Can You Catch the Divorce Virus?


Does it seem like all of your friends are seeking divorce advice in Pasadena? Moreover, it seems like every week a different celebrity couple is calling it quits. There may be a surprising cause for the divorce epidemic: According to psychologists and authors, divorce might just be a contagious phenomenon.

A new study conducted by political science professor James H. Fowler, a professor at the University of San Diego, along with researchers from Brown and Harvard universities, finds that like the common cold, divorce can spread like wildfire. The study found that couples that have close friends who divorce are more likely to end their marriage than ones that do not. Your decision to split may not only influences your friend but their friends, too, the study found. As Dr. Bonnie Eaker Weil, author of Make Up, Don't Break Up, explains, "Yes, it's contagious because when you see people breaking up, you start to look at your own marriage."

Friends, as it turns out, are powerful influences when it comes to relationships. Folks with a divorced friend were 147 percent more likely to get a divorce than those with happily-married friends. Also interesting: Through intimate conversations that reveal martial troubles and tell of one friend's divorce, the listener may not be affected but another friend who heard of the issues second-hand is likely to be the subject of divorce.

The virus doesn't end with just friends. Siblings who witness their brother or sister go through a divorce are 22 percent more likely to get divorced than those who don't have divorced siblings. Co-workers are also a big influence on couples, Fowler says. A divorced co-worker can increase the likelihood of a fellow employee divorcing by 55 percent as opposed to an employee who works with non-divorced people. Surprisingly, people with children were less likely to be influenced to divorce by other divorced couples, the study found.

In the end, how we as individuals react to a divorce epidemic varies from case to case. "Some people can be a carrier of the disease without actually exhibiting the symptoms," Fowler says while comparing divorce viruses to the flu. "They can carry a virus but they might not get a fever or cough."