The separation of Al and Tipper Gore after forty years as husband and wife produced a flood of commentary concerning what’s purportedly impossible, and possible, in modern marriage.
According to rapidly calcifying conventional wisdom, the Gore breakup shows that it’s impossible to uphold the old ideal of “till death do us part,” and indicates that even the best-matched couples can’t reasonably expect that their love can last a lifetime.
Meanwhile, admiring pundits note that the Gores have handled their situation with dignity and discretion, demonstrating the real possibility of a “good divorce.”
Actually, both conclusions contradict reality for most Americans. The statistics show that loving lifetime marriage isn’t just possible, it’s prevalent. And common sense and sad experience expose the notion of the good divorce as a destructive myth, since the end of every marriage brings pain, problems and damage to society.
Concerning the widespread assumption that all marriages go stale or sour over time, The New York Times recently reported on a major study by neuroscientists at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who monitored brain function in long-term couples to check on the survivability of romantic love. To their surprise, a full forty-percent of these veteran partners showed intensely romantic neural reactions to one another, indistinguishable from the excitement and enthusiasm characteristic of newly formed relationships. Most of the other sixty percent with less spark and heat still expressed satisfaction and affection concerning their spouses, reflecting numerous surveys showing 75% of all American couples registering high contentment levels with their unions.
Why, then, do fifty-percent of all marriages end in divorce?
The simple answer is, they don’t: the fifty-percent divorce rate is a pernicious myth that’s never been true and grossly misstates the current situation. All figures show the divorce rate (measured as the number of divorces per population) peaked in 1981 and has gone down dramatically since that time.