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Don’t get infected by your friends divorce


We often talk of people being affected by divorce, but now there’s a warning that we can be infected by it as well!

It’s not about physical health, or catching something truly nasty, though there is ample evidence to suggest people can be made physically ill when a difficult divorce takes its toll. What we are being told is that, socially, having close friends or family divorce can rub off on you.

A study by boffins at the University of California, in San Diego, has apparently revealed that divorce is contagious in social networks. It is based on the theory that certain behaviour can spread through a group of people, with members picking up on what is going on with each other. In the case of divorce, the high emotions and story-telling to friends can lead to a divorce being transferred to another “like a virus”. So if one of your friends begins divorce proceedings, that action could rub off on you and spur you into similar action.

And keeping your distance from friends in distress won’t necessarily help. It can affect relationships at least two degrees of separation from the original couple, like some sort of ripple effect taking out a chain of previously happy couples.

Well, actually, I guess there must have been something wrong in the first place if this is indeed true. I see no reason why one couple will suddenly go from being in a happy relationship to splitting up based on what their friends are doing.

Glad to see lots of worthwhile research going on into this though (!), as apparently the preliminary findings are supported by fellow researchers at two other universities in the States.

While the findings are undoubtedly interesting, my opinion is that research would be better targeted looking at what can be done to help couples to work through their problems when they are struggling. Many people don’t know how to discuss problems sensibly and so small issues grow into huge, immovable obstacles leading to the breakdown of a relationship. I’m sure we could save thousands of relationships each year by looking at this and things like compulsory relationship counselling rather than categorising divorce as some sort of social disease.


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I’d interpret the spread of divorce in social groups in a different way: not as something to be avoided but as something for which to be grateful. If a couple are the first in their social group to divorce, their behaviour is a gift. It gives permission to their friends and family to look at their own relationships more honestly, and take action if necessary. The ‘infection’ of divorce happens not because the divorcing couple have introduced relationship malaise to their friends, but because their decision to address their own unhappiness has made it acceptable for others in their circle to do the same. The ‘virus’ in this scenario is not an unhappy relationship but the capacity to acknowledge and address that unhappiness. Spread it fast!


By Vena Ramphal on Monday June 21, 2010

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