed marriages.

Of course, the empty nest doesn't have to trigger an emotional or marital crisis. Wes Bartel, director of Discipleship Ministries for the Assemblies of God, says families can build a foundation for navigating this transition in a healthy manner.

"Early on, my wife and I established the goal that we wanted our children to become successfully independent from us," says Bartel, father of two adult children. "But we also knew we needed to become successfully independent from them. That meant keeping a primary focus on God and our marriage."

Bartel says while the process wasn't painless, he found solace in his relationship with God.

"I remember the quietness of the car as I drove home from visiting my daughter in college," Bartel says. "I prayed and made a recommitment to my personal walk with God and my marriage. I would advise people who are going through that to lean on God. Don't continue in quietness and frustration. Some of the best years of your life are still ahead of you."

Last August, Lisa Kilsdonk of Baker, Montana, sent her youngest daughter, Tessa, to Evangel University (Assemblies of God) in Springfield, Missouri. After spending 28 years raising four children, she says this new life stage marks a turning point that is both emotional and rewarding.

"Some days are harder than others," says Kilsdonk, whose husband, Rod, serves as pastor at Baker Assembly of God. "Sometimes the loneliness hits like a tidal wave, and the craziest thing can trigger it, like walking past Tessa's room and seeing it clean - bed made, no clothes on the floor."

Yet Kilsdonk says there are benefits to having the kids raised, such as having more time to devote to ministry, her marriage and her teaching career. She also enjoys close relationships with her other grown children, two of whom have started families of their own.

"I strongly dislike the term empty nest," Kilsdonk says. "It has such a sad, hopeless-sounding connotation. This time is a natural, normal part of the process of life."

A study by the University of Missouri in Columbia suggests many of the changes parents experience after the kids leave home are positive.

"As children age, direct caretaking and influence diminish, and children are often seen by their parents as peers with whom they can have continuing relationships," says Christine Proulx, assistant professor of human development and family studies at the University of Missouri.

Diane Ashton, a mother of three grown sons and a teenage daughter, says her evolving role has left her wondering where to direct the time and energy that had gone into parenting for so many years.

"I'm still working on it and praying about it," says Ashton, who attends Allison Park Church, an Assemblies of God congregation near Pittsburgh. "Fine Arts, Bible Quiz, basketball - that has been my life. Suddenly there's a lot of transition going on, and I'm wondering, Who am I, and what am I supposed to do next?

Adding to the shifting family dynamics, one of Ashton's sons recently moved back in after several years away at college.

"With different kids going different directions, God has made it obvious many times that He is in the middle of it all," Ashton says. "In that way it's all been good. God has shown that He cares about the details of our lives. I'm realizing I don't have to figure it all out. I can stand on God's promises and trust Him with the future."

In today's tough job market, a growing number of young adults are remaining in the nest - or returning to it. A survey by the U.S. Census Bureau found the number of 25- to 34-year-old men living with their parents increased from 14 to 19 percent between 2005 and 2011. Among young women, the figure rose from 8 to 10 percent in the same period.

Nevertheless, most fledglings eventually fly. And while letting go is never easy, Bartel says parents can find satisfaction in watching their children spread their wings.

"Children are a gift from God," Bartel says. "But we have a responsibility to develop them so that God can use them. That also means giving them back to God when the time comes."

Author: Christina Quick, Pentecostal Evangel

 


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