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Marriage is at its Most Fragile in the First Ten Years

September 24, 2013  |   Posted by :   |   Blog

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A study of divorce patterns over the past 50 years conducted by the Marriage Foundation suggests that the state of marriage in the UK isn’t quite as dire as recent reports would have us believe. Or, at least, the strength of a marriage depends on whether or not a couple make it through the first ten years. After a decade together, modern married couples are just as likely to stay together for life as their grandparents’ generation.

Divorce is most common between five and nine years of marriage, according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), but beyond that period, divorce rates are almost exactly the same as they have been since the 60s. And even the instability of newlyweds is dwindling, with predictions that British divorce rates could drop to the lowest levels seen within a generation.

The Marriage Foundation is a think-tank created by High Court judge Sir Paul Coleridge in the hope of promoting marriage and lowering divorce rates. An analysis of the divorce figures taken over the last 50 years, the study suggested that it was initially a rise in cohabitation that was responsible for increasingly fragile marriages. However, more recently, as cohabitation for unmarried couples became the norm, those who went on to marry tended to have a more committed relationship, leading to a reduction of divorce cases.

The ONS reports that the percentage of marriages ending in divorce has dropped from 45% to 42% in the last few years, with a 20% risk of separation within the first ten years. After spending ten years together, however, a couple’s likelihood of divorce drops to 13% for the next decade, and to 6% and 2% in subsequent decades. In contrast, the risk of divorce in early marriage rose from 15% to 23% between the 70s and 90s, and is only now showing signs of dropping.

Interestingly, the results revealed that the pattern was true for first, second and subsequent marriages, with societal effects like the recession having absolutely no effect on rates. Couples who make it to ten years consistently stay together. It’s clear, then, that most a marriage is at its most vulnerable in its early years, so what can new couples do to form a strong relationship during this time?

Many marital breakups can be attributed to the pressures of family life, finances, work, and perhaps the fact that many of us don’t have the nearby support of our extended families. Couples who are able to forge firm foundations within the first ten years of marriage tend to be clear about their individual roles, responsibilities and expectations of each other, as well as being good negotiators. Perhaps there’s an element that’s less tangible, too – that ‘spark’ that draws a couple together – and if it’s still there after a decade, you’re onto a winner.

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