The Good News About Marriage
About the Guest
- Listen to Shaunti Feldhahn on the FamilyLife Blended® Podcast with Ron Deal. https://www.familylife.com/podcast/familylife-blended-podcast/the-good-news-about-marriage/
- Shaunti also appears on season 1 of the Married With Benefits podcast with Brian Goins. https://www.familylife.com/podcast/married-with-benefits/
- To learn more and register for the Summit on Stepfamily Ministry visit. https://www.summitonstepfamilies.com/
- Visit FamilyLife Blended® online for articles, videos, resources, for blended families. https://www.familylife.com/blended
- Learn more about becoming a Legacy Partner, a monthly supporter of FamilyLife. https://www.familylife.com/legacy
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In this encouraging exploration of the real state of marriage, researcher and author Shaunti Feldhahn teams up with Ron Deal for a deep look at the facts behind the statistics.
The Good News About Marriage
Bob: At some point in your life, you’ve undoubtedly heard somebody talk about the divorce rate being 50 percent—that 50 percent of marriages end in divorce. Researcher and author, Shaunti Feldhahn, says that number just isn’t true.
Shaunti: There was this one article that was heavily quoted—that quotes Dr. Jennifer Baker as saying that there is a 50 percent first-marriage divorce rate, 60 percent second-marriage, 72 percent third-marriage. A lot of people have used that, so we contacted Dr. Baker. She wrote us back an email, in all capital letters; [Laughter] and it was one line: “THAT’S NOT ME; I NEVER SAID THAT; I’VE BEEN TRYING TO GET THEM TO TAKE MY NAME OFF THAT WEBSITE FOR YEARS.” It was an urban legend.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, May 28th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. So what’s the real story on what’s happening with marriage in our world and in our nation? We’re going to hear some good news about marriage today from author and researcher, Shaunti Feldhahn. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. So we’re going to hear a conversation between two friends of yours today—Ron Deal and Shaunti Feldhahn. You’ve hung out with both of those guys; right?
Dave: Yes; we have a little bit—mostly/more with Ron.
Ann: I love Shaunti.
Dave: Everything she writes we read because it’s based on research.
Dave: She’s presenting stuff that you can’t refute—it’s like: “There it is—it’s in black and white.”
Bob: Well, she wrote a book, a while back, where she was talking about how we get the research wrong when it comes to marriage. She sat down with Ron Deal for Episode 3 of his new podcast, which is called FamilyLife Blended®. They had a conversation about “What is the reality?”—because we’ve all heard, for years, that the divorce rate is
50 percent—50 percent of people who get married get divorced. That’s not the case; but it’s been kind of misinterpreted, as we’ll hear them explain.
Of course, in the area of FamilyLife Blended®, this helps us know how many people are in blended marriages and blended families; because the reality is—more and more people are in blended marriages or blended families, even though the divorce rate is actually going down. We’re going to hear more about that as we listen to this excerpt from Ron’s conversation with Shaunti Feldhahn on the FamilyLife Blended podcast.
Ron: The narrative about the 50 percent divorce rate stat is discouraging people/it’s limiting them—it sends them down the road of, “Well, what’s the point?” and so they lose their energy and their desire to do hard. Even beyond that, you quote in your book, The Good News About Marriage, Dr. Scott Stanley, who’s one of our buddies and favorite researchers out there in the marriage world. He says this, “Some of the myths today about the risks of marriage lead to very bad behaviors that decrease the odds of a marriage succeeding.”
It’s not just—“I get discouraged about the idea or the institution of marriage, so I avoid it all together,” or “If I‘m married, I just kind of give up.” If I’m married, Scott says that negative attitude about it leads me to then make choices and do things that make my marriage worse. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy!
Shaunti: Exactly. It’s interesting—one of the things, when I started seeing—not just that the regular first marriage stats were better than we thought—but that remarriage stats were better than what people thought. You know, there’s differences of opinion on what those are but that they’re better than what we think.
Ron: Right; right.
Shaunti: It’s interesting—I was sharing this with one of my best friends. She had been a single mom for ten or twelve years—difficult/difficult situation and was just about to get remarried. When she saw what I was finding in the statistics, she kind of—it was interesting—she, eventually, sent me an email. I, actually, asked her to read a first draft of the chapter on remarriage.
