By BECKY McKENDRY
Capital News Service
LANSING – Couples in rural counties are more likely to split up than those in more populous areas, according to the most recent state data.
The 10 counties with the highest divorce rates in 2012 all have populations less than 65,000, according to information from the Department of Community Health and the U.S. Census Bureau. The average population for a county in Michigan is more than 119,000.
Statewide, the average divorce rate in Michigan is 6.7 per 1,000 residents annually. All of the rural top ten counties, which include Crawford, Gladwin and Osceola, have rates at 9 or above.
Angela Minicuci of the Department of Community Health said that reasons for these divorces aren’t collected and her department doesn’t track what may cause such trends.
However, the county with the lowest rate is Ontonagon County, with a rate of 4.2.
But research shows that economic factors play a large part in these high rates, say experts like Deanna Trella.
“This has more to do with external factors than the marriages themselves,” said Trella, assistant professor of sociology at Northern Michigan University. “Rural areas have always tended to be hit harder by economic stress and unemployment, and that bleeds into marriages.”
Economic stresses are one of the most prominent reasons for relationship problems and divorce, Trella said, adding, “Low income families are at a very high risk of stress.”
And riding out money woes can be exceptionally tricky.
Economic problems cause a cycle of stress in families, said Hui Liu, assistant professor of sociology at Michigan State University. Counselors and therapy resources in rural areas can be scarce, she said, and economic hardships make it difficult to access counseling.
“It can be hard to find or afford help,” Liu said. “Marriage counseling helps people prevent or work through conflict that could save their relationship.”
Trella said the statistics may be skewed because some couples who want to divorce may not be able to afford it.
Agnes Ward, a licensed psychologist in Saint Clair Shores, said counseling is often the best chance to save a marriage plagued by financial troubles.
“Financial stresses are one of the most significant issues a couple can face, but one of the ways that couples can deal with it is to get into counseling as soon as they can,” she said.
Direct support from therapists can only go so far, though.
“Therapists can’t really give advice in terms of financial planning, but we can give referrals for other services that might help,” Ward said.
Many couples can benefit from outside resources such as state financial assistance or mental health services that provide low-cost or free therapy, Ward said.
Trella agreed. “The obvious responses like money, housing and financial stability work. Obtaining the resources you need can be difficult, but if you can get financial help, research shows it works.”
Trella also said that long-term financial stability often means leaving rural areas that have been devastated by industry closures – areas that can take far too long to rebound. And although relocating could offer relief, many couples aren’t willing to do so.
“For a lot of rural families, it’s hard to get out of those communities that lack jobs,” Trella said. “They have strong ties to their communities and their families are there. But they do so at their own peril.”
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