I heard something the other day while listening to a talk by Jenna McCarthy. Divorce is contagious! And the first thing I thought was “What? That’s ridiculous!”
But it turns out that having close friends who get divorced increases your own chance of divorce by 75%! And if you think about it for a bit, it’s not quite so surprising.
Now, she didn’t go into why it happens, but I have some ideas that I’d like to share.
1. It opens you up to the possibility of divorce
Despite all the divorce happening these days, most of us still go into our marriages thinking “Well, that could never happen to me.” Or “that doesn’t happen to people like me.” We think that we’re strong, upstanding Christians and divorce can’t touch us, even though we intellectually know that Christians get divorced daily.
However, when we have close friends, they tend to be somewhat like us. Often they have kids around our kids’ age (or both have none). They tend to be in the same tax bracket, more or less. For Christians, they’re often in the same denomination because there is a good chance we met them at church. Or perhaps their kids go to the same school as yours. Let’s face it, sometimes our kids are better at finding us friends than we are.
So, when these close friends get divorced, the possibility of divorce suddenly becomes real. The thought can enter your head of “Well if they could get divorced, maybe we’re not safe either.”
And for some people, that lack of security shakes them deeply. Suddenly they start looking for signs that their spouse is going to leave them. In some cases, they might fabricate reasons, or exaggerate them. In others, they might start picking at the flaws we all have and starting to build a case in their head for why they deserve better.
How to defend
Recognizing that divorce can happen to you is actually good! Provided you react appropriately. It’s important to realize that your marriage is not impervious to risks and that you need to actively defend against it. It’s good to know that relationships drift apart, that they can be damaged our words and actions. We need to gain the skills necessary to build up the marriage. Marriages naturally suffer damage and need constant repair and fortification.
2. It makes divorce less scary
Many people list their reasons for not getting divorced during the difficult parts of marriage as having nothing to do with love and more to do with fear.
People say things like “I was afraid …”
- to be alone
- I’d never find someone else
- of what it would do to my kids
- of losing my kids
- of trying to find a job again
- I’d lose all my stuff
- of how much it would cost
- of what people in the church would think or say
Then, their close friend gets divorced and they seem to be okay. Now, it could be that they really are okay and that they really are happier. Or it could be that they’re putting on a brave face for the world because none of us wants to be pitied. Whatever the case, we see them appear happier or at least surviving. We think, “maybe I would be okay too”.
And that is a dangerous thought for a couple that’s struggling and having issues in their marriage. At that point, some people stop trying in their own marriages. They give up, because “well, divorce isn’t so bad”.
How to defend
Change your mindset. Not getting divorced out of fear is probably the worst reason not to. The second is probably staying together for the kids. Rather, focus on loving your spouse. Contrary to what the world tells us, the Bible says love is a choice or even an action. It is not an emotion. Falling out of love means you have decided not to love.
So, decide to love. Don’t focus on the fears, but rather focus on loving your spouse. Don’t stay together because of what others would say, stay together because of what you can build together.
3. Your friends talk down about their spouse
This usually starts before the divorce occurs, but it’s still a factor afterward as well. If your friends are nearing a divorce, they might start airing all their dirty laundry. Not everyone does this. Some divorces come completely by surprise to everyone around them. However for some, especially to close friends, all the dirt might come out ahead of time.
And people’s attitude about marriage is definitely contagious. If your friend is saying “my spouse does this and it’s horrible”, what if your spouse does that too? And it might not be anything big. Maybe they leave their socks on the floor. But it shines a line on that particular point and makes it important to you as well. Stack enough of these up and you start demonizing your spouse as well.
How to defend
When we focus on the negatives, that tends to be all we see. When you hear your friends talk down about their spouse, you need to be intentional about looking for good qualities in your own spouse. In fact, if your friends aren’t divorced yet and they are talking negatively about their husband or wife, then maybe remind them of some of the good qualities or challenge them to focus on those aspects they admire this week.
It’s amazing how a perspective shift can change our reality.
4. Your friends talk badly about marriage
The other thing that can happen is that your friends speak poorly about marriage in general. Because they’ve had a bad experience and went through a divorce, they might feel that everyone’s marriage is bad, or that the good marriage are rare. Sadly, that’s probably true, that the good marriages are rare. But it’s not because of the roll of the dice. Rather it’s because we lack the skills and effort to make them good. Two things that we have the power to change.
Point is, they can start to poison the minds of people around them towards marriage. And when you stop thinking about marriage as a sacred bond instituted by God and instead think of it as a mutually beneficial contract instituted by the state, then it becomes far easier to walk away from that, especially if you feel your spouse isn’t fulfilling your part of the contract. In particular, if you feel part of their obligation is to make you happy.
How to defend
Remind yourself that marriage isn’t a contract. As one of my favourite books says “What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?” This is a sacred relationship ordained by God. Marriage isn’t the problem. It’s our behaviours in the marriage that are the issue, and those can be changed. Yes, you might need to learn some new skills and behaviours, but in the process of becoming more Christ-like with each other, you can also work towards a happy marriage as well.
5. Your friends might actively try to break up your marriage
Sadly, it does happen in rare cases where your friends don’t want to feel alone in their situation and might actively try to cause your own divorce. They might start talking down about your spouse or pointing out their flaws. They might even suggest you leave your spouse and offer to get you in touch with their divorce lawyer. They might tell you how much happier you’ll be alone, that you can be single together.
How to defend
Remind yourself that you love your spouse and that you are committed to commitment. Even if things aren’t perfect, leaving and starting over won’t fix the issues. You’ll just start a new marriage with the same bad behaviours on your side, no history to fall back on and the added complications of baggage from another marriage, plus the complexities of children in multiple families. Instead, focus on fixing those behaviours, learning to communicate and build a better marriage out of the one you are already in.
And you might need to set some ground rules and boundaries for your friend. If they can’t stop trying to tear down your marriage, it might be better to break that relationship rather than lose the on you have with your spouse.
If you need help
If you’re struggling with some of these topics and you find yourself drifting away, check out our marriage coaching services. We can teach you those skills and new behaviours to help you build a strong foundation for your marriage.