A marriage is a beautiful journey, and all healthy marriages experience change and transition, some predictable, others not.
Experts meanwhile agree that there are five important stages in a marriage:
i) Romance or Honeymoon Stage (the first few months to a year) when things are so perfect
ii) Reality Stage (usually first two years of marriage after getting familiar with your spouse) which is said to have the highest risk of affairs and divorce
iii) Childrearing Sub-Stage where a ‘new reality’ unfolds for marriages and stress levels may increase
iv) Accommodation Stage where couples allow themselves to renew their relationship
v) Transformation or Success Stage (signifies real love) where both finally enjoy the benefits of a marriage and provide mutual support for one another. However, it is estimated that fewer than 5 per cent of couples actually make it to this stage, according to The Relationship Institute.
And while some come out of these predictable stages and weather the storms of marriage, others come to recognise that divorce, which was previously not thought of, looms as a real possibility. The once passion-fueled period that’s all about the two of you has turned into you starting to question your marriage, and it is not just a bad hiccup this time. It’s one where the decision of divorce is finally made.
According to the Fifth Malaysia Population and Family Survey (KPKM-5) conducted between September 2014 to January 2015, the Women, Family and Community Development Minister, Datuk Seri Rohani Abdul Karim relayed their study showed, out of 23,112 households in the country, 60.7 per cent of those aged 15 years and above are married, while only 1.9 per cent are divorced and separated.
“Five years is considered the most critical years of marriage and this is when each couple should pay more attention to their relationship,” the minister said.
Meanwhile, a 2010 report by the Women’s Development Research Centre (KANITA) and University Science Malaysia (USM) funded by UNICEF, states on an average, Malays, Chinese and Indians got married in the 20-24 age group.
The question however is, with so many Malaysians getting married below their 30s and with divorce cases increasing, at what age do most Malaysians get divorced then?
Demographic statistics from United Nations Statistics Division in year 2009, showed Malaysians aged 30-34, 35-39 and 40-44 were the age group with the highest divorce rates, at 11,705, 14,140 and 14,123 number of divorce cases respectively.
This brings to light what Belinda Hewitt, sociologist at the University of Queensland told the Sydney Morning Herald earlier, “Basically, if you marry under the age of 25, you have about a four times increased risk of divorce.”
While University of Utah sociologist Nicholas Wolfinger, who analysed data from the National Survey of Family Growth from 2006 to 2010 said, “Past the age of 32 or so, the odds of divorce increase by 5 per cent per year of age at marriage.”
And Becky Spelman, a relationship counsellor with the Private Therapy Clinic in London said to The Telegraph: “The saying goes that if a marriage gets through the ‘frustrated forties’ then it will survive forever, and I would agree with this.”
Could all this notion about age playing a role in a divorce be true? Malaysian Digest finds out.
A Syariah Lawyer Gives Advice
If a marriage is heading into the direction of divorce, for Muslims, a syariah lawyer advises the man to file a divorce, under Section 47.
“What you need to do is go to the counter and say you want to file a mutual divorce. Fill up a form and after that a biodata form.
“They’ll give you a date and you have to face the judge. You mention the ‘talaq (the right given to a Muslim man to divorce his wife by mere unequivocal statement)’ in front of them.
“There’s no counselling session either. If your wife refuses, the power of the divorce is on the men, he can divorce her anyways,” he explained to us.
He continues to share how nowadays youngsters divorce easily as they marry young and may not be ready mentally and physically. He also stated a second common reason cited for divorce is financial problems, and the third being their parents’ interference.
Seeing as the common age of divorce is the 30s, we asked his advice if it was better for individuals to marry past that age.
The syariah lawyer however asserts, “Age is not a factor to get married. Don’t get yourself married over the age of 30 in the belief that you will be more financially stable.
“I married at the age of 23, and I have to be very frank with you, you have to let go of a lot of things. Sometimes, even if you’re faced with financial problems, you have to be patient.
“And there are other things you must learn to compromise. For example, women are always emotional, that is their ‘fitrah (primordial human nature)’, that’s what makes them women and men must understand this.”
He added, “Individuals don’t have to wait until they’re 30 or 35 to get married. It’s better to get married than to commit sins.
“If the time has come and you feel that you are mentally, physically and financially ready to get married, then go for it.
“There are people who get a divorce at age 50, 55, and 70. We will never know what fate has in store for us, and it’s ultimately in God’s hands.”
“It’s very simple, if you feel you can continue with the marriage, go ahead. You must try to save the marriage. However, if after several attempts has been made to no fruition, then perhaps, getting a divorce might be your solution,” he explained.
