Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Thousand Broken Hearts

“Every divorce is the death of a small civilization.”
        - novelist Pat Conroy

Each January since 1996 I’ve asked the clerk of the District Circuit Court for the Harrisonburg-Rockingham County marriage and divorce statistics for the previous year.

Fifteen years ago there were 873 marriage licenses issued and 387 divorces granted. Surprisingly, those numbers haven’t changed much. Last year, in spite of a huge population increase in the past decade and a half, the numbers were 933 and 433. In the prior year, 2010, they were only 879 and 358.

At first glance, that may seem like good news. The divorce numbers have remained stable, and the ratio of marriage to divorce numbers hasn’t worsened.  One could even conclude that (only?) around 45% of marriages in our area fail, consistent with national marriage statistics. And some of these divorces, of course, are by people who are experiencing their second, third, or fourth breakups, so it doesn't mean that every couple's first marriage faces the same dismal odds.

But as I point out in an earlier blog, this doesn’t take into account the increasing numbers of couples who hook up and break up each year who are not legally married. Many of these cohabiting couples are in exclusive relationships that are just as psychologically bonded as the wedded ones, and which result in equally painful "emotional divorces" when they break up--which they do in even larger numbers than their legally married counterparts.

But let’s just consider the heartbreak involved in the 433 cases of officially recorded divorces last year.  That means heartbreak for each of the 866 spouses directly involved, and if these couples had an average of one child or step child each (a conservative estimate), that would mean the lives of 1199 people have been forever altered by the “deaths” of their small civilizations, and that doesn’t include the siblings, grandparents. and other close friends and extended family members who are impacted.

I find that heartbreaking. And in bringing this up on Valentines Day, I don’t intend any of this to be condemning or judgmental. Sometimes divorces may be the only sane way to deal with patterns of behaviors like adultery, abuse or addictions in a relationship. But I feel a sense of heartache and grief nevertheless, one that makes me grateful for my having the good fortune of being in a marriage that, while not without its problems, has been a steady source of so much support and blessing.

This morning I included a copy of the following words by Winnie the Pooh, no less, in a Valentine card I gave my beloved:

If you live to be a hundred,
I want to live to be a hundred minus one day,
so I will never have to live a day without you.

Thanks, Alma Jean, for staying married to me for 47 years.

Here are the actual numbers of marriage licenses issued and divorces granted in Harrisonburg/Rockingham County from 1996 -2011. You'll note that the marriage numbers peaked ten years ago, as did the divorce numbers:
96  873   387
97  950   405
98  964   396
99  932   405
00  947   365
01 1003  438
02  976   421
03  961   399
04  959   437
05  889   381
06  929   389
07  925   434
08  950   405
09  903   347
10   879   358
11   933   433
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