Marriage, Divorce and Living Together

By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.

Over time divorce rates and marriage rates have gradually moved closer. More are divorcing and less are marrying.

If marriage interferes with personal happiness, divorce seems to be more of an option. Spouses explore whether or not they can be happy in the marriage, and if not, divorce is the next step. At the same time, people are scared to divorce because they can’t afford it. As the marriage deteriorates further, divorce becomes inevitable, often around the same time a bankruptcy is an option.

Many of the around fifty percent of adults who are not married, would like to get married, but are postponing it. When couples live together before marriage, either they are aiming at commitment, with marriage as a future option, or they fear commitment due to personal or economical reasons. Those who are postponing marriage for economical reasons are waiting for greater financial stability. The lower your income, the less likely you’ll opt out of marriage. Currently, there are more single parents and kids born out of wedlock than ever.

Some couples that live together before marriage will never commit, and some eventually commit because that’s the expectation, not necessarily a wish. Marrying out of expectation is a risk for divorce. Research is not positive about cohabitation, indicating that cohabitators report the lowest levels of sexual satisfaction and higher rates of depression, addiction and aggression. If there are kids involved, there are often more problems with the kids. Another growing segment experiencing such problems is those that live together after divorce.

Commitment appears to be the greatest determinant of a lasting marriage. Couples that involve themselves in spiritual practices more than four times a week have a divorce rate less than one percent. Religious couples also report the highest rates of sexual satisfaction.

The following are extracts of an article from the Northwest Herald in McHenry County:


To Tie or Not to Tie (the Knot)

To have and to hold. For better or worse. For richer or poorer. In sickness and in health. To love and to cherish. Until death do us part.

In a day when the wedding industry brings in billions of dollars each year and love and commitment have come to be symbolized by the size of a diamond or the price of a dress, these simple, sacred vows can get lost.

It’s easy to stick to a promise when times are good. It’s the sicker and poorer parts that test the strength of a couple’s commitment.

Penny and Ken Schwall of McHenry know what it means to endure those tests. They have faced the joys and struggles of parenthood and both have lost jobs, but what happened 2 1⁄2 years ago changed their lives forever.

Ken Schwall had to move into a Barringtonnursing home after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at age 36, on top of two other lifelong birth defects in his spine.

Now both in their 50s, the Schwalls are living separately – he in the nursing home and she with their two adult daughters in the family’s McHenry home.

“What I tease about now is that we’ve had every test of our wedding vows,” Schwall said. “There are times when it seems easier just to walk away – it’s the till death do us part’ thing you always come back to.”

Times weren’t always so difficult for the couple. Penny Schwall still remembers the feeling she got when she first met Ken, how they dated for three years before getting married. Their parents are now dead, but Penny remembers that they set an example of staying together.

“Wedding vows should be a sacred commitment and taken seriously,” she said. “We didn’t live together or anything beforehand; we waited till we got married. That’s really been one of the first and foremost things, taking it seriously. Marriage was very important to us as far as being together and having a family.”


“Trends all around the United States seem to show that this is what’s happening – there are fewer marriages and more people residing together,” said Sara Busche, an attorney with Gitlin, Busche and Stetler in Woodstock. “A lot of the time, this is a way people cut costs. The law has to catch up to try to address issues when these breakups occur later, though. Because when you live together with someone for a long time and acquire assets together, there’s no law that addresses how that’s handled with unmarried people.”

The ways in which arrangements such as this affect individual relationships can’t be described in uniform terms. However, the Rev. Ken Gibson of Grace Lutheran Church in Woodstock said that there are dangers that come when couples decide to cohabitate before marriage.

“A lot of young people are looking through some rose-colored glasses and don’t get where they’re at in life,” he said. “There is some danger in it because they haven’t done the work. It’s a convenience.”

Gibson said his church provides counseling before big steps such as marriage and combining households, which help couples prepare for their life together by helping them figure out what to expect.

“What I tell my young people is, ‘You’re coming in talking about a wedding, I’m talking about a marriage,’ ” he said. “A wedding is one day – a marriage is a much longer commitment.”


The faces of those deciding to end their marriages are changing, as well, Busche said.

“There’s no typical or mean age for divorce, but lately I’ve noticed there are a lot of people coming in who are older, who had long-term marriages,” she said. “Their children are gone and they’re deciding the marriage is dead.”

When Busche joined the firm nine years ago, she typically saw people coming in after their “seven-year itch,” she said. Now the crumbling of 17- to 23-year marriages is much more prevalent.

“When they got married the idea was that there’s no such thing as a divorce, but now it’s more accepted,” Busche said.

Gibson sees a different story in the younger generation, although he doesn’t have exact numbers. For the three years he’s been at the church, he says the number of marriages he performs has been going up.

“Our young people seem to be excited about the institution of it all and the commitment,” he said. “A lot of them are getting married older and they seem much more in tune with life and its realities.”

He said he can’t remember the last time he performed the marriage of a young couple, meaning those ages 18 to their young 20s. The couples he sees are at least in their late 20s or early 30s, Gibson said.

In the end, whether a couple is old or young, rich or poor, rushing into things or taking their time, nothing is certain. Ken and Penny Schwall met before either had turned 20 and married three years later.

“I say all the time, not only to our kids, but to friends and family, I’d rather be a light in a dark place,” Penny Schwall said. “Our big thing is … taking those vows seriously and knowing that it’s a commitment we made before God.”

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