How’s the economy doing?
The “numbers” often obscure the picture: the stock market surges while unemployment slowly spirals upwards. As for GDP and the TED Spread…um…what?! In the end, no two economists agree on the answer to the question.
For most folks, the real question is this: How does the recession affect my day-to-day life?
We’ve heard the stories: journalists, pilots, automotive dealers, and factory workers who’ve lost jobs and businesses, families who’ve lost homes. More insidious effects likely lie beneath the surface—stress-induced health problems, rising crime, and familial strife.
With all this financial stress on families, you might expect a rise in divorce filings. Instead, social scientists have seen just the opposite. According to an LA Times story earlier this year, University of Maryland sociologist Philip N. Cohen found that between 2009 and 2011, there were around 150,000 fewer divorces than would usually be expected in the U.S.
At first glance, a decrease in divorce filings might sound like a silver lining. It’s not such great news for family lawyers and investigators who specialize in divorce cases, but could it be good news for families? A case of external stress bringing couples closer, maybe?
Andrew Cherlin says unfortunately, no. “”This is exactly what happened in the 1930s,” he told the LA Times. “The divorce rate dropped during the Great Depression not because people were happier with their marriages, but because they couldn’t afford to get divorced.”
Phoenix family-law attorney Bonnie Booden concurred. “Most people in the middle-income brackets are getting by on whatever income they have,” she told MSN money, adding that many couples are choosing to stick it out for the time being because the cost of splitting a household into two is prohibitive.
And those who did decide to get divorced in recent years, economy be damned, were less likely to hire attorneys, according to a 2012 story in the Sarasota, FL Herald-Tribune. “For the past five years,” the story read, “55 percent of divorce cases in Manatee and Sarasota counties have included at least one spouse who is pro se” (representing himself in court).
The story goes on to say:
The bad economy means fewer assets to fight over, and several people representing themselves in divorce court say they have no choice because they cannot raise $2,500 to $5,000 for lawyer. —Sarasota, FL Herald-Tribune
But as the economy recovers, says the LA Times, the divorce rate is beginning to rise again. “The economic uptick may have finally given them the freedom to split,” the story posits. But Andrew Cherlin cautions against reading the cause-effect relationship too simply—economic swings aren’t necessarily influencing whether marriages will last, he says, but merely the timing of when people choose to initiate a split.
In the meantime, where does this leave spouses facing a frosty and prolonged in-home separation, waiting until they can afford the inevitable divorce?
Try a little damage control. For starters, check out the work of Dr. John Gottman, the noted relationship researcher Malcolm Gladwell famously profiles in his 2005 book Blink. (See excerpt.)
Gottman has observed thousands of couples for more than three decades, and he offers the following tips for improving relationships. For best results, steer away from the “four horsemen”—his term for the communications styles he considers most disastrous to relationships: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.
You can read more about the four horsemen and myths of marital dysfunction here.
Meanwhile, make nice. And keep your family attorney’s number on speed-dial.