Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Is divorce contagious?

Speaking of trendy ideas that are bad for children, let's talk about another one: divorce. Now, nobody really defends divorce as a good idea--nobody, except for daytime talk show hosts and women's magazines and divorce lawyers and...well, okay, so there are people out there who think divorce is a good idea. Scratch that, then.

But anyway, nobody pretends that, apart from egregious, addiction-rife or abusive situations, divorce is actually good for the children. So why, then, do so many adults end up doing it?

Here's a novel idea: maybe divorce is contagious:

(CNN) -- Divorce is contagious in social networks, a new study says. The idea is based on the theory of social contagion, or the spread of behavior or emotion through a group. In this case, the heated feelings and actions of one person's divorce can be transferred like a virus, causing others to divorce, according to the study.

Not only can the risk of divorce spread from one couple to their friends or family, it can also affect relationships at least two degrees of separation away from the original couple splitting up, said James H. Fowler, a professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego.

Your decision to split from your spouse can influence whether your friend gets divorced. It also can sway your friend's friend, according to preliminary findings by Fowler and fellow researchers from Harvard and Brown Universities.

Some therapists offer anecdotal reports of the divorce influence on friends.

Jay Slupesky, a California marriage counselor, said he's seen women separate from their husbands because they were inspired by their divorced female friends. Slupesky is working with several couples who are empty nesters in their 40s.

"It makes total sense," said Slupesky.

"Let's say the wife has a friend who is getting divorced -- it may give her a little more courage to pursue it."

Marriage therapist Gerry Lane in Georgia said he agrees divorce can be contagious. He said his clients' friends have triggered their desires for a divorce -- even among previously happily married couples.

"The people you associate with have a powerful influence over you," he said. "It's never just coming from inside the person."

Hmmm. Sometimes I have a hard time buying this one.

Couple A is getting a divorce. Couple B are happily married, but when Mrs. A, Mrs. B's best friend, tells her all about the divorce, Mrs. B becomes thoughtful. "Maybe I should get one of those," she thinks. "After all, I bought the same purse that A has, and I decorated my living room in the same colors..."

...

Nah.

I'd guess that what really happens is that like-minded couples tend to be friends, and that families also tend to be composed of at least some like-minded people. Thus, a Catholic couple who takes their wedding vows very, very seriously and would never consider divorce is unlikely to be affected by divorces in the Protestant extended family of one of the spouses; a Protestant couple who believes in "covenant marriage" and seeks ways to work out conflict that don't involve the divorce courts is unlikely to be thrown into divorce-planning by a friend who is unhappy in his or her marriage, etc.

But these days, few people take marriage as seriously as my hypothetical Catholic and covenanted-marriage Protestant couple do. A lot of people focus in so intently on the wedding (Starring: The Bride! In "Her Special Day!" etc.) that they forget to consider what marriage is all about--or if they do, they think vaguely that of course they love each other and will be happy forever and ever, but if things don't work out...

I bet that this study could be reworked to show that some people think marriages ought to be permanent, others think it can be temporary, and that there aren't as many close friendships between these two groups as one might think. Thus, the divorces in the second group only remind others in that same group that they never really expected the marriage to last, and maybe it's time they explored other options...

Divorce, then, isn't really contagious. But the cultural rot formed by the sexual revolution has bred stagnant pools of spiritual corruption from which infection is freely drunk by plenty of people who see only glittering water, and are oblivious to the rotting sewage which drifts in mortiferous gobs to spread its pestilence abroad.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

" But the cultural rot formed by the sexual revolution has bred stagnant pools of spiritual corruption from which infection is freely drunk by plenty of people who see only glittering water, and are oblivious to the rotting sewage which drifts in mortiferous gobs to spread its pestilence abroad."

The sexual revolution brought about contraception and then when that failed, abortion.

We are, sadly, looking at a nation that has slaughtered 50 million children over the past 37 years. The mothers and fathers of these babies are 100 million or more - and the after effects of the abortion contribute to the demise of marriages, i.e. divorce.

The divorce rate among those who are post abortive are probably higher than the divorce rate of those who have not had abortions. I write probably because I have not read any statistics, but just from a "of course, that makes sense" point of view - it has to be so.

We are one hurting nation . . .

Anonymous said...

"But these days, few people take marriage as seriously as my hypothetical Catholic and covenanted-marriage Protestant couple do. A lot of people focus in so intently on the wedding (Starring: The Bride! In "Her Special Day!" etc.) that they forget to consider what marriage is all about--or if they do, they think vaguely that of course they love each other and will be happy forever and ever, but if things don't work out..."

This is precisely why divorce IS contagious. Once one couple of friends get married, other couples fall like dominoes into their "vows". It lasts until they're in their mid-thirties, and one couple of friends gets divorced and again, the couples fall like dominoes.

Sure: it doesn't happen among someone whose friends are all committed Catholics, but out in the world you describe (The Bride! Her Special Day!) this happens all the time. Without the anchor of Catholicism, EVERY social contagion is "contagious".

c matt said...

I tend to agree that it is prehaps more of a correlation than causation. People do tend to socialize with those who have similar interests and beliefs.

JMB said...

My sister and my best friend are in the process of divorce. My sister's husband left her and my friend left her husband. As "amicable" as the divorces set out to be, neither has turned out that way. It's fighting, threatening, money fights, custody battles. Who thinks this is a great idea? I'm grateful for my husband of 17 years even more so now.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

Drawing broad conclusions from observed human behavior is always dangerous and unreliable. This is a case in point. Not only is the "divorce is contagious" less credible than "people likely to divorce are likely to be friends with each other," but Anonymous honestly admits that their own contrary position has no evidence to back it up. In the mind of Anonymous, is makes sense, so it must be so.

We would be best off if we could have fairly liberal divorce laws, and a culture which takes marriage vows seriously. You don't HAVE to stay in a truly abusive marriage, or meet legal standards of proof to convince a judge of how abusive it is, but, generally, it is a serious covenant, and the point is to work through the difficulties, not walk away like it was a bad hamburger or something.