A headline proclaiming that “Divorce is contagious” probably ought to spark the immediate reaction, “of course it is.” As the essay suggests, all of these big life events are contagious. I observed among my wife’s friends as well as other circles of friend clusters that marriages, child births, divorces, and other relationship events that seem mainly between a husband and wife seem conspicuously to spread around a group of female friends.
Writes Bek Day:
There is a big social component to the times at which we each decide to make major life decisions like marriage – including, research suggests, when and if those marriages end.
According to a study conducted across three US universities, you’re 75% more likely to get divorced if at least one member of your close friendship circle ends their marriage.
Researchers arrived at this extraordinary figure using a longitudinal study which examined participants over a 32-year period. Their findings, published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information showed that divorce was something that could be passed on through ‘social contagion’.
That’s why we have to make marriage contagious. As I wrote again and again during the same-sex marriage debate, the designation matters because it allows those of us who maintain long-term relationships with the other who is significant because we two have created children to invest the institution with meaning. (That applies even among couples that have no children, provided their relationship does not contradict the ability to create children as a central premise… that is, provided one is a man and one is a woman.)
So, to counter the contagion of divorce, we have to have marriages that neither person wants to leave and that other people would take as a model. That means we must take seriously our responsibility to seriously work out our differences, and in the end, that is most likely when we enter the relationship with the understanding that divorce is simply not an option. It also means those considering divorce should consider how their decisions will affect those around them.
Yes, marriage is a two-person relationship, but its effects are much broader than that.