The Increasing Divorce Rate In America — Why Marriage Isn't Always Meant To Last

Maybe we weren't all meant to live happily ever after.

couple getting divorce 4 PM production / Shutterstock

Given that nearly half of all marriages end in divorce, I believe we should all plan accordingly; it’ll make our lives so much better.

Even when you're standing at the altar, you should probably assume your marriage won't last for eternity.

Instead, assume someday you might want out. And not just you. That person standing there with you, too.

In that world, we'll have happier marriages with more honest communication and expectations. And happier divorces, as well. No failure. No gloom. Just a normal, expected outcome.


What is the divorce rate in America?

As of the most recent studies, approximately 39% of all marriages in the U.S. end in divorce.

This is certainly an improvement from the formerly accepted 50% divorce rate, but let's be straight — we all know divorced people, and most of us couldn’t care less. Do we go around shaming people thinking of divorce? Or ostracizing divorcees? Not much anymore, and we shouldn't ever.

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This is just stating the obvious, right? Still, we have a hard time embracing that “till death do us part” is a Santa Claus fantasy for grownups — and an often harmful one.


If we can admit that marriages often do not last forever, we’ll save so many people from stress, anguish, and the guilt-ridden, shame-inducing delusion that divorce is a failure. Because it’s not. It’s typical.

I’m not saying that happy couples should break up. If you find a soulmate for life, congrats! I’m jealous.

But if you’re an average human and don’t (or can admit you probably won’t) find that forever love, I believe you should rid yourself of the pressure to remain content with just one partner for your whole life. What do you have to gain?

This is not meant to be cold or unromantic. Most people genuinely love their partners when they say “I do.” In fact, data from the Pew Research Center shows that 90% of married adults in the U.S. say love was a major factor in their decision to wed.

Reasons for marriage and cohabitation differ considerably on some dimensions

Many still love their spouse when they realize they want to divorce — just not in the same way.

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Or maybe they don’t love them anymore. That’s not an indictable offense. These are normal life changes, not crimes or sins, and they’re no reason to turn feelings of guilt and shame into fire aimed at one another.


On the contrary, the commonality and inevitability of such life changes are all the more reason to keep breakups amicable, fair, and even loving.

This is also not making moral or value judgments on the sanctity of marriage, the importance of commitment, or the necessity to continuously work on our relationships. It’s just trying to provide a common-sense answer to a common-sense question:

Should marriage be expected to continue forever?

Forever is a long time.

If we get hitched at, say, 30, and live to say, 80, why, that’s 50 years. How many relationships — how many anythings — last 50 years? How many business partnerships? How many people live in the same house for 50 years? The same city? How many close friends stay close friends that long?


I know, most consider marriage more important and sacred than such things, which is even more reason to view marriage with deep honesty and compassion. If something’s really sacred, why lie to ourselves about it?

The truth remains: even happy, successful marriages — with couples that do the work and collaborate, forgive and recommit — even they probably aren’t going to be content for 50 years. And that’s ok. Successful or otherwise, marriages should just end successfully. They often do.

We see examples of famed “conscious uncouplings” like that of Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin, but also of everyday folks who quietly and amicably move on.

Even with children. Kids today are surrounded by divorce: their social networks are filled with single parents and kids of split families. It’s normal to them.


Of course, kids are unhappy if mom and dad break up, but, if handled properly, they’re not doomed to be shocked, scandalized, or scarred for life.

Forever is a nearly unattainable objective, born of bygone eras when marriages were business deals brokered for merging families, finances, or bloodlines.

Or when “till death do us part” was a much briefer journey — when people in their 50s and 60s slowed down and retired from energetic activity to sit in rocking chairs, waiting for the undertaker.

But happily, those days are gone. We’re going to live to be 70, 80, 90, or even 100, with, if we’re lucky, active brains and bodies pretty much to the end. We should be free to pursue happiness throughout our long, healthy lives.


That often means allowing ourselves to start over. Fresh beginnings and second, third, or fourth chances, unconstrained by antiquated notions about contracts binding us for life.

It’s ok to want that. It’s ok to go for it.

Still, even in modernity, we keep telling ourselves that divorce is a failure or needs to be a war.


But why is that, exactly? Because we're still busy judging our lives based on criteria created eons ago by people who thought the sun revolved around the Earth?

I hope all marriages last forever. I just know they often don’t. And I’m good with that.

Humans are messy. That’s just who we are. And pretending otherwise can do more harm than good.

In today’s world, “til death do us part” may be one of the most foolish, least reliable oaths one could take, so let’s stop holding people to the fire and feigning surprise when they can't follow through.

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Steve Kane is a writer who focuses on divorce, marriage, and relationships.