A Divorce Lawyer For Non-Muslims Speaks Up
Sarah is a divorce lawyer for mostly uncontested divorces, as it’s easier, she claims.
“When both parties agree and when you are registered for more than two years, there’s no problem in filing for divorce.
“However, if one party disagrees, then they might have to stay apart for two years. Things might be further complicated if one of them converts or if they have kids,” she said citing the recent case on Federal Court’s decision in dividing the custody of kids between clerk S. Deepa and her Muslim convert ex-husband Izwan Abdullah.
Nevertheless, Sarah reveals these days, Chinese and Indians are getting married later than the average age, but getting divorced at a younger age.
“The average age for non-Muslims to get married now I’d say is 25 onwards. But divorces, I’ve had cases as young as 18 and as old as over 60,” she detailed.
Based on the cases she has encountered, she shared: “Most people in their 20s are getting divorced, especially Chinese couples.
“They have this bad habit of registering but not going for the Chinese ceremony two or three years later on the pretext of saving money.
“So, they get registered first as it’s the in-thing to do and when they finally realise they cannot be together, they file for a divorce.”
While the age of divorce is getting younger, Sarah also affirms that a common age of divorce occurs in the 30s as couples have been working a few years and find they are no longer compatible.
Occasionally, there are a few divorce cases amongst those who are 50 years old and above. Sarah recalls a time when one 55-year-old woman actually said: “I don’t want to die as his wife!”, and continued citing common reasons a divorce occurs.
“Most people who come to me are without children because they say that’s when the trouble starts. I also find those with children come from the lower income group and the reason they get divorced is because the men are not bothered with their responsibilities.
“Usually, it’s the men that has decided to give up on everything, or sometimes because he is in debt, and probably entangled with some loan shark. That’s when couples decide they should get out before things get worse.
“Other reasons for divorce include third party involvement, and interfering in-laws,” which echoes what the syariah lawyer previously mentioned.
“There’s no more compromise. Most just want to go their own way but don’t realise they cannot have their way all the time.
“People are not committed anymore. Nobody wants to fix anything, they just want a fast solution. But that’s only my personal opinion,” the expert concluded.
30-Year-Old’s Talk About Their Divorce
Christina got married when she was 28 and divorced when she was 33. It’s been two years since her divorce, and she recounts the painful memories.
“We fought a lot that time, and it came to a point where we both just couldn’t take it anymore. We both wanted different things, I wanted children and he didn’t care about what I wanted.
“Also, I have a condition where I am almost sterile, my chances of getting pregnant are really low because of this.
“I wanted to have children and do whatever it takes, including IVF – but he didn’t want to be committed.
“He had kids from his previous marriage, he has a nice job and drives a Mercedes-Benz. Meanwhile, I have things I want to achieve as well and I felt like he wasn’t there to support me, be it about me having babies or with my work,” lamented the now single woman.
For Rashid, who dated his ex-wife four years before getting married, he cited ‘incompatibility’ as the main cause of his divorce that happened just over a year after his solemnization.
“I do believe that one should get married at the age of 30 or above because they would already know what they want in life and are able to chart their life’s path,” the 34-year-old shared his sentiments about marriage.
But speaking from his personal experience, going through a divorce himself in his 30s, he tells us that it is nothing new and seems to be quite common amongst his peers.
“I have friends around my age who went through what I did. I think most people nowadays divorce at the age of 30-35 because of work pressure, monetary constraints and less time spent with each other.
“Even though my marriage lasted only one year and two months to be precise, I do hope to remarry one day, preferably before the age of 40,” he shared.
When asked if there was one thing that he would have done differently to salvage his marriage, he conveyed: “Know your partner and share your past. Partners don’t like surprises especially on things that they are really concerned on.
“In a nutshell, a marriage is about compromise. It need not only be applicable to one party, it works both ways. The pillar of success would depend on trust, support and compromise.”
Age Is Not Really A Factor
While the factors of divorce may vary as the lawyers and divorcees have laid out, safe to say, age is not a huge contributing factor – but it’s mostly the person that you are and the relationship that you have, at that certain time.
And for the singles out there, Professor Wolfinger’s advice is, “Don’t get married too young and don’t get married too old.”
Every married couple is at equal risk of a divorce, and the fear divorce is actually giving way to healthier marriages overall, as anthropologist and human behaviour expert at Indiana University Helen Fisher who’s spent decades studying different aspects of love puts it.
There’s no harm to be on your cautious side. After all, it is a good wake-up call to never take your marriage for granted and realise that you need to put in extra effort to keep your marriage vibrant and vital regardless of age.