Pastors, Christian marriage authors, and Christian radio programs like to quote the study by Dr. Linda Waite, who found, "Two out of three unhappily married adults who avoided divorce or separation ended up happily married five years later."

When this study came out in 2002, pastors and Christian radio programs went wild, trumpeting this from the pulpit and airwaves. They often proposed that an unhappy couple merely had to stay together a few more years and their marriage would become happy. They also suggested that those who didn't take their advice, and chose to divorce, were quitters who wanted the easy way out.

Pastors and Focus on the Family suggested:

  • —Your unhappy marriage will become happy if you stay 5 years
  • —Divorce will make you unhappy.
  • —Divorcees are selfish people who give up too early and take the easy way out

But people who claimed this did not read the Waite report. (Or if they did, they ignored her real conclusions.) More than seven times, Waite says the opposite, often showing that destructive marriages aren't likely to become happy, and that divorce in those cases often results in increased happiness.

Staying 5 years is unlikely to help where there is serious marriage-endangering sin, such as a pattern of sexual immorality, physical abuse, emotional abuse, life-altering addictions, abandonment or neglect.


BELOW: Seven quotes from Dr. Waite — refuting those misunderstandings of her findings.

Marriage-at-any-cost organizations, such as Focus on the Family, love to quote the Waite 2002 study and her 2003 book. Their articles suggest that marriages will universally improve over time, and that those who divorce are always unhappy.

But that's wrong!
The Waite study actually found something quite different: She found that people in destructive marriages are better off by divorcing, and that 81% of those individuals who remarried during the study were happier in the next marriage!
The main quote you'll hear from Dr. Linda Waite's study is this: "Almost two-thirds of unhappy spouses who stuck with the marriage forged happy marriages down the road" (emphasis mine). And this quote: "Two out of three unhappily married adults who avoided divorce or separation ended up happily married five years later." 
But that means that one-in-three did not ever become happy.  In the last sentence of the Waite study (2002), Dr. Waite says that divorce or separation are likely the best outcome for a destructive marriage:

Seven quotes from Dr. Waite

Quote 1: Waite

"Both people and marriages are likely to be happier in communities with a strong commitment to marital permanence. While some marriages are so destructive that divorce or separation is the best outcome, marriages are more likely to be both happy and stable when marriage is highly valued — a key relation in whose success family, friends, faith communities, counselors, family-law attorneys, and the wider society have an important stake."  — Linda J. Waite, Don Browning, William J. Doherty, Maggie Gallagher, Ye Luo, and Scott M. Stanley, Does Divorce Make People Happy, Institute for Family Values, 2002, p. 33.

Stating the obvious! 


Quote 2: Waite   


"Among those unhappily married spouses who stayed married, what factors predicted happier marriages down the road? Marriages with high conflict and domestic violence were less likely to become happy five years later." p. 11-12

She's saying that you can tell in advance which unhappy marriages are likely to become happy, and it's not the destructive ones. The ones with high conflict and domestic violence aren't as likely to become happy.


Quote 3: Waite

"If the problem is marital violence, divorce appears to offer significant relief."  p. 12

So, we can say people who escaped unhappy violent marriages are often happier. They are greatly relieved to get to safety.


Quote 4: Waite

"When an unhappily married adult experiences violence, divorce and remarriage significantly reduce the likelihood he or she will experience domestic violence (at least from spouses)." p. 12

Here Waite says that divorce and remarriage reduces the likelihood of domestic violence.


Quote 5: Waite

"...24 percent of those unhappy spouses who divorced or separated ended up in a second marriage within five years. Eighty-one percent of those second marriages were happy." p. 12

She's saying the vast majority of unhappily married spouses who divorced and remarried found better partners the second time: 81%!


Quote 6: Waite

"Does divorce make unhappily married people happy? The answer, surprisingly, in this research, seems to be no....With the important exception of reducing the incidence of marital violence for unhappy spouses (in violent marriages), divorce failed, on average, to result in improvements in psychological well-being for unhappy spouses." p. 13-14

She's saying, in general, divorce does not make people happy. But if a person is in a violent home, divorce will likely will reduce the violence and increase their happiness.


Quote 7: Waite   What kinds of marriages improved? The marriages that improved were those with "outside stressors," not bad behavior by one spouse.

