4 Ways a Breakup or Divorce Can Affect a Couple’s Friends

close-up of two men hugging with a woman standing behind themMost breakups are painful—not just for the couple, but also for those standing in the surrounding blast zone. We often hear about how divorce can affect the immediate family, but we rarely think about how a breakup or divorce affects a couple’s friends.

Studies have shown that divorce often negatively impacts those with up to two degrees of separation from the couple. If you’re friends with a recently divorced or broken-up pair, it is likely that your life may be impacted in one of the following ways.

1. You’re More Likely to Get Divorced

You wouldn’t necessarily think that someone else’s divorce could affect your marriage, but some studies show it can.

Divorce contagion is a social phenomenon wherein certain behaviors, feelings, and attitudes spread throughout a social network. This occurs because people tend to become more open to ideas and behaviors when they’re supported by their peers. When a married person talks with a divorced friend, he or she directly or indirectly learns the benefits and drawbacks of separation and may become more accustomed to or interested in the idea. If your significant other has been on the fence about the viability of your relationship, a divorce within your social circle can become a tipping point.

According to prominent research, if your friend gets divorced, your marriage has a 147% greater chance of coming to an end. Even your coworker’s divorce could affect your life, increasing your probability for divorce by 55%. According to the same research, however, if you have children your marriage will likely remain unaffected by the divorce of a friend. Children have been found to counter the effects of the social divorce contagion. Research reveals that couples with children are not as susceptible and their marriages are likely to stay intact regardless of the outcome of friends’ marriages.

2. Couple Friendships May Dissolve

If you’re married or in a long-term relationship and both you and your partner are friends with parting couples, it is quite possible that many or all of the shared friendships will dissolve. The double dates to movies, dinners, and sporting events will end immediately, but it may even be difficult to remain friends with an individual within a shared friendship.

Newly single people tend to dislike spending time with couples if it reminds them of an ended marriage or relationship that didn’t pan out. Similarly, couples may feel uneasy about spending time with a newly divorced friend if they were once friends with both partners. They may feel pressured to choose sides or reveal information to one party about the other.

In one study examining the fallout effect of ended relationships, for 50% of recently split couples, the former partners also ended friendships with one or more members of another couple with whom the former partners had been friends. One in eight couples ended their friendships with both partners in a mutual friendship. Don’t be too discouraged by these findings, however. It is quite possible to maintain your friendships after a relationship has ended. In fact, about 33% of the couples in the same study reported that they were able to remain friends with both of the individuals in a shared friendship.

3. Group Outings and Events May Never Be the Same

As mentioned earlier, if a couple in your social circle splits, your group of friends could end up losing one or both individuals from the recently parted couple. If your group is able to maintain the friendships, however, there will probably still be some difficulties when planning events such as birthday parties, group dinners, or other events that bring everyone together. One partner may not wish to see the other, forcing the group to choose when making invitations. One or both members of the former couple may choose not to come to a group event out of fear of seeing the other, or they could both come and end up arguing or making the event awkward for others in attendance.

It should be stressed that this isn’t always the case. Many couples are able to maintain healthy friendships and treat each other with kindness and respect. Regardless, your group of friends will notice some changes when it comes to getting the gang together.

4. Remaining Neutral Could Be Difficult

Most people who are mutual friends with both members of a divorced or split couple will choose to remain neutral and maintain friendships with both parties. Unfortunately, this isn’t always easy. Many people feel pressured to choose between friends, and they may not know how they should act around their newly divorced pals.

For this reason, people may start to distance themselves and friendships could weaken. As a mutual friend of the couple, expect to experience some uncomfortable feelings in the months following the breakup.

Help Your Friends Reach Out for Help If They Need It

Ending a relationship or filing for divorce is tough on all involved parties, including a couple’s friends. In the days, weeks, and months following a breakup or divorce, people generally reach out to friends for support, confirmation that they did the right thing, and a shoulder to lean or cry on. Be a good friend and be aware of some of the changes within your friend’s life.

If your friend has recently ended a relationship, know that some things are going to change, especially if he or she (or they) belonged to a larger social circle that you’re a part of. Be sensitive to these changes and try to help your friend get through them. If you notice he or she is exhibiting symptoms of depression or experiencing an unusual amount of stress and anxiety, please consider helping your friend find a qualified therapist to speak with. A therapist can provide a safe, neutral space, free of judgment, to help a person understand his or her feelings and behaviors related to the ended relationship, and the shifting dynamics that will inevitably occur after the split.

