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Sharon Jayson, USA TODAY, Sept 29, 2011

They were a few steps shy of divorce, separated and working out child custody, when Rick DeRosia of Hartford, N.Y., realized he wasn't so sure he really wanted a divorce.

He says his 16-year marriage had been shaky before the separation in 2009, when he told his wife, Tina, he wanted out. Their son and daughter were 13 and 11. And life in the midst of recession was also taking a toll.

"There wasn't any one event," says Rick DeRosia,  42. "It was several things over the years that started a downhill slide that never really came back up."

Divorce "was not really what I wanted," says Tina DeRosia, 38, but she thought he did.  "I felt moving on was what I needed to do, but …  should we try to do more? I thought about the effect it would have on my children."

The DeRosias, like so many couples, were teetering on the brink of divorce. The angst of such a major decision is very real. But little is known about how people actually decide — or why, like the DeRosias, they sometimes change their minds. New research offers the first inklings of understanding — and shows that there's uncertainty even among couples who have already filed for divorce.

Adding to the confusion is the financial reality that a split is expensive. Census data released last week  suggest that the economy has indeed caused a dip in divorce. Some experts predict a divorce explosion when the economy improves, but others say the recession may keep some together long enough to work it out.

"There's a whole lot more ambivalence out there than any of us ever thought," says psychologist William Doherty, a marriage and family therapist and professor of family social science at the University of Minnesota. He'll present results of his survey in Washington next month, expanding on his research published last spring.

Frank and Julie LaBoda of Cross Plains, Wis., were just weeks from a divorce decree that would have ended the marriage that began Aug. 7, 1992. "All that fun stuff was gone," says Frank LaBoda, 46, a transportation operations manager, who says his wife was so busy with the kids that he started spending more time with the guys. Then he had an affair and moved out for six months. That was in 1996.

"We tried to put it back together after the affair, but it was ugly," says Julie LaBoda, 44, a dental assistant.

Two years later, she filed for divorce, and they separated for another six months. But they opted for a last-ditch marriage weekend that they say saved their relationship.

'Forgiveness and hope'

"We found out that forgiveness and hope was possible and that people can and do change. We saw real-life examples of people who shared stories with us. Frank changed his behavior drastically, and I'm quite sure I changed my attitude," she says. "But it was a process to get through it — a good, solid two to five years." In 2000, they had a third child; their fourth daughter was born in 2002.

Doherty's survey of 2,484 parents who filed for divorce in Minnesota offers new insight into how people decide whether to call it quits or try again. About a quarter of those surveyed thought there was still hope for the marriage; in 12% of a subset of 329 couples, both partners independently indicated interest in reconciliation.

Additional surveys in 2009-10 of 886 Minnesotans who filed for divorce dug deeper into contributing factors. "Growing apart" was the top reason, cited by 55%, followed by "not able to talk together" (53%). Infidelity was cited by 34%, the same percentage who cited "not enough attention."

Doherty says lack of attention from one's spouse and in-law problems were among reasons associated with partners thinking the marriage could be saved. Also, infidelity wasn't a factor in whether  someone was open to reconciliation, he says. . . . .

Doherty says marriage today involves expectations of more gender equality than in the past.  "We expect so much out of marriage, but we haven't prepared people for the skills that are necessary for the kind of marriages that we want now.". . .



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