Divorce is one of the scariest words in our culture. Much like "cancer," it can often carry such weight as to be hard to say. Few things in this world ruin more lives or create more misery. Everyone knows someone who has had to endure a gut-wrenching break-up with his or her spouse, and many of us have our own divorce scars. In most cases, even if it is eventually for the best, divorce is a horrible thing to experience. And the fear of divorce is also a powerful force, affecting millions of single adults. In fact, fear of divorce is listed by people who are scared to commit to marriage as one of the top reasons for not getting married.


Possibly the most confounding thing about modern divorce is this: It doesn't seem to matter how smart, how educated, how wealthy, how spiritual, or how committed you are or aren't; at best, about 50% of all new marriages and 60% of all remarriages end in divorce. (Sources: U.S. Census Bureau, National Center for Health Statistics, Americans for Divorce Reform, Institute for Equality in Marriage, American Association for Single People, Ameristat, Public Agenda)


That's pretty darn scary.


There's a lot to be learned from this trend in divorce. Dr. Neil Clark Warren has spent the past three decades performing Divorce Autopsies to try to find out why marriages are failing and what, if anything, can be done to help give people some hope that they can avoid being a statistic. Dr. Warren has isolated several facts about divorce that are beginning to shed light on the issue:

1. 75% of all marital breakdowns are the result of mismatching at the front end of the marriage.

2. 90% of the persons who turn out to be maritally mismatched were simply not aware of the mismatching prior to the marital relationship.

3. When choosing a marriage partner, the vast majority of couples placed heavy emphasis on the chemistry between them. This chemistry has to do with appearance, and is focused on the sexual side of their relationship.

4. 75% of the chemistry that exists early in a relationship evaporates within six to eight months if it is not undergirded by more durable compatibility.

5. Many of the couples reported that when they began to discover early in their relationships that it was a mismatch for them, they tried to overcome the mismatch with hard work and the mobilization of other factors like kindness, feelings of guilt, or obligation. Usually, these factors were incapable of overcoming the mismatch.

6. The complexity involved in finding a marriage partner is becoming greater every year. If our only response to this growing complexity is an emphasis on the need for "willpower," we will lose more and more marriages to divorce, separation, or unhappiness.

7. The massive collision of hard work (along with willpower and other family and societal forces) and basic mismatching is almost always, in this society at least, won by the forces of mismatching.

Dr. Warren seems to be indicating that a marriage's fate is largely determined when we pick our mate; as they say in the movie business, "It's all in the casting." So important is that one decision that a lifetime of trying to force the relationship to work with the wrong person is usually futile. As Dr. Warren puts it, "75% of your happiness will be determined by this one decision."


Making matters worse is our human nature, our natural tools for choosing a mate. We are, as human beings, wired to react to certain physical signals from the opposite sex. These triggers and attractions are primarily connected to our biological urges to reproduce and find security, and when used to pick a mate (as they almost always are) they fail to find someone who will meet our long-term emotional needs.