Divorce is Contagious

Did you know that divorce is contagious?  Unlike the flu you won’t catch the divorce bug because someone coughs near you.  Nonetheless, researchers do classify the influence of divorce as a form of “social contagion” – the spread of ideas, attitudes, and behaviors within social networks through imitation and conformity.

Social contagions are, in fact, similar to biological epidemics in many ways.  Cognitive, emotional, and behavioral patterns tend to propagate along a string of people in close, like-minded social groups.  Experts often refer to this phenomenon as “divorce clustering” because of the tendency for divorces to occur in cluster patterns among affiliates of social groups.

Longitudinal studies from Brown, Harvard, and UC San Diego have reported data demonstrating that the divorce of a couple can affect friends up to two degrees removed.  The 30-year Brown study found that individuals who had an immediate friend get divorced are 75 percent more likely to terminate their own marriages.  And, second-degree friends of divorcees (i.e. the friend of a friend) are 33 percent more likely to divorce their own spouses.

While we may not fully understand all of the reasons why divorce clustering takes place there are several potential dynamics that may play a role.  When divorce is normalized within a social group it can be supposed to contain less severe consequences and even have some attractive qualities.  The greater acceptability among peers and perceived supportiveness within the group may also have some influence.

However, these observations and explanations do not change the simple fact that divorce is both harmful and unnecessary in the vast majority of situations.  The truth is that, in general, divorce: fails to make people happier, [see related article] fails to solve many of our perceived problems, and creates many new unanticipated problems.  [see related article]  Furthermore, while it may seem impossible the reality is that couples who eventually divorce typically have the same levels of happiness and conflict in their marriage as those who stick together. [see related article]

So, do not allow yourself to be influenced by the problems and failures of others.  Most divorces are not necessary.  Most marriages improve with a little time and patience.

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