Arons and Solomon | September 25, 2018 | Articles
A study conducted by researchers at Harvard, Brown, and University of California San Diego found that divorces occur in social clusters. Like the flu, breaking up can be highly contagious.
According to the data, when one relationship fails, the relationships within its immediate social circle become 75 percent more likely to fail too. Seventy-five percent. Relationships once-removed from the divorcing couple (i.e., a “friend of a friend”) become 33 percent more likely to split. These numbers are stunning.
The study is aptly titled, “Breaking Up is Hard to Do, Unless Everyone Else is Doing it Too.”
Researchers summarized their findings in the study abstract:
Divorce represents the dissolution of a social tie, but it is also possible that attitudes about divorce flow across social ties. To explore how social networks influence divorce and vice versa, we exploit a longitudinal data set from the long-running Framingham Heart Study.
The results suggest that divorce can spread between friends. Clusters of divorces extend to two degrees of separation in the network. Popular people are less likely to get divorced, divorcees have denser social networks, and they are much more likely to remarry other divorcees.
Gender, age, and geographic distance between friends and family do not appear to make a difference. The size of the individual’s perceived social network (aka. the number of people the individual considers a “friend”) does not appear to make a difference either.
Interestingly, the number of people who name the individual as a friend (aka. popularity) has a strong effect on the likelihood of divorce. For every person who considers you a friend, the likelihood of you being affected by a divorce in your social circle decreases by 10 percent.
It’s not clear why that is the case, although researchers speculate those with a strong marital relationship tend to have a strong network of friends. Personality and interpersonal behaviors may also play a role, though more research is needed to determine any causational connections.
If you have a friend or family member who is getting divorced, don’t panic! Your marriage is not necessarily in danger.
What should we take away from a study like this? Our relationships affect the people around us. A major life event like marriage or divorce is a collective phenomenon that is experienced, in some capacity, by the people who care about us.
The researchers go as far to suggest we can preserve the health of our own marital relationships by nurturing and supporting the marriages of friends and family. That might be a stretch, considering no two relationships are the same.
For some people, quality of life improves by getting a divorce. Others benefit from staying in their marriage. The healthiest thing you can do for your own marriage is to not compare.
The decision to pursue a divorce is a highly personal one, and it’s usually made after a long period of inner reflection and conflict. If you are considering a divorce and want to explore your options, we can help. If you have already decided on a divorce and want to move forward with a plan, we can help.