Is Divorce Contagious? How do You Avoid ‘Catching it’?

Couple in flu masks © Luis Louro |

A couple of years ago a group of researchers released a study in which they discussed “divorce clusters”. Based on that, some have talked about divorce being contagious. Some of the findings of the study:

  • When close friends divorce, the odds of your marriage ending  increase by 75%.
  • Those who have divorced friends in their larger social circles are two and a half time more likely to get a divorce than people whose friends are still married.
  • You are 22% more likely to divorce is you have divorced siblings.
  • In small companies, divorce by co-workers could increase your risk of divorce by 55%.

I agree with the idea something like divorce is socially contagious, but I see the same being true for good marriages. In part, it’s about permission – permission to divorce, or permission to be more loving. There is also the power of peer pressure – living up to or down to the norm for your group. 

If your marriage is not as good as it should be, I would suggest you need to assess your friendships. You need plenty of time with those who have strong marriages, and limited time with those who are in trouble. On the other hand, if your marriage is strong, please help those who are struggling by spending some time with them.

Am I suggesting you ditch a friend because their marriage is in trouble? No, but if many of your friends have significant marriage problems, maybe you need to figure out why you seem to be attracted to such people. Are you looking for a group that won’t call you on your marriage problems. Do you want friends who will “be understanding” if your marriage craters? Are those friends pulling your marriage down?

If there is a good deal marriage turmoil, or divorce, in those close to you, I’d see it as a serious warning sign. See it as signal it is time to make your marriage more of a priority.

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6 Comments on “Is Divorce Contagious? How do You Avoid ‘Catching it’?

  1. I like this post, the only downside to it is that people will start gravitating away from those struggling in their marriage or going thru a divorce, which is wen the most support is needed.

    Although I do see the underlying gist of ‘bad company corrupting good character’

    • christina – It’s certainly an issue, which is why I suggested strong couples make a point of connecting with those who are struggling.

      It’s like someone who is drowning (I actually was a life guard) – you never put yourself in a place where they can take you down with them. This means those without training need to throw something or take a boat, not swim out. It also means a very small trained person does not swim out to someone large and strong. Know the risks, and your limits, and act accordingly. Beyond that, get trained so you can better help.

  2. My husband has a lot of single friends from his job right now. Three of them have never been married (and they are in their thirties at least), one is currently married and the other is divorced. I wonder how they effect him, but I’m glad that he has friends that he can hang out with.

  3. I think there’s quite a lot to this, but from a different angle. Of course it’s not contagious. But here’s what I saw happen in my own failed marriage – ultimately it’s about the choices you make and the people who will help you with that choice. I decided to fight for my marriage, and the people I *chose* to surround myself with and talk about my troubles were those I knew would support me and my marriage. By the same token the people I *chose* to avoid were those that I suspected would only validate me, tell me to go be happy, tell me to quit, etc. My ex did the opposite – her entire inner circle (save 1, her sister) were divorcees. The TV shows she watched (Real Housewives) were all about divorcees. So is it contagious? I believe no, but the people you choose to surround yourself with will be a big determining factor of the direction your marriage is going. Marriage (and love) are choices we make, not diseases we catch.

  4. Sadly, it seems the church treats those with marriage problems like lepers and shuts them out.

    That was my experience. Going to my church when my ex-wife had her affair was an exercise in futility. The pastor asked me what I did to force her to have an affair and refused to engage in the process outlined in Matthew 18 to deal with a sinning member of the church.

    But asked if I would sign the anti-same-sex-marriage petition.

    The para-church wasn’t much better. Focus on the Family, Smalley and Joe Beam were a few I contacted, but none would step up and reach out to my unfaithful ex-wife.

    If the lifeguards won’t step up, then why expect the rank and file membership to get involved?

    I agree with the concerns expressed above. It seems many take this position and are unwilling to risk getting their hands dirty to help. So on one hand, they say they are pro-marriage. However, it’s hard to tell by their actions when presented with a marriage in crisis.

    • Tony – You know I agree completely with you on the local church. The situation for the para-church is more difficult, especially when it’s not local. Effectively dealing with a couple requires knowing the couple. A ministry at a distance can’t do that. For that matter, the local church that has failed to do that before the problems is not much better off.

      Should the rank and file, as you say, get involved? Yes – but with proper training and safety. I have training as a life guard – if I was at a pool or a beach and the lifeguard on duty would not act, I would, within established safety parameters.

      I see more and more para-church groups designed to help marriages. Some of these provide excellent materials that will help any strong couple be able to help others. I also so more and more members of the “laity” getting serious about being involved in mins try (as the Bible says they should). It is happening.

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