Divorce rates in Red Deer are the highest in the province, according to Alberta official statistics.
As of 2011, Red Deer had a 6.5% divorce rate, beating out Edmonton and Calgary who both held a 6.2% rate and Grande Prairie with 4.9%.
Local relationship expert, therapist and author Debra Macleod believes the oil and gas industry may be partly to blame for the rising divorce rates.
“We are the corridor between Calgary and Edmonton connecting people in the oilfield,” said Macleod about Red Deer. “I think the oil patch has something to do with the rates we are seeing, it’s the lifestyle people here live.”
With so many young men and in recent years women hitting the road in search of money and a future for their families, high rates of young people with vastly different schedules are seen.
“A lot of these young guys will go in to the industry in their early 20s and meet guys in their 30s and 40s who are already divorced, who are very jaded and very bitter,” she said. “They are talking to these young guys and immersing them in this atmosphere of negativity towards marriage.”
Macleod believes that successful marriages are most commonly found in those with higher levels of education and who get married later in life in their late 20s and early 30s.
“We have a population that by in large doesn’t go on to post secondary education and by result get married earlier,” said Macleod. “Then on top of that we have a lifestyle that it doesn’t matter if you are a raving genius and get married at exactly the right age, the oil field lifestyle will take its toll on any body.”
Aside from education, Macleod believes that the older the couple is when they get married, the less likely chance there will be of a divorce. “One of the best indicators of marital success is getting married later when you are 28 and up and you know who you are as a person, as opposed to two people who still don’t know who they are as people getting married,” said Macleod.
“You still don’t have time to find and create yourself as a person when you are in your early 20s, so you are trying to do that with someone and it’s like two cyclones in a blender.”
Through her line of work counseling couples, Macleod also sees many whose issues derive from money due to the higher average earning of those in the Alberta oilfield.
“When you fight about money, you fight about everything,” she said.
“If you fight about money it affects everything, the bedroom, your parenting, your communication and infuses right through everything in your life.”
According to the Canadian Financial Post, as of 2010, the average salary for a male in the Canadian oilfield was $128,700 per year and has been on the rise ever since.
Often times Macleod will see a lack of communication between her clients when it comes to money. An instance where a man rolls driving a ‘$70,000 lifted pick up’ to a session and the wife is throwing a tantrum because she wasn’t consulted about it is a prime example of money issues facing couples in the oilfield.
“They are making all of this money and blowing it all and it’s not leaving them with a true sense of partnership in their marriages,” explains Macleod. “If you are under the age of 30 and making over $100,000 a year, you need to be hiring a financial planner to handle your money because money is a huge thing in relationships.”
Macleod often sees those who are struggling with debt although they are making well over the average Canadian household income. “They get a lot of money too soon and they don’t know what to do with it,” said Macleod.
“It doesn’t matter how much money you make, it’s about how much you keep. So we see very high debt ratios in these young people in that industry.”
With the often hectic schedules facing those in the oilfield with their partners working away for weeks at a time, Macleod also recognized that many of the partners who were left at home to care for the children lacked a sense of appreciation in the relationship. “You have a man coming home to his wife telling him ‘Take these kids off my hands – they’ve been driving me crazy for the last 21 days’,” said Macleod.
“But the man just walked through the door after having worked very hard for that time and his feet are practically still frozen from working outside in the cold and he needs time to settle in.”
From this Macleod sees a negative sense of competition in couples, as they compete for alone time and a sense of recognition from their partner.
Macleod suggests that instead couples should start competing to fulfill each other’s needs to feel appreciated instead of trying to have their own met.
Meanwhile, the ongoing trend of divorce continues to rise, and is one that many like Macleod wish to see reversed. “I think that if people are willing to step back and view their role in the relationship and have some humility and are willing to compete to meet their partner’s needs, and manage their money intelligently then they have way better chances of a successful marriage.”