Is Divorce Contagious?

If you’ve lived through your 20s and 30s, you likely witnessed the phenomenon of all of your friends getting married at once, or all seeming to have children at around the same time. I wouldn’t say marriage, or having children, is contagious – but your choices do have the power to influence others. A new study from Brown University suggests that groups of friends and relatives can pass divorce around like chicken pox in a Kindergarten class.

Statistically, if one of your friends or loved ones gets divorced, the odds of your marriage deteriorating drastically increase, at least according to new research gleaned from the 30-year Framingham Heart Study.

Some of the other findings include:

  • Participants were 147 percent more likely to divorce if a friend had divorced.
  • 33 percent of participants were more likely to divorce if a “friend of a friend” divorced.  (That’s right, you don’t even have to know the unhappy couple personally)
  • If a person’s sibling gets divorced, that person is 22 percent more likely to follow suit.
  • Having more than one friend with marital problems increases your odds of divorce even more.
  • If a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend divorces, it has no effect. They’re too far removed.

Why Divorce Appears Contagious

The theory of why divorce seems to spread through groups of families and friends is that the negative emotions of unhappy people may cause couples to be less happy with their relationships, and start to become more critical.

It’s true that the people around us can deeply affect how we perceive ourselves, our lives, and our relationships. And, it has been proven to be beneficial in many ways to surround yourself with people who share your values. But, if you really want to protect your marriage, I would suggest this:

Treat your spouse kindly in conversations with others, even when he or she isn’t there. Especially when he or she isn’t there. I realize it’s customary for groups of men and women to get together over coffee or cocktails and complain about the other sex, but this study shows that such negativity can not only damage your relationship, but the relationships of others in your social group. It’s something to consider before you vent.

If that leaves you in dire need of more conversation topics, try telling your friends about the Four Drivers, and see if you can create contagious happy marriages instead.

About the Author:

Founder of Marriage Academy, Inc., Dr. Gomez is a licensed physician, a Board Certified Psychiatrist, Founding Fellow of the Institute of Coaching Professional Association at Harvard University Medical School and member of the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council. Dr. Gomez’ extensive experience and his passion for helping couples enrich their marriages led him to develop the unique and highly acclaimed Marriage Academy program.