Over the past 40 years, marriage assistance has moved away from reconciliation efforts and towards helping couples quickly divorce. A myriad of professionals are available to help ease the divorce process, including lawyers, financial advisors, and parenting educators. However, this trend of “easy” divorce has limited the options for couples to work through their problems and save the marriage. People become swept up in the divorce process and are rarely allowed the opportunity to slow down and consider reconciliation.
Even when couples are embroiled in the divorce process, reconciliation is still possible. In a recent study, William J. Doherty and colleagues surveyed almost 2,500 people who had begun divorce court proceedings. Their researchers found that 1 in 3 men and 1 in 5 women believed their marriage could be saved despite having filed for divorce. Both spouses believed they could work to save the marriage in about 1 in 9 couples. Similarly, about 1 in 3 men and 1 in 4 women expressed an interested in reconciliation services. About 1 in 10 couples had both partners report they would seriously consider trying reconciliation services. These findings are consistent with prior research which showed approximately 10-15% of couples who separate later reconcile.
The participants’ backgrounds were also analyzed to determine which characteristics make a couple more likely to consider reconciliation. Even after divorce proceedings have begun, men are twice as likely to believe the marriage can be saved if the couple had previously attended marital counseling, and 4 times as likely to believe in saving the marriage if their spouse initiated divorce proceedings. Women are more likely to believe the marriage can be saved, even after the divorce process has begun, if it is the first marriage as opposed to the second. For both genders, a person is more likely to consider reconciliation services if the other spouse initiated the divorce: men are over 8 times more likely, and women are over 5 times more likely.
While this study cannot be readily generalized to divorcing couples across the US because the participants were limited to parents of minor children in one geographical region, the results warrant consideration. Many couples divorce when the marriage can be saved. This study shows it is reasonable to assume 10% of couples currently involved in divorce proceedings are candidates for reconciliation. Similarly, the study may appear limited because it questioned only the beliefs of the participants, not their actions. Simply because a person would consider reconciliation services does not mean that person will seek out assistance or successfully reconcile. However, believing a marriage can be saved is the first step towards making reconciliation a reality.