She said: “First of all, it’s blowing my mind. But secondly, I realized I was about to approach this new marriage all wrong.” She said, “In my mind, I love this guy—he’s a strong Christian man; he’s amazing; he’s going to make a great step-dad to my kids. But”—this is what she said— “’knowing’”—in quotes—“there was a 60 percent chance of me getting divorced again from him, it would be foolish for me to not take steps to protect myself. I have to protect my children.”
She said, “I was going to have a bank account on the side and sort of have this sort of self-protective thing in my heart and in my finances; because knowing that it probably wouldn’t work, I would be foolish not to.” She said, “Knowing that, statistically, I would be unusual if the second marriage didn’t work—knowing that that would be unusual—I can be all in—I can expect it to work. I don’t have to protect myself, because”—she said—“protecting yourself like that builds a wall—
Ron: It does.
Shaunti: —“and causes the problems you’re trying to protect yourself from.”
Ron: The irony there is more research—the one study I did participate in with Dr. David Olson—we wrote a book called The Smart Stepfamily Marriage—one of the things that we found is that guardedness and the fear of another breakup—which is exactly what your friend had, going in, because she thought 60 percent of all stepfamily couples are going to divorce—that that guardedness and fear leads to negativity, that cascades throughout the relationship, that actually does contribute to a less-satisfying marriage and higher risks of divorce. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy
But when you go all in, you begin to do the things that love would call you to do. That is a game-changer when you say, “I’m all in,”—you stop self-protecting. Here’s a way I like to say it, “When I’m protecting me from you, there cannot be an us.” I limit our ability to find intimacy—to fully engage one another/to give everything that we need to give.
There are moments where marriage is hard. There’s great joy in a marriage relationship, but it always requires more of me than I want to give—[Laughter]
Ron: —that’s the discipleship aspect of marriage.
Ron: When I get to that moment—if I’m all in—I find a way to do the sacrifice: to look deeply at myself or to love the way Jesus is calling me to love. But if I’m guarded, then I find the easy way out—I do the self-protective thing. That is a game-changer on the direction of your relationship.
Now, at one point, when you were in the middle of this project, you called me; and we talked. I don’t know if you remember this or not.
Shaunti: Yes! I totally, 100 percent, remember this.
Ron: Well, first of all, I need to say, “Thank you for that phone call”; because I just happened to be doing the revised and expanded update edition of The Smart Stepfamily, and I changed my numbers. If people read The Smart Stepfamily today, it’s got some Shaunti fingerprints on it; [Laughter] and I appreciate that so much.
When we talked, I said to you: “Now, Shaunti, you are walking into some deep waters with all of this. There’s going to be a bunch of academics that come at you hard if you come back and say the divorce rate is not 50 percent. You better talk to everybody who’s doing the research/has done the research—and not just comment on them—but you ought to, actually, speak to them and run this by them, and get their feedback, and hear more of the background that went into their research.”
Shaunti: You gave me a list—
Ron: I did.
Shaunti: —because I had been talking to other people. You were like: “Here are the people that are in the stepfamily world. You need to talk to these people.”
Ron: That’s right. To your credit, you talked to those folks; you talked to other folks and you went in and dug deep. I think that’s huge.
The listener, who’s sitting here, going, “Man, this just can’t be true; I’ve heard this my entire life,”—just know that you went and you, actually, talked to those researchers and academics.
Ron: Were there any interesting stories that came out of your conversations? [Laughter]
Shaunti: Well, the funniest one—because this is one of the most-quoted citations for the 60 percent and 72 percent divorce rates—Psychology Today.
Ron: —which I should tell the listener is a popular magazine, written by psychologists; but yet, it’s meant for the public.
Shaunti: Correct. It is supposed to be heavily based on research; it’s supposed to be something that the public can trust. I’m sure a lot of their articles can be trusted; right? It just happened to be that there was this one article, that was heavily quoted in this world of the divorce rate, that quotes Dr. Jennifer Baker, who is a very well-known researcher at the Forest Institute in Missouri. It quotes Jennifer Baker as saying that there is a 50 percent first-marriage divorce rate, 60 percent second-marriage, 72 percent third-marriage.
