How to avoid the devastation of divorce

Psychology instructor Laura Duvall talks about the important of age in a successful marriage. (MaryAnne Shults)

MaryAnne Shults

Katrina and Nick fell in love their last year in college. After graduating, Nick proposed and they married six months later. They moved into a cute apartment, both establishing their careers. Two years later, they found themselves signing divorce papers. What went wrong?

About 50 percent of marriages end in divorce or separation, according to the National Survey of Family conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics in 2010. The couple above is a hypothetical example, but based on fact.

Laura Duvall, a psychology instructor at Saddleback College, led a discussion last Wednesday about five factors that predict divorce. Those attending learned what can make or break a marriage. 

“The most common concern of college students about divorce is because their parents or close friends have gone through divorce and they know how painful it is,” Duvall said. “They want to make the right decisions.”

Experts have proven that the best chance of a long and happy marriage are based on age at time of marriage, how long the couple knew each other prior to engagement, compatible values and goals, communication, and marriage expectations.

Duvall also highly recommended pre-marital counseling to bring issues of possible future conflict out on the table.

“Pre-marital counseling is a gift-it can do wonders,” Duvall said. “It can make you see things you never realized.”

Odds of divorce are lowest for a couple who marry after age 25 and had a two-plus years engagement with high and realistic expectations of marriage and were willing to work hard to meet those. Odds are highest for a couple who are too young, especially a “starter marriage,” which Duvall described as a marriage at an early age for issues such as religious views.

“Couples need time to really get to know each other,” Duvall said. “If you don’t give it enough time, you are not showing your true ugly self.”

More importantly, the couple who maintained open communication, especially about values, attitudes and goals related to personal finances, children, religion, career and marriage roles will probably survive normal marital discord.

“I had friends in grad school who married after dating 10 years. She wanted a large family, he wanted none,” Duvall said. “They never addressed the issue of children. She was 31 and after having their first child, she threw a box of condoms at him and said she was going off the pill. After their second child, they divorced.”

However, children of divorced parents have higher divorce rates. Their models demonstrated poor communication and marriage skills. Second marriages also have higher divorce rates, especially if there are children from the previous marriage.

“Third and fourth marriages have a 75 percent divorce rate,” Duvall said.

Duvall summarized her tips for a long and happy life together.

“Keep your expectations high, but realistic,” she said. “Expect a lot from marriage, prepare for conflict, and get professional help if needed.”

As part of Psychology Week, Duvall will host a discussion called “Communication and Romantic Relationships” on Monday, April 2, at 3:15 p.m.

“John Gottman did a study on the relationship between communication and relationships, marriage and divorce,” Duvall said. “He showed the way communication falls apart follows a pattern.”

Her lecture will include information from Gottman’s study and how communication can help or hinder a relationship.