Many people going through divorce notice that casual friends seem to hold them at arm’s length – as if they had a disease. And social commentators often speak of the divorce epidemic they claim is sweeping the country. Many people think of divorce in metaphors of disease and illness.
Well, it turns out there may be something more to this than just a metaphor.
A 32-year study at Brown University that followed 12,000 people in Farmington, Massachusetts, suggests that “the negative feelings and emotions surrounding divorce are quite contagious and simply knowing someone involved in a divorce exponentially increases [a person’s] chances of divorce” especially if the individuals involved are close.
The study, which is titled “Breaking up is Hard to Do, Unless Everyone Else is Doing it Too: Social Network Effects on Divorce in a Longitudinal Sample Followed 32 Years,” found that divorce between immediate friends or relatives can increase a person’s chances of being divorced by 75 percent. “Even the divorce of friend of a friend” increases the likelihood of a split by 33 percent. “The effects spread like a virus in a phenomenon the study describes as ‘divorce clustering.’” When a brother or a sister divorce, the changes that a sibling will divorce go up 22 percent.
“Overall, the results suggest that attending to the health of one’s friends’ marriages serves to support and enhance the durability of one’s own relationship, and that, from policy perspective, divorce should be understood as a collective phenomenon that extends far beyond those directly involved,” the study states.