I read an article recently on a new study finding that people who grow up with lots of siblings are more likely to stay married.
Well, I can see that. I imagine having more siblings means having to develop better interpersonal skills and self-advocacy but at the same time knowing this isn’t exactly helpful … it’s not as if I can magic up some siblings from somewhere either for me or for my kids and even if I could, with one kid in college and the other in high-school, I think we’re all past the point of benefiting from more siblings.
It reminded of the points I like to review with coaching clients when they tell me that the divorce statistics and studies scare them.
1. So What!
As you read a divorce-related study ask if you can identify with the subjects of the study and if you have any control over the variables.
In the sibling study example, we’re all members of a family so we have something in common with the study subjects but we have no control over the number of siblings we have. While the findings may be interesting, the study itself should have little bearing on your deliberations on divorce. And for sure, if you’re thinking about divorce, now is not the time to consider adding another child to your family in the hopes that they may protect your current children from divorce.
On the other hand, read a study that finds more women file for divorce than men and you’re a woman thinking about filing … read on. Or read about how the divorce rate in the over-50’s is increasing and you’re 58 … read on.
2. There’s More To It!
My favorite example in this category is the often-quoted statistic that more women file for divorce than men.
I’ll admit that at times I am overly detailed-oriented but my first reaction to this is wanting to know how that information was collected because here in the U.S. there is no central repository for this … divorces are all filed in local jurisdictions. So how is this data collected? What I’m trying to get a feel for here is how large the sample was, where it was geographically and any factors that might skew the results.
Then I move on to asking what is being interpreted from this?
I certainly don’t equate filing for divorce with choice: Is the woman who files for divorce to stop her husband from removing her from his employer-sponsored health insurance plan truly making a choice to end her marriage or choosing to protect her basic well-being and survival?
Nor do I see filing as being initiating divorce: Is filing for divorce after 42 years of marriage and your spouse’s serial affairs what truly ends a marriage?
It could be that both spouses have agreed to a divorce and someone had to file to get the ball rolling.
It could be that it’s just paperwork and women are better at managing paperwork.
The point here is to be very careful about drawing conclusions from numbers that are simple mathematical facts.
3. They Aren’t You!
The most important reason for not letting these studies influence your decision is that you and your situation are unique.
Every divorce expert I’ve talked to has said the same thing: no two divorces are the same. There are so many variables that the combinations are limitless. What happens to someone else during their divorce isn’t necessarily going to happen to you. It’s not a predictor.
4. You Control The Outcome
Even if by some small chance of probability, your characteristics did match those of a subject in a study, it still doesn’t predict the future. You have the ability to influence the outcome.
Divorce is obviously a stressful event for children and we know that the amount of post-divorce conflict influences how well children adjust. Instead of taking that to mean we shouldn’t divorce, it points to the need for understanding where the stress for children comes from, the common causes of conflict between former spouses, and ways to handle that conflict to minimize the impact on the children.
I think this is where the greatest value in divorce-related studies comes. Divorce is one of life’s major events and it isn’t going away. But by understanding the consequences of divorce, we can do more to make it less painful and stressful for all.