References:

  1. Chen, Stephanie. (June 10, 2010). Could you be ‘infected’ by friend’s divorce? Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2010/LIVING/06/10/divorce.contagious.gore/
  2. Deal, Katherine H., and Grief, Geoffrey. (August 31, 2012). The impact of divorce on friendships with couples and individuals. Journal of Divorce and Remarriage. Vol 53, Issue 6. DOI: 10.1080/10502556.2012.682894
  3. Morin, Rich. (October 21, 2013). Is divorce contagious? Pew Research Center. Retrieved from http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/10/21/is-divorce-contagious/
  4. Moutria, Kristen. The Effect of Divorces on Mutual Friendships. Global Post. Retrieved from http://everydaylife.globalpost.com/effects-divorces-mutual-friendships-14139.html

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  • Faith A.

    Faith A.

    March 24th, 2015 at 8:43 AM

    Are you telling me that divorce is contagious? This can’t be good news for the US family given that more than 50% already end in divorce!

  • Audra

    Audra

    March 24th, 2015 at 10:38 AM

    No matter how hard you try it is almost impossible to stay in neutral territory when you have friends going through a divorce. I know that I have tried but it always seems that there is some loyalty there to one part of the couple that you may not have with the other so you are naturally at some point going to have to take sides. Either you do that or you just have to totally end the friendship/. Most of the time it simply does not work out when you try to remain friends with both.

  • Curtis

    Curtis

    March 25th, 2015 at 3:43 AM

    There is absolutely no way that I would allow the relationship f some of my friends affect my own relationship. Yeah, that might be easier said then done, but I should be focused on my own relationship and marriage and let everyone else worry about theirs.

  • kEvIn

    kEvIn

    March 25th, 2015 at 11:30 AM

    MY brother and his wife are currently going through a divorce.

    What makes this even harder right now is that my wife and his soon to be ex are pretty much best friends, so my wife feels like her loyalties should be with both but how does she even juggle that?

    I think that we are all struggling with how to find that balance but honestly I think that she could just let go of that friendship and it would be better for everyone. There is a part of me that feels unfair for even saying that but then again, it sure would seem the right thing to do.

  • talitha

    talitha

    March 25th, 2015 at 3:03 PM

    You also have to expect the same things to happen if it is your marriage coming apart. You might think that they were your friends first until they are forced to decide and you find yourself without those same people that you once couldn’t imagine your life without.

  • Marrett

    Marrett

    March 26th, 2015 at 9:28 AM

    Couples can be very inter dependent on each other.

    I have seen lots of relationships fail because that is what is happening to the other couples around them.

  • Bray

    Bray

    March 27th, 2015 at 11:04 AM

    It can get to a point where it is so uncomfortable that you will find the need to distance yourself all the time from both members of that former couple. There will always be those times when one or the other wants to pull you into a conversation about the ex, and when you are still trying to maintain friendly terms with this person too, it can be hard to not participate. But when you do, that is like you are taking sides, someone is going to get hurt and there is a pretty strong likelihood that you will end up losing a friend because if it. I know that it is dicey, but the best thing to do is to go with the policy of trying to keep the peace and stay out of it as much as you can.

  • caterina

    caterina

    March 28th, 2015 at 7:21 AM

    If your marriage is strong at the core then it really won’t matter what is happening to the other couples around you.
    Sure, it might give you some interesting conversation starters but your own relationship should remain intact.

  • marston

    marston

    March 29th, 2015 at 3:41 PM

    I saw a lot of this when my fiancee and I broke things off late last year. I knew that it would be hard because we had a lot of mutual friends, friends that we had before we got together. And it was hard on everyone because I know that they all felt like they had to choose sides but to me they didn’t. Now to her they did because if they stayed friends with me then she wouldn’t have anything to do with them. I guess that weeded out a lot of the problems right there.

  • Moe

    Moe

    March 30th, 2015 at 1:05 PM

    Things may not ever be the same, but sometimes that can be a very good thing.
    You can learn a whole lot from watching other friends who have made mistakes and who have not made it through their marriage without a breakup.
    Take a step back from all of it to see what you can learn, some things that you and your partner could work on so that the two of you can keep your own marriage intact.

  • joseph

    joseph

    March 31st, 2015 at 11:41 AM

    This is no time to judge the actions of others. If they reach out and need help, then be a good friend and do that for them regardless of whether you agree with what they have done or not.
    We face enough cruelty and judgement in our lives most of the time without having to listen to it from those that we just want comfort from.

  • AliceOttawa

    AliceOttawa

    July 25th, 2016 at 9:22 AM

    I definitely struggled with telling our mutual friends about my decision to divorce. Would they support me? Would they take sides? It turns out most were understanding. Others just sort of dropped off my radar, which was fine.
    Real friends will support you. They’ll want what is best for you. And sometimes, they may even steer you away from doing something you’d later regret.

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