Your husband filed for divorce and you blamed his rotten friends. Turns out you were right!
Well, the "rotten" part may be debatable, even if they were a little rowdy at the wedding. But if your ex's pals are divorcees themselves, recent research out of Brown University suggests you may be on to something.
Rose McDermott, professor of political science at Brown, joined with colleagues from Harvard University and the University of California-San Diego to produce the study, "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do, Unless Everyone Else is Doing It Too."
The central finding — divorce is contagious, it seems.
Consider this: McDermott et al. found that you're 75 percent more likely to get divorced if a close friend ends her marriage. And if you have got a divorced co-worker, you're 55 percent more likely to break it off with a spouse.
Your bro or sis can be an important influence, too; a sibling's divorce increases the chances of a split by 22 percent.
The study is part of a growing body of research suggesting that even our most intimate decisions — on sexual behavior, birth control, and the like — are influenced in profound ways by our social networks.
And it turns out the divorce bug, which strikes men and women in equal measure, is potent even if your pal or sister lives clear across the country. "The key is that the effect is not so much geographical — that you live close to someone who is divorced does not seem to matter so much, but that you are emotionally or psychologically close to someone who gets divorced," said McDermott, in an interview posted on the Brown website.
The study also suggests a chain effect: a woman gets divorced and talks about the experience with a married friend, who passes along the tale of woe to another pal; that friend-of-a-friend is now more likely to get divorced.
James Fowler, the UC-San Diego political science professor who co-authored the study, says the researchers were not sure, at the outset, how it would break. Would people who saw intimates going through the pain of a divorce be less likely to split up with their own spouses? Or would they see the benefits in ending a strained marriage and take the plunge themselves?
Well, it seems people are more likely to see the upside in a trip to Splitsville. And that raises questions about whether we, as a society, should be intervening to slow the spread of divorce. Breaking off a bad relationship can be healthy, after all.
But if we do want to keep couples together, thinking of divorce as a social phenomenon — rather than a purely personal one — can shift one's thinking about the best ways to intercede.
Close your eyes and you can picture the billboard, high above Route 95: "Friends Don't Let Friends Divorce."