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Making a break for it: When you divorce because your friends have

If one or more of your friends have called it quits on their marriage, are you more likely to do so?

If one or more of your friends have called it quits on their marriage, are you more likely to do so? Photo: Getty

Anthony Calva*, 46, had been seriously contemplating whether to end his relationship for more than a year when one of his closest friends got divorced. 

''I had only been married for a few years. I didn’t want to admit it was a failure already, we didn’t have children,'' Calva says. ''But then a good friend of mine announced he was getting divorced, and he had two kids. It gave me the courage to leave because I knew it was never going to work between us.''

Is divorce catching? If one or more of your friends have called it quits on their marriage, are you more likely to do so? 

Yes,  says a joint study by Yale University, Brown University and the University of California released in April this year: 75 per cent of people are more likely to get divorced if one of their friends is divorced. Copycat divorces, it seems, are more common than we think. 

''I was embarrassed,'' Calva remembers. ''Getting married was a huge deal, we spent a lot of money on the wedding. We were about a year off having babies and I knew that it wasn’t right. I’m glad now that I had the guts to do it before we had children together, but I don’t think I would have if my mate hadn’t done it first.''

Copycats are emboldened to end their marriages because they’re not the first in their family or friend group to do so. The huge emotional rollercoaster they are about to embark on is made easier if they can see someone already going through it, and it doesn’t seem so bad, or at least appears bearable.

The safety net doesn’t end at close friends, however. The same study also claims that people are 33 per cent more likely to divorce if they’ve heard a friend of a friend has just pulled the plug on their marriage.

''The contagion of divorce can spread through a social network like a rumour, affecting friends up to two degrees removed,'' says Rose McDermott of Brown University, who headed a team which analysed three decades of relationship data on thousands of people from Massachusetts in the US. 

The term ''social contagion'' is used to describe a number of ''catching'' traits, like adolescent sexual behaviour and childhood obesity, or how brothers and sisters are more likely to have children once their sibling has done so. 

So when we are talking about divorce, it seems that your friend’s relationships are almost as important as your own. 

''We suggest that attending to the health of one’s friends’ marriages might serve to support and enhance the durability of one’s own relationship,'' the study says.

''Marriages endure within the context of communities of healthy relationships and within the context of social networks that encourage and support such unions.''

Right. Does that mean if your best ''couple'' friends break up, or you hear that so-and-so’s friend’s cousin has split, you are next? 

Psychologist Anita Vosper from Relationships Australia agrees that people might begin to question their own relationship if friends or family members go through a divorce.

''They’d wonder about the quality of their relationship and would want to evaluate that more,'' she says. ''However, I think the reality is that every relationship is different and as an outsider, we don’t really have the full picture inside other people’s relationships. You have to examine every union on its own basis – there are so many components and variables that impact a relationship.''

''We hang out with a bunch of great couples,'' says Cath Silvano*, 39. ''We spend time with our kids on weekends, we go on holidays together. We’d be devastated if they suddenly got divorced.'' 

While Silvano maintains it certainly wouldn’t mean an end to her own relationship, it would change their life as they know it, redefining the way they spent their free time. 

Vosper advises against going down the same path just because friends have. 

''People should look within themselves first and have some assessment of their relationship, maybe with an external person present like a counsellor,'' she says. ''It’s a personal experience. Whether you’re spending time with other happy couples or couples who fight, your relationship is personal to you. It comes down to the individual. Outside factors may influence it at different points but ultimately it’s how you feel as a partner in the relationship.''

* Names have been changed.

21 comments

  • This story reminds me of a car I seen just the other day with a licence plate "EXWIFE" as there where two people in it and a male driving I am not sure whose car it was.

    Commenter
    BJ
    Location
    Newcastle
    Date and time
    July 11, 2014, 8:06AM
    • This story reminds me of a car I saw*

      Given how most divorce proceedings go, I would think its the ex wife and her new lover in the car. Men cannot catch a break with the Australian judiciary system when it comes to divorce settlements can they

      Commenter
      Not Really
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      July 11, 2014, 10:26AM
    • I saw a car with a number plate - WASHIS

      Commenter
      hmm..
      Date and time
      July 11, 2014, 1:53PM
  • If you're in a relationship and spending all your free time with other couples then that's just sad. I'm married but have lots of friends who are single. I can't stand all that smugness of "happy" couples when they only hang out with other happy couples.

    Commenter
    Robbie
    Date and time
    July 11, 2014, 8:11AM
    • if you're doubting the relationship and contemplating a divorce anyway then probably yes.

      Commenter
      Victorious Painter
      Date and time
      July 11, 2014, 8:16AM
      • Marriage is a financial asset for women
        Marriage is a financial liability for men

        Even if the marriage doesn't work out, women continue to benefit financially

        Commenter
        Marriage strike
        Date and time
        July 11, 2014, 9:06AM
        • Your men's rights movement is showing Marriage Strike
          This is so far from my experience that it has actually inspired me to set up an account to comment. I supported my ex for several years as he finished a degree and set up his business, only to be left in debt and for him to refuse to repay me his half of the costs of us breakig up - remaining credit card debt, rent, bills, even divorce costs. There was no "liability" for him whatsoever. Please enlighten me, how am I benefiting financially from this situation?

          Commenter
          BB
          Date and time
          July 11, 2014, 9:58AM
        • Ain't THAT the truth.
          I got left with $50K+ of debt my ex-wife had accumulated (and before you ask, I KNOW I was married to it, yet it decided to get credit card after personal loan - now my problem).
          It is SO easy in today's society for women to leave with far more than 50%.

          Commenter
          Legandos
          Location
          Perth
          Date and time
          July 11, 2014, 10:38AM
        • BB, the only men that I have seen benefit from divorce are out and out mongrels. The rest get shafted. The system, especially family law is stacked against males. Divorce must be the greatest cause of poverty in the first world. Most separations are instigated by women and a lot of divorced women will actively encourage their friends to leave their husbands.

          Commenter
          The Genuine Article
          Date and time
          July 11, 2014, 11:39AM
        • BB
          in the words of my ex-wife "suck it up!"

          Commenter
          too bad
          Date and time
          July 11, 2014, 11:56AM

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