During the past few years, marriage in the United States has been attacked from a variety of sources. Some have claimed that marriage is outdated, while others note the value of being single and the supposed freedom that comes with divorce. But does research necessarily indicate this is so?

In his book, "Helping Couples Change," Dr. Richard Stuart has made some insightful, well-documented observations on both marriage and divorce. After a careful review of the literature, he notes, "The acid test of the wisdom of divorce can be found only in an assessment of its effects."Stuart then notes some of the positive results of divorce:

1. Freedom from domestic routines.

2. Opportunity to rear children without the opposition of the other parent.

3. Freedom from conflict with a troubled mate.

4. Opportunity to control one's own resources and life space.

5. Opportunity to make personally fulfilling choices without constraint through the need to consider the wishes of others.

He then cautions, "But divorce is very far from an unmixed blessing" and notes the following as indicated by extensive research in the field of marriage and family:

1. Many researchers have found that the physical health of divorced, separated and widowed adults is inferior to the health of those whose marriages remain intact.

2. Individuals who are married have lower mortality rates, lower suicide rates, lower rates of homicidal victimization, lower rates of fatal auto accidents and decreased morbidity due to coronary diseases and cancer of the digestive organs.

3. Divorced individuals have a significantly higher rate of mental disorders than their married counterparts. "When mental health differences do surface," Stuart notes, "they show the power of a tidal wave during a tropical typhoon, with risk rates of the formerly married exceeding those of the married by as many as 20-fold in certain categories."

4. There are also some significant economic consequences of divorce as well. So great are the economic disruptions of divorce that one researcher concluded that "divorce is a stronger correlate of poverty than is race."

Stuart notes, "In summary, it is clear that broad trends greatly favor the continued health and well-being of those who sustain their marriages. Divorce may initially be a liberating experience for two people who would have suffered emotionally, physically, economically or otherwise had they remained together. But divorce can also signal the start of a gradual process of deterioration of these and other dimensions, with freedom bringing the potential for disaster much as it carries with it anticipation for avoiding pain and worry.

"The tide seems to flow in the direction of marriage and family, and efforts to improve troubled marriages move with and not against this tide. The existence of a stable marriage has many benefits. It helps partners carve out and to maintain a stable personal identity. It provides a foil for screening perceptions and motivations and to improve their quality. It seems to enhance personal, professional and social living and to reduce the pain of many physical and emotional stresses."

One national survey cited in "Helping Couples Change" concluded, "Marriage and family life are the most satisfying parts of most people's lives, and being married is one of the most important determinants of being satisfied with life."