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Are You At Risk for “Catching” Divorce?

As if managing marriage isn’t challenging enough—now married couples are facing research showing divorce can actually be contagious.

That’s right—just like you can catch the flu, you may be able to also catch a divorce.

The Research

According to a Brown University research team, having a friend who’s divorced makes you 75% more likely to go through a divorce yourself, and that chance increases 33% if a friend of a friend is divorced.

Yes, a friend of a friend can potentially impact your likelihood of going through a divorce.

According to Rose McDermott, who headed up the study, divorce is a social contagion that spreads similarly to a rumor, which is why it can affect friends that are even twice removed.

The study went in-depth, and focused on three decades of marriage-related data, as well as remarriage. The data was from residents of the Framingham, Massachusetts area.

Don’t Panic Just Yet…

Although the results of the study are a bit startling, particularly if you have lots of friends who are divorced, or currently going through a divorce, as with any study, there are a few things that could have impacted the results.

For example, since the study only focused on Framingham, which is a mostly white and fairly affluent area, the results may not be representative of a larger population, although the demographics represented in the study are less likely to get divorced in general. This could mean better or worse results in terms of divorce contagion.

Your Social Network and Your Romantic Relationships

The research is based on a theory called “network contagion,” which isn’t a new concept.

What is novel about this large research study is the fact that it looks at two components—your social network and its impact on romantic relationships.

A number of other insights were also discovered during the study, including the likelihood of divorced people to remarry someone who’s also been divorced, as well as the declining popularity of a recently divorced person in their previous social circles. The reason? According to the study, it lies in the fact that friends may side with the other spouse, or the newly divorced person can be seen as a potential threat.

Something else worth noting? Being popular isn’t just fun—it may decrease your likelihood of a divorce. People seen as more popular and individuals with a larger social network were less likely to get divorced. This may have something to do with the fact that popular people have a bigger and stronger support system, which makes them more equipped to deal with the challenges of marriage.

The Takeaway

While it can be frightening to think your friends’ relationships could affect your own, research like this can actually help married couples avoid pitfalls and challenges.

By helping friends keep their own marriages strong, it may strengthen your own. Also, studying divorce is a good way to help find mechanisms for dealing with the aftermath of something so traumatic in a person’s life.

What do you think about this research—could divorce really be contagious?