‘Catching’ Divorce from a Friend

The possibility of divorce being “contagious” in social groups was brought to light after a study published by researchers at Brown University linked a greatly increased likelihood of divorce when a friend has gone through the process (75 percent higher if a close friend ends their marriage and 33 percent higher when there are two degrees of separation).

The study leaves plenty of room to argue against its validity as representing society as a whole, but it certainly raises an interesting potential social trend. And one that shouldn’t be too surprising.

If talking to a divorced friend made you realize your own unhappiness, catching divorce may not be such a bad thing — particularly if you tried to work on the problems before taking the first step down the long and difficult road of divorce. However, it is a completely different story if you simply succumbed to envy.

A painful realization

Often compared to a disease or epidemic, this “social contagion” makes a lot of sense: When someone close to you confides their reasons for finally pulling the trigger on ending their marriage, such as the causes of their marital frustrations, it can make you reflect on your own situation. This can lead to the uncomfortable discovery that you are not nearly as happy with your situation as you thought.

Additionally, the intimidation of the divorce process is often a very effective deterrent. Everyone knows it is expensive, complicated and can involve months of high-tension negotiation with someone who used to be your closest companion but is now your enemy. When a friend goes through the divorce process and can explain it based off their first-hand experience, it may not seem nearly as daunting as it did before.

If someone has been suffering through an unhappy marriage, it can affect not just your own happiness but those of your children as well. When marital problems run so deep that they cannot be effectively resolved, cutting ties and starting over may be the healthiest option for everyone involved.

Although it may seem like divorce spreads like a virus through social groups, it can create more positive situations in the long run. Supporting a friend through the process may help build up the courage to escape for those who are also stuck in dead-end marriages.

The grass is always greener (or is it?)

Another possibility to the influence of friends going through divorce is not so positive. Divorce envy is exactly what it sounds like — a married person becomes envious of their divorced friend’s newly-single lifestyle. There may be nothing blaringly wrong with their own marriage, but seeing friends out there living the bachelor life can cause problems.

It’s easy to understand being a little jealous of the new freedoms your friend may have — such as the ability to go by their own schedule, to date and pursue anyone they wish, to have more time for themselves, etc. However, passing moments of jealousy are not worth throwing away a marriage that is still perfectly fine or only has minor issues that can be worked through.

Besides, there is a good chance the divorced friend was hit much harder than he may be letting on. Dealing with the expense, frustration, attorneys, negotiations, lack of seeing their children, dividing assets and bitter loneliness is difficult for everyone and not something most want to share.

And even if they truly are much happier dealing with the after effect of divorce than they were during their marriage, it just goes to show how much worse off they were before.

The grass may seem greener on the other side, but that is often an illusion. It is definitely not worth the risk of throwing away years of marriage for the mere possibility that it may be better. You’d be much better off spending the time and effort working to improve the quality of your marriage instead of simply throwing it away.

Overall, the study showing a possibly contagious nature of divorce seems fairly reasonable when you think about it. If your friend divorces and you begin reflecting on your own happiness, how is it a bad thing if you realize you have been spinning your wheels in a dead-end marriage and would be better off ending it?

Then again, when someone you know and trust goes through divorce, it also presents an opportunity for jealousy to twist your perspective. It can sometimes be difficult to tell if there really are deep-rooted, unresolvable marital issues or if the green-eyed monster is simply rearing its ugly head.

Either way, think twice before jumping to any hasty conclusions.

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