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Is Divorce Contagious?

about divorce I remember the conversation. And it wasn't pretty. But it was interesting. To me at least. And maybe it will be to you too.

It was a several years ago. Husband and I were enjoying our briefish post-wedding/pre-kids time together. We were out on our deck. The weather was pleasant and we sipped some wine. What did we talk about? Marriage. Oh, and marriage's ugly cousin: divorce.

At that time, many of our friends were getting engaged and married. We were spending almost every weekend at a wedding. Which was fun. A lot of fun. I happen to adore weddings and I kind of miss attending them. Alas, this is life. The weddings slow to a trickle at some point and social events start centering around babies. Which is fine. Because I happen to love babies. Maybe more than weddings.

So. Husband and I sat there, taking in the soft breeze, talking. And I said something. Something a bit depressing. I said, So many of our friends are getting married. In five to seven years, it's possible that all of our friends will be married. But, statistically, half of these unions will not last, right? And Husband nodded. Surely, our collective group of friends is not immune to the national statistics. Depressing, I told you.

Here we are. Years later. I know a couple contemporaries who have gotten divorced. But, for the most part, the married couples I know have lasted. This does not surprise me exactly as I think most of these couples are well-matched and we are still in the early stages of marriage. But the fact that I do not personally know too many people who have gotten divorced is apparently a good thing. Why?

Per recent studies, divorce is contagious. If a close friend's marriage falls apart, the chance that mine will too increases by 75%.


According to a small bit in the New York Time's Freakonomics Blog, a new working paper shows “that divorce can spread between friends, siblings, and coworkers, and there are clusters of divorcees that extend two degrees of separation in the network.” The idea, in part, is that when we see and experience the divorce of others, when we see that it is doable, and that life goes on, and perhaps improves, in the aftermath of a split, we are more inclined to reevaluate the integrity of our own marriages. Furthermore, we are bombarded with stories about celebrity divorce where these transitions are in many ways glamorized, where individuals emerge on the other side of a dissolution looking perky as ever.

An article in the Daily News underscores that how the divorce we witness proceeds is indeed relevant. Irina Firstein, a licensed clinical social worker, says,

Whether or not a friend’s divorce has an adverse effect on your marriage depends on your perception of how the divorced couple handled it...If it looks as easy as it does with celebrities, where they seem so immediately happy and they already have found someone else, then a person may be more likely to consider divorce... But if the people are struggling, and they’ve had a difficult and painful time and it was very hard for their children, you may look at your own marriage and decide to try to stay in it. So it really depends upon what your friend’s divorce looks like.

What is the upshot to this divorce may be contagious theory? I'm not exactly sure. Thankfully, at this point in my life, I have limited direct exposure to divorce. So, really, this is just another instance where I don't know what I'm talking about.

But perhaps, if anything, we should realize that marriage -- and divorce -- are not just things that happen to others, but things that happen to us whether we are the ones donning the gown or signing the papers or not. As the authors of the original study state, and I think compellingly, “attending to the health of one’s friends’ marriages serves to support and enhance the durability of one’s own relationship, and that, from a policy perspective, divorce should be understood as a collective phenomenon that extends far beyond those directly affected.”

I don't know. I hesitated writing about this at all because, really, I am clueless about the reality of divorce. But as someone who is happily married and surrounded with friends who are (for now, or seem) happily married, the idea of divorce being contagious both interests and concerns me.

And so. Here I am. Writing. Asking. Clumsily starting another conversation.

  • Do you buy the idea that divorce is contagious?
  • Have any of your close friends divorced? Has this affected your relationship?
  • Have you divorced? Has this appeared to affect the relationships of those close to you?
  • Do you agree that celebrity divorces are often glamorized (like so much of their lives)?
  • Do you agree that divorce should be understood as a collective, rather than exclusively personal, phenomenon?

**Thanks to those of you who have offered to be LIFE AFTER YES ambassadors. Your books will arrive in the near future. If anyone else is interested in helping me spread word about my rookie novel around the nation, please click here for details and let me know. I can probably take a few more volunteers at this point. Thanks!**

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