We contacted Dr. Baker and said, “Can we get ahold of your study so that we can look at it?”—because that was what we had been doing on all of them—was looking at the actual study, not the news reports. She wrote us back an email in all capital letters. [Laughter]
Ron: —all caps?
Shaunti: —all caps the whole email; and it was one line: “THAT’S NOT ME; I NEVER SAID THAT; I’VE BEEN TRYING TO GET THEM TO TAKE MY NAME OFF THAT WEBSITE FOR YEARS.”
Shaunti: It was an urban legend.
Ron: That was all pre-social media. [Laughter] Let me just say to our listeners: “Today, it’s even worse—the stuff you will hear. I think there is more bad news about marriage and the institution of marriage than ever before. There’s good news about the bad news about marriage—it’s not true.”
Yes; there are marriages that end in divorce—it is a lower number than most people—so what are the numbers? I think 31 percent is a current divorce rate/an actual divorce rate—something like that.
Shaunti: —ish. It just sort of depends—you can make a case for 25 [percent]; you can make a case for 35 [percent]—but there are some numbers that sort of circle around that 30 percent. It is falling because the highest-risk marriages today are the Baby Boomer generation. That generation is passing away, and the younger generation marriages that are coming on board have dramatically lower divorce rates.
The Baby Boomers—by the time they had been married 10 years, they already had a relatively high divorce rate; because of that 1970s thing. The Millennials—by the time they’d been married/those who have been married 10 years—have a much, much lower divorce rate. The population that’s coming in—that is replacing the high-divorce rates with the low-divorce rates—that societal, overall, number is falling.
Ron: Let’s talk about Christians for a minute.
Ron: A little while ago, I asked you, when you talked to the researchers, were there any surprising stories. There’s a number out there—people have heard/I’ve heard it in church, I don’t know how many times—that the divorce rate among Christians is exactly the same—came from a study by George Barna and the Barna Group. Did you talk to them?
Shaunti: Yes; oh, yes. [Laughter]
Ron: What’s the story?
Shaunti: It turns out that that’s a big misunderstanding. It’s actually based on a belief that Barna found something he didn’t actually find. We hear pastors—and I used to say this; okay?—I’m not knocking pastors; I used to say this as well: “The rate of divorce is the same in the church,”—and it’s not.
Barna didn’t find that it was the same in the church, because he wasn’t studying people in the church. He was studying belief systems—so people, who you call them on the phone, and they say they think a Christian way, or a Jewish way, or an atheist way—those people have the same divorce rates. But he specifically excluded whether they went to church from the analysis.
I partnered with Barna, and I bought that same data set. We re-ran all the numbers; but with that one factor added in of: “Was the person in church last week?” We found, if the person was in church last week, the divorce rate dropped by 27 percent—that was a study that wasn’t even trying to get at that. When you look at the studies that have been trying to get at “What is the divorce rate amongst people who attend church regularly?”—where church is a part of their life or their faith is a part of their life—the divorce rate plummets
Ron: Has there been any other research?—maybe even something recently?
Shaunti: Yes; about a year—I want to say about a year-and-a-half ago, there was a Harvard study that found the divorce rate drops 47 percent.
Ron: —when they are engaged in some activity?
Shaunti: —just going to church.
Ron: What’s the meta-message here is: “Living the Christian life is different than just claiming a belief.” Basing your life and having activity in your life that is representative of your faith—things that we could measure—like prayer/things like attending church as an outward sign of something that’s going on inside you—helps us distinguish between people who would just call themselves Christians and people who actually try to live a Christian life. When we do that, the divorce rate comes down considerably from those who don’t hold that faith and don’t live based on that faith. Is that right?
Shaunti: Yes; it is true. Just so you know, Ron—I think you already knew this—but amongst demographers, when you talk about the divorce rate, you’re going to hear everything under the sun. There’s a lot of controversy—nobody agrees; you know, whatever. On this, there’s no controversy. Every demographer knows that this is true; it’s just that every Christian doesn’t—they’ve all been, unnecessarily, discouraged.
