Sunday, March 3, 2024

The Divorce Diaries: When Are You Most At Risk of Splitting? Plus, Can Divorces Be Contagious?

Welcome to our new series, The Divorce Diaries. If you’ve missed our first instalment, you can read about the rise of divorces since lockdown last year; a woman who discovered her husband’s affair during