"Many spouses we interviewed who survived marital unhappiness did not see problems within the relationship as the cause. Instead they blamed outside forces for causing both unhappiness and relationship stress: Spouses became ill, lost jobs, got depressed, children got into trouble or created marital stresses by their financial and emotional demands." p. 15


Waite is saying that when the problems were illness, lost jobs, financial stress, and kids with behavior problems, those marriages were the types that improved. But when the cause of marital unhappiness was something in the character and behavior of one spouse (for example, drunkenness, infidelity, violence), it did not improve.

Waite lists one story of a serious relationship problem that improved: a husband who stopped drinking after two years. (Two years? This is somewhat humorous. All wives of drug and alcohol addicts wish they could be so fortunate!)



Quote 8: Waite   This quote is from Waite's book A Case for Marriage. Waite agrees with researchers Paul Amato and Alan Booth who concluded that although divorce is usually negative for children, it is beneficial for children in 3 in 10 cases:


“What proportion of divorces are preceded by a long period of overt interparental conflict, and hence, are beneficial to children?” asked Amato and Booth. “From our own data we estimate that less than a third of parental divorces involve highly conflicted marriages.” Just 30 percent of divorcing spouses reported more than two serious quarrels in the past month, and less than a quarter said they disagreed “often” or “very often” with their spouses. This bears repeating: Less than a third of divorces are ending angry high-conflict marriages. —Waite, Linda J.; Maggie Gallagher. The Case for Marriage (p. 147). Crown. Kindle Edition.



Quote 9: Hawkins and Booth   Another study was done three years later by another team of researchers using the SAME data. They didn't just look at five years, they looked at unhappy marriages that had gone on for at least twelve years. They used the same national survey Dr. Waite did, but they did a more thorough job and they measured more than just "happiness," they measured three more factors, including the person's overall health.  They found that—


"Remaining unhappily married is associated with significantly lower levels of overall happiness, life satisfaction, self-esteem and overall health along with elevated levels of psychological distress compared to remaining otherwise continuously married. There is also some evidence that staying unhappily married is more detrimental than divorcing, as people in low-quality marriages are less happy than individuals who divorce and remarry. They also have lower levels of life satisfaction, self-esteem and overall health than individuals who divorce and remain unmarried. Unhappily married people may have greater odds of improving their well-being by dissolving their low-quality unions as there is no evidence that they are better off in any aspect of overall well-being than those who divorce." —Daniel N. Hawkins and Alan Booth, Unhappily Ever after: Effects of Long-Term, Low-Quality Marriages on Well-Being, Social Forces, Vol. 84, No. 1 (Sep., 2005), pp. 451-471, from the abstract


Quote 10: Hetherington

Stories of improved health after a life-saving divorce are common, as leading researcher Dr. Mavis Hetherington notes:

“The one striking exception to the otherwise general rule about postdivorce decline in health were women who had been in distant or hostile marriages.” —Hetherington, Kelly, For Better or For Worse (2002), p. 59


The message that "all marriages will become happier if you stay" is UNSAFE for you and your children.


And by the way, the same people and organizations suggest that all marriage will improve with time, also tend to say that divorce is universally bad for children. But that too is inaccurate: Where there are serious problems, where the marriage is toxic, children whose parents divorce had better well being than children whose parents didn't. They found that "staying for the kids" can be bad for them. Click here for an article on kids and divorce. 

Are you going through a life-saving divorce? I’d like to invite you to my private Facebook group, "Life-Saving Divorce for Separated or Divorced Christians." Just click the link and ANSWER the 3 QUESTIONS. This is a group for women and men of faith who have walked this path, or are considering it.  Also, sign up for my email list below.


Start Here


Physical and Emotional Abuse & Infidelity


God Allows Divorce to Protect Victims


Does God Hate Divorce? No, Most English Bible Translations Don’t Say That


How to Find a Good Supportive Church


What If My Pastor Says It Would Be Wrong to Get Divorced for Abuse?


Divorce Saves Lives: The Surprising (Wonderful!) Truth About Divorce Nobody Told You

Will I Ever Find Love Again? Dating After Divorce: Good News

Finding Happiness and Health After Divorce


Thriving After Divorce: These Christians Tell their Stories

Self-Doubt, Second-Guessing Ourselves, and Gaslighting


Children and Divorce: Researchers Give Hope


High Conflict Divorce and Parenting


Recommended Reading List and Free Resources for Christians and Other People of Faith


Common Myths






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