Ron: Here’s my commentary on this. I mean, tell me what you think. It seems to me, first of all, that the divorce rate among people of faith should be lower.
Shaunti: Yes; one would hope! [Laughter]
Ron: One would hope. If Jesus offers us anything that makes a difference in our life, and we actually obey and follow, it should make a difference; and sure enough, it does. I love that even secular research has supported that.
What we do have to talk a little bit about is the difference between belief and activity; right? There are people, who go to church and are kind of spectator Christians; they’re not interested in actually living the Christian life. They’re just wanting to be around it and punch their clock and go to church. But when conviction moves us towards obedience, it does make a difference in our relationships.
Are there things that you would recommend to couples that they do—that, again, are outwardly signs of the conviction in their heart?
Shaunti: Yes; all of those things are going to matter. There’s no one magic bullet; because if you look at every conceivable research study, they are all over the map—like: “What matters the most…”
The key is, essentially, “Are you trying to listen to God and put Him at the center of your marriage?” I mean—because that will mean, for some couples, praying together. “Are there other things?”—yes; individually—I would say—if you’re trying to keep your own relationship with the Lord, front and center, and trying to put it in your marriage relationship in some way, then you are going to try to put the other person first. You’re going to do things that are different than somebody, who doesn’t have the power of the Holy Spirit working in you, and working on your conscience, and helping you and giving you strength when you don’t have it in your own self.
Ron: By the way, I do think it’s important that we get the direction of this right. One of my colleagues, here, at FamilyLife® shared with me recently—he just put this very poignantly—he said: “You know, God didn’t give us faith for marriage. He gave us marriage for faith.”
Shaunti: That’s good.
Ron: Marriage is helping us become more Christ-like. There’s nothing wrong with saying, “Boy, I want to be like Jesus,” and “What’s my personal walk with Jesus and how’s that impacting my marriage?” but marriage is not the ultimate there. The ultimate is to become more Christ like/to follow in the footsteps of our Savior.
Even the hard things in marriage are shaping us, are molding us/refining us into the image of Christ. It invites us—it’s a two-way street. You know, the hard things in my marriage—I have to go: “What am I going to do? This is driving me crazy!” I have this little conversation with the Lord: “Okay; what have You told me to do? [Laughter] Alright; I need to look first at myself. I need to wrestle with who I am and how I’ve been in this situation,” and “How do I bring some truth and love to what I’m really feeling?” and “How do I present my struggle with what’s going on with my marriage to my wife in a way that’s palatable, and gentle, and patient rather than full of anger, and rage, and retaliation?”
That whole internal dialogue with God is teaching me to be like Christ and, at the same time, helping me be a husband.
Shaunti: Well, it is going to come out as the fruits of the Spirit; right?
Ron: Yes; yes.
Shaunti: For me, I know myself—you’ve known me for quite a few years—I am a pretty strong, opinionated personality.
Ron: Really? [Laughter] I would’ve never guessed.
Shaunti: You would’ve never guessed—neither would Jeff! [Laughter] My personality is such that, in my own self—if Jeff says something that hurts my feelings—oh boy, he’s going to know about it—like I am going to come back with a biting comment; I’m going to say something that is going to hurt his feelings back.
But one of the fruits of the Spirit is self-control. That, for me, is an example of that marriage tension—whatever’s going on with me and Jeff—being used by God/by the power of the Holy Spirit to help me to just shut up and not say something that, five minutes later, I’m going to go, “Darn, that hurt his feelings; and it just put us on a downward spiral, and there was no point.” That’s a fruit of the Spirit—that God is trying to build in me for every area—and He’s using my marriage to do it.
Bob: Well, again, we’ve just heard a portion of Ron Deal’s conversation with Shaunti Feldhahn. If you want to hear the entire conversation, you should subscribe to Ron’s podcast, which is called FamilyLife Blended. You can go to FamilyLifeToday.com. This is actually Episode 3, and we just heard a portion of it. She wrote a book called The Good News About Marriage, and there is a lot of good news. We hear the bad news, but the research/the statistics show there are some good trends when it comes to marriage in our culture today.
