A controversial study on social consequences of divorce has recently landed on my radar. In 2010, James Fowler of University of California, San Diego, Nicholas Christakis of Harvard University and Rose McDermott of Brown University looked at divorce in conjunction with social networks. The researchers found that it may be possible to “catch divorce” – not dissimilar to the flu or a common cold.
Even with the limitations of the sample size and the geography of the study, the numbers told an interesting story. When close friends break-up, the odds of a marital split seems to increase by 75%. Individuals who have divorced friends in their larger social circles are 147% more likely to get a divorce than people who have friends that remain married. People with divorced siblings are 22% more likely to divorce. The effect of divorce doesn’t seem to be limited to friends and family: in small companies, individuals are 55% more likely to divorce when a co-worker does so.
So, is your relationship doomed if a close friend, sibling, or a co-worker has decided to get a divorce? Not necessarily. It is true that social signaling and pressure are both real and powerful. Decisions made by the people around us can affect what we buy, how we dress, where we vacation, and yes – whether we stay married. However, that doesn’t mean you have no control over the outcome. Here’s where you might start.
Consider the degree to which others influence you
No one exists in a social vacuum, and the people around us affect our behaviors and decisions. However, the degree to which actions and opinions of other people impact your choices can vary. The ability to ignore the Joneses isn’t binary (in other words, social indifference exists on a scale, and your position may change depending upon the day and the people involved).
Reflect on the degree to which your decisions and outlook are affected by things shared by your friends on social media, or by your acquaintances at a party. How much time do you spend thinking about what they are wearing, buying, drinking, or the status of their family relationship? If you find that you are often easily influenced by others, consider training your social indifference muscle.
Focus on your relationship
It may sound obvious, but when friends and family are having a difficult time getting along, it’s best to focus your attention inward on your most important relationships. Make the time to connect. Reinforce your commitment to each other through words, acts of service, expressed gratitude, and strong communication. Talk about small problems before they grow into irreconcilable differences. Reflect on your role models and look for great examples of lasting relationships in your community and elsewhere.
Remember that you are in control
Finally, remember that no matter what the people around you are doing (or even what your past history shows), you have a good deal of influence over what happens next. A higher risk of divorce does not necessarily equate destiny. Human relationships can be messy and complicated, but just because Brad and Angelina split up doesn’t mean there’s no hope for you!