I've enjoyed the leave from Brigham Young University during fall semester, 1988. I've had the chance to catch up on several projects, including some reading, writing a new book and updating the curriculum forcourses I teach at BYU. In November I also traveled to Philadelphia to attend the National Council on Family Relations. I appreciate those who have made the leave possible.

The most important things I learned during the past few months were the new projections of divorce in the United States. I was watching the national evening news on television last October. One of the reporters noted that a recent study suggested that most couples who married after 1970 are expected to divorce. The report startled me. If it is true, we are indeed going through a subtle shift in marital relationships. Will divorce become the rule rather than the exception in the future in the United States?Divorce statistics reported in the past have often been misleading. Most recent textbooks on marriage state that "An average of 40 percent of marriages in the United States end in divorce." Slightly less than half. But averages are just that. Averages. Some geographical areas or groups may have lower divorce rates than 40 percent. Others may be higher and nearer a 50 percent divorce rate, or more than half. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, after five years of marriage, about 20 percent of the couples in the United States will divorce, after 10 years about 33 percent, and after 15 years almost 40 percent will divorce. But how many more divorce after the 15th year of marriage?

An article by Arthur J. Norton and Jeanne E. Moorman, however, reports divorces by period of birth of the couple. In their article, "Current Trends in Marriage and Divorce Among American Women," they state that women born in the 1930s can expect a divorce rate of about 24 percent. But women in the United States born in the 1950s can expect a much higher divorce rate of 56 percent, which is more than twice as high as the rate for those women born 20 years earlier. Norton and Moormon also project that 53 percent of women born in the 1960s are expected to divorce. Noting that the divorce rate has slightly declined during the past few years, the authors conclude "most adults in the United States will marry, and the incidence of divorce in the United States is likely to remain among the highest in the world."

Bottom line: The majority (53-56 percent) of couples marrying after 1970 are expected to divorce. If, indeed, the projections turns out to be true, we are going through a gradual shift in marital trends. And it is so subtle that it is largely going unnoticed.

Maybe all has not been written, researched or spoken about contemporary marriage. If the projections are true, what would we say to young couples who are about to marry and want to stay married? What might we do to help them prepare for marriage today? And what about those of us who are already married? How do we avoid becoming swept away in the current trends of divorce and marital disruption?

In future columns, I will be addressing some of these important issues in contemporary marriage. Once again, I invite you to write and share your thoughts and insights. As in the past, I will not be able to personally respond to individual inquiries. But I still would like to hear from you. Write to Dr. Brent Barlow, 1230, SFLC, BYU, Provo, Utah, 84602.

See you next week. It's good to be back.