Ann: And that feels hopeful; because it seems like, over the years, the news has been very bleak about marriage. I think people are afraid to step into it.
Dave: Yes; I think, when you hear bad news, it’s sort of self-fulfilling. You sort of give up easier. When you hear good news, you’re like :“I’m going to fight for this. Other couples are fighting for it. The divorce rate isn’t as high as we thought. Let’s win this thing and let’s be one of those that make it.”
Ann: I think one of the most hopeful things I’ve seen with Millennials is they’re trying to get help before they get married. They’re trying to invest in their relationship and learn the “how to’s” so they don’t make the same mistakes, maybe, that their parents have made.
Bob: Yes; we’re seeing that with the number of Millennial couples, who are coming to Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways, and there are encouraging signs. In fact, I’d encourage our listeners to hear the entire conversation between Ron and Shaunti. It’s really revealing; and as I said, it’s encouraging. You’ll find out as you listen to the entire interview why Shaunti disagrees with the projections that some demographers are making about where the divorce rate is headed. She talks about why she thinks Millennials are having a lower divorce rate than their parents or grandparents did.
Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com to listen to the entire conversation. This is a part of Ron Deal’s FamilyLife Blended podcast, which is part of the FamilyLife Podcast Network. If you’re looking for some great new podcasts to subscribe to—to download to your phone and have available anytime you want to listen to them—FamilyLife Blended with Ron Deal, Unfavorable Odds with Kim Anthony, the new Married with Benefits podcast with Brian Goins and Shaunti Feldhahn—all of those are available. You can subscribe and find out more when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com.
By the way, there’s information there about Shaunti’s book, The Good News About Marriage, which is a book we’ve got in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can order that book from us online as well. Once again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com. If we can help you with anything, or if you’d like to order the book by phone, call 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
One more quick note: Coming up in October, Ron Deal is going to be hosting the 2019 Summit on Stepfamily Ministry in Chesapeake, Virginia—in the Norfolk area—dealing with the issue of stepfamilies in crisis. There’s more information about that upcoming Summit on Stepfamily [Ministry]. You’ll find it on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Now, we are in the final week of the month. This is a significant time for us, because many of you know about the matching gift that has been made available to FamilyLife. We’re hoping to take full advantage of that matching gift this week. If we’re going to do that, we need to hear from listeners to make either a onetime donation or to become a monthly Legacy Partner.
David Robbins, who’s the President of FamilyLife, is here with me. This is an important week for us.
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I got an email this week—I think I passed it on to you, Bob—it was a good one. This guy said:
Hey David, I’ve been working with a couple in my small group, whose marriage is hanging on by a thread. The husband is in unrepentant sin, but I have great relationship capital with him. I confronted him once, myself, back in February about his unrepentance.
Last week, I took another guy in my group and we met with him. Going into it, I was unsure of what to say until I listened to the FamilyLife Today episode on lies men believe about sexuality. It was a game-changer. I played the podcast version with all three of us. We listened to it together; my friend broke down. The episode gave me perfect language to use with this guy. The confrontation couldn’t have gone better.
My friend invited us in, and he has a meeting with his pastor this week. I’m not sure what will happen yet, but I know it is no coincidence I listen to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for giving me tools to minister to my friend.
So when you partner with us—not only are we bringing help and hope into your own life, we pray and hope—but also, it provides tools and resources for all of us to be ambassadors of Christ and to take His hope and who Jesus is to the world around us.
Bob: Well, and as we said, May is a strategic month for your help; because we’ve had some friends of the ministry, who have made available this matching-gift fund—$645,000. We need to take full advantage of that this week, so we’re asking listeners: “Either make a one-time donation or become one of our monthly Legacy Partners and agree to make monthly donations over the next 12 months.” In either case, your donations are going to be matched, dollar for dollar. If you become a Legacy Partner, all of your donations for the next 12 months will be matched, dollar for dollar, until the fund is gone.
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Now, tomorrow, we’re going to talk about what differentiates marriages that are going well from marriages that are struggling. Chip Ingram is going to join us to talk about marriages that work. We’ll spend some time in Ephesians, Chapter 5, with him. I hope you can join us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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