Prison Marriage

Can a Marriage Survive a Prison Sentence?

Man visiting woman in prison
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The divorce rate among couples where one spouse is incarcerated for one year or more is 80% for men and close to 100% for women. That doesn't leave many couples in this situation with much hope of making their marriage work.

"Between a married man's arrest and the end of his first year in prison, 80 percent of marriages break up, Mr. Grant said. For female inmates, the divorce rate is closer to 100 percent, he said."
Source: Rick Lyman, "Marriage Programs Try to Instill Bliss and Stability Behind Bars",, 4/16/2005.

Judee Reeves wrote in 1994, "Families of inmates have been called the "hidden victims of crime" (Carlson & Cervera, 1992, p.5). When a crime is committed, there are victims other than the primary victim(s). These secondary victims include the families of the primary victim and another often overlooked group of victims -- family members of the person who has committed the crime. The families of inmates are often overlooked in research and in designing social programs, yet many suffer devastating consequences as a result of a loved one's incarceration."

Some prisons host seminars for married prisoners and their spouses. Most of these one or two-day programs focus on relationship enhancement, communication skills, dealing with conflict, and self-awareness.​

So many of the spouses who are left at home suffer from feelings of being an outcast, guilt, shame, loneliness, financial hardship, and sexual frustration.

Phoning can be expensive. There is even stress from the visiting room procedures that many prisons impose on families.

The sense of being demoralized begins even before a loved one is sent off to prison. Approximately 50% of marriages dealing with a possible prison term end in separation or divorce prior to a spouse being incarcerated.

From the searching we did on the internet, this is an aspect of marriage that appears to have had very little research or study. It is definitely one which needs more attention and support. We have friends who have presented workshops and seminars to couples in prison. They've said it was one of the most rewarding experiences of their lives. Have any of you had this experience - either as a presenter or as a participant? What are your thoughts and feelings about this topic?