Divorce is contagious among social networks, directly affecting friends and family member’s likelihood to also divorce. In addition, the breakup can lead to other divorces at least two degrees of separation from the initial couple who split. Researchers say behaviors like divorce can spread as viruses do.
CNN reports the findings from James H. Fowler, a professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego. Fowler worked with other researchers at Harvard and Brown Universities. They studied 5,000 people. Fowler says the first couple’s divorce impacts other people’s decision to divorce, “and can even sway your friend’s friend.”
Have you noticed some divorces among groups are announced in fairly quick succession? The obvious example that comes to mind among those who discuss marriage is the Gore family. One of their daughters divorced about a year ago. As everyone knows, Al and Tipper have announced their split as well after 40 years of marriage. Their eldest daughter even more recently announced her plans to divorce after 13 years and three children.
Their decisions to divorce are private, but the research says those with a divorced sibling have a 22 percent increased chance to get divorced than those who don’t have divorced siblings.
While those stats sound rather high, friends who divorce have an even higher impact. “People who had a divorced friend were 147 percent more likely to be divorced than those whose friends’ marriages were intact,” says the study. Even your workplace has a strong impact on your marriage status. If your coworker divorces, your odds of divorce go up 55 percent compared to those who work with non-divorced workers.
Some people become carriers without getting divorced, say the researchers, just by relaying information to their friends and family. The listener may warm up the idea of divorce, says Fowler, or consider the benefits of divorce.
Some marriage therapists have anecdotally agreed that their clients have been influenced by divorced friends. When divorce permeates a social group, group norms can change. In addition, poor relationship skills can be imitated by others. I’m sure we are all aware that ineffective relationship skills can be transferred from one generation to another.
What does this research mean to us? First, we should be cautious about the one-sided information we hear about divorce from those in our social network. You may be hearing the rosy side of divorce, but know there is a dark side others may not show. For instance, I’ve seen the loneliness, financial ruin, heartbroken children and hurt spouses left behind in divorce. But if you run into those same people at the grocery store, they might tell you about how they go out on Friday nights because of their new freedom.
Also, remember that our culture supports the idea of divorce and makes it very easy. It also suggests a what’s-in-it-for-me attitude about marriage. There’s a misconception that if you just change partners, your relationship problems will disappear. You have to decide if you will have a counter-cultural marriage that lives in love and remains committed, even during difficult times.
A recent blog post at Journey to Surrender caught my attention, reminding readers who are trying to get their spouses to change that you can’t push on a rope. “Some things only work in one direction. Pushing a rope only ends in frustration and you might just wind up with a tangled mess. Pulling it, however, will cause the entire rope to move smoothly in the directly you want. It can be tempting at times to push your spouse toward their appropriate roles and actions in your marriage.” Scott’s tips:
- Speak into that which you want to see rise up, rather than complaining about what you see as missing or wrong.
- Use appreciation and gratitude for every small step in the right direction.
- Ask yourself if there is anything you might be doing that is pushing your spouse and possibly causing an undesirable counter-reaction
- Look for unmet needs in your spouse. Most men need to feel respected, admired, trusted and desired to be “pulled” toward their position of loving leadership. For a woman, things like affection, attention/time, genuine concern and romantic engagement will draw her toward more fully offering her submission.
Have you noticed divorces that have affected friends and family or occurred in groups? Do you think this research is on target?