Divorce Is Contagious, And That Might Be A Good Thing

Having a divorced friend increases a person's divorce risk, but only if they're stuck in an unhappy situation.

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Divorce is contagious, studies suggest, and having a close friend who is divorced increases your risk of ending your marriage. But that doesn’t mean that happily married people are vulnerable to some sort of airborne irreconcilable differences. It means that, for people are already struggling in their marriages, a happy, divorced friend could be all it takes to send them over the edge.

“If divorce has had the effect of moving friends forward in their lives, then they are particularly likely to view divorce not as an unfortunate end but as a solution,” Craig S. Pedersen, an attorney and partner at the Meyer, Olson, Lowy and Meyers law firm, told Fatherly. It is not that misery loves company, but a successful, particularly amicable divorce can look appealing to an outsider.

Having a divorced, close friend raises a person’s divorce risk by 75 percent, according to one study of 5,209 men and women. Results also revealed that people are 147 percent more likely to divorce if they have multiple divorced friends in their social network, compared to married people with mostly married friends. Divorced siblings render people 22 percent more prone to split. Even having divorced coworkers comes with a 50 percent increase in divorce risk.

The study makes a compelling case for divorce contagion, but one of the main limitations is that every stage of marriage is heavily influenced by peer pressure. There’s evidence that people are significantly more likely to have babies within two years of their friends starting families, and that we tend to marry when we sense that our peer groups are getting hitched. Divorce may be contagious, but it may well be the result of a lot of people getting married or having kids for the wrong reasons, Jessica Markham, a divorce attorney, says. “A lot of people get married and have kids that shouldn’t marry anyone and probably shouldn’t have kids,” Markham told Fatherly.

For couples already experiencing problems and considering divorce, a close friend’s choice to end their relationship is often the final straw. Having a divorced friend “can provide the shot of courage that one has been looking for in advance of taking that daunting first step toward ending a bad marriage,” Pedersen says. But it does not have to be. The key to ensuring that your friend’s problems don’t bleed into your own marriage is understanding that friends are good at listening, but they’re generally terrible at giving neutral advice. And the closer friends are, the more influence and less perspective they tend to have, psychotherapist Brooke Sprowl warns.

“They often project their own experiences and preferences onto one another when giving advice,” Sprowl told Fatherly. “If a friend sees divorce as the only way to work through relationship problems, they are likely to advise you to to take that route.”

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