Unquestionable to the conventional wisdom about divorce is that it at least makes people happier. Yet experience suggests that in divorce, happiness and unhappiness have textures and nuances and subtleties not immediately apparent. People who think divorce solves all their problems often find themselves wrestling with them with fewer resources and more loneliness. For example, former spouses who are parents, deal with each other at least until the children are grown, often with less control about differences regarding parenting.
Marriage takes two people both committed to it. When one spouse has physically or emotionally checked out, or changed so profoundly from the person who walked down the aisle (because of addiction, for example), things may be too far gone to save, and the injured party may well be better off without a dead marriage dragging him or her to the bottom. In this case, divorce does not answer life’s problems, and though it is not a decision to be made lightly, it offers the hope of something, if not better, then at least different.
Divorce, one the other hand, takes only one person. In a divorce, usually one spouse calls it quits first, and very often the other is blindsided. Thus, a lot depends on who is the leaver and who is left — whether a spouse is the person who started the divorce or the partner who has no idea about the divorce. The initiator thinks or knows or believes he or she will have a better life outside the marriage, so he or she moves on. The person, who is left, the one who is content in the marriage, very likely has nothing to go to after the marriage ends. The partner that is left, faces what seems like a grand canyon of emptiness and a large gap previously filled by his or her partner and marriage. Older people find it much harder than younger people to fill the gap.
Even if a marriage is unhappy, it does mean company, security, social position, that a single person does not have at home alone. The leaver may have someone else to move on to, but the person left faces a silent empty house that used to be a home. So, if the leaver moves on to someone else, he or she may be happy, but the person left alone in a silent empty house, unless he or she goes out and meets new people is probably going to be unhappy and depressed.
And of course, if there is domestic abuse, then the victim would likely be happier, particularly if he or she takes the kids and the family pet, so they would have company, and moves to a peaceful environment.
At some point in the unraveling of a marriage, the leaver and the person left may struggle with a chicken and egg question, are they unhappy because they are in the marriage, or is the marriage unhappy because they are in it? Against all this, it seems that a better approach is to try and tackle the unhappiness with counseling, a marriage retreat, and recalling why the partners married in the first place to rekindle that and make the best of things.
The truth is people often become depressed about marital, romantic, or family problems. For example, one study found an unhappy marriage increased the risk of clinical depression 25 times over untroubled marriages.
Statistics may suggest that getting a divorce does not make people happier. Here are some numbers:
> 100 Single (never married) women; typically 2.4% of them are depressed.
> 100 Married (never divorced) women have a depression rate of 1.5%.
> 100 Women who have been divorced once have a depression rate of 4.1%
> 100 Women divorced twice have a depression rate as high as 5.8%.
Sometimes unhappy spouses blame their partners for their dissatisfaction. A person creating his or her own unhappiness takes it with himself or herself beyond the relationship. Though there may find temporary pleasure in escape or with another, whatever is causing the unhappiness will eventually resurface. It is wise to remember the lyrics from an old Clint Black song “Wherever You Go,” and the line “Wherever you go, there you are.”