An odd combination of two media experiences got me thinking about which I would find more devastating: the death of my beautiful and talented spouse – or a divorce. First, the new Fall Out Boy album contained a song called The Take Over, The Breaks Over with the line: "Wouldn’t you rather be a widow than a divorcee?" Next, a General Conference talk given by Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints entitled Divorce included the following statement:
Now I speak to married members, especially to any who may be considering divorce. I strongly urge you and those who advise you to face up to the reality that for most marriage problems, the remedy is not divorce but repentance. Often the cause is not incompatibility but selfishness. The first step is not separation but reformation. Divorce is not an all-purpose solution, and it often creates long-term heartache. A broad-based international study of the levels of happiness before and after “major life events” found that, on average, persons are far more successful in recovering their level of happiness after the death of a spouse than after a divorce.1 Spouses who hope that divorce will resolve conflicts often find that it aggravates them, since the complexities that follow divorceâ€”especially where there are childrenâ€”generate new conflicts.
The abstract of the study reads as follows:
Hedonic adaptation refers to the process by which individuals return to baseline levels of happiness following a change in life circumstances. Dominant models of subjective well-being (SWB) suggest that people can adapt to almost any life event and that happiness levels fluctuate around a biologically determined set point that rarely changes. Recent evidence from large-scale panel studies challenges aspects of this conclusion. Although inborn factors certainly matter and some adaptation does occur, events such as divorce, death of a spouse, unemployment, and disability are associated with lasting changes in SWB. These recent studies also show that there are considerable individual differences in the extent to which people adapt. Thus, happiness levels do change, and adaptation is not inevitable.
There are no doubt exceptions, but could it be on a general level that losing a spouse to the grave is really less devastating than losing one to divorce?
1 Richard E. Lucas, "Adaptation and the Set-Point Model of Subjective Well-Being: Does Happiness Change after Major Life Events?" Current Directions in Psychological Science, Apr. 2007, available at www.psychologicalscience.org._ (I was able to find the study here.)
Similarly tagged OmniNerd content: