Everyone Around Me is Breaking Up: Is Divorce Contagious?

Oh no, another couple you know is getting a divorce! Do you think it’s contagious? Are you worried that break-ups are like a virus you could catch?

It’s true that if you already have some little doubts inside you, someone else’s breakup could wake them up. And who doesn’t have doubts? After the romance fades, it’s natural to have some dissatisfaction brewing somewhere inside you. Don’t worry — there is an antidote.

In fact, your doubts can be an opportunity for you to keep your own marriage alive and vital.  Over time, your original clear, committed choice to be with your mate can get a little frayed. You might hear yourself saying, “I married him, so I guess I have to stay with him.” You can use your doubts to get back on track, even knowing all you know about your partner.

Here’s how to do that:

1. Use your doubts as a reminder to give feedback to your partner about what you don’t like.

If you have been holding back your feedback, there’s probably a good reason: feedback is risky. You almost never get the perfect response — people are usually defensive when they first hear feedback. Wouldn’t you be too? It’s hard to hear things about yourself that are different from how you see yourself. When you give feedback, get ready for three waves of defensiveness — the last one could be a tsunami.

Resolve to stay calm, articulate, and committed to working together throughout the whole conversation. Give up the expectation that your partner will totally agree with you right now. Give him or her time to let it settle in. Let the waves of defensiveness wash on the beach and recede out to sea. In a couple of days you might hear him or her saying exactly what you said as if it was their idea!

Feedback is risky — and rewarding.

2.  Remember to choose the challenge

Every relationship brings challenges, and usually not the ones you expected. Too much risk or not enough risk; too much excitement or too much security; too much or too little emotional conversation; too much or too little sex; too much negativity, independence, togetherness, work, play. If you can take those challenges as an opportunity to grow, you can keep your choice alive and vital.

Ask yourself:

  • What do I need to do within myself to meet these challenges?
  • Do I need to start taking more initiative for fun, sex, or emotional talks?
  • Do I need to stay calmer when I don’t get what I want?
  • How could I be more creative about making these things happen?
  • Am I contributing to the problem by the way I get impatient, hold back, give up, argue, or judge?

Meeting these challenges will make you grow as a person. In fact, I believe that meeting marriage challenges can be a huge catalyst for beneficial personal change. Keep your commitment alive and vital by choosing the challenge your partner brings you: you’ve chosen your partner, and challenges go right along with that choice. Whatever it is, take it as your personal challenge to grow to meet that challenge with calm, confidence, clarity, and creativity.

In Internal Family Systems Therapy those are called Self qualities. They are who you are. Anything different than those qualities are parts of you trying to help (arguing, criticizing, getting angry, giving up) but actually adding to the problem.

It’s okay if marriages are breaking up around you. Use your doubts to create a more robust, vital commitment with your partner, and to choose and re-choose the challenge your partner brings you.

© Copyright 2010 by Mona R. Barbera, PhD, therapist in Providence, Rhode Island. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 5 comments
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  • nic

    nic

    November 8th, 2010 at 5:04 PM

    yep it’s contagious- one couple in a group breaks up and you inevitably see the dominoes begin to fall on others

  • DENNIS

    DENNIS

    November 8th, 2010 at 7:17 PM

    A couple who me and my wife were friends with got divorced recently and this really scared us. This, combined with the fact that we hav not been married for too long yet, really alerted us. But fortunately it has affected us in a positive manner. We are now more closer and considerate towards each other.

  • RF

    RF

    November 9th, 2010 at 5:21 AM

    You are lucky Dennis. These kind of things often result in something similar (bad) or the complete opposite(as in your case,good). But you can now make use of this situation to come back together on the same terms if you do happen to have differences in the future. You can ask yourselves whether you want the same thing that happened to your friends to you guys and the answer will guide you guys to reconciliation.

  • Bonnie

    Bonnie

    November 9th, 2010 at 5:49 AM

    Come on- breaking up with a spouse is a CHOICE you make, and to say that it is contagious and even brought on by the actions of others is such a cop out. You are the ones who make the decision to make a relationship work or not. If you let others make that for you then I suggest getting a backbone. It will serve you well.

  • paige

    paige

    November 10th, 2010 at 5:46 AM

    It is very easy to be influenced by the actions of others around you and the things that they are doing. Someone close has an issue with her husband, you start to think that maybe you do too. Her husband is driving her to divorce? well maybe yours is too. What needs to happen in cases like this is that we all need to step back and take a good long look at our own relationship and not the things that we see going on in someone elses life. We have to be happy with what we see and feel when we are around our own spouses and not get so dependent on taking what we feel from others. Yes I think it can be contagious but in no way do I think that this is right or that it is healthy. I for one think that it is silly for someone else to be telling me what I do or do not feel in my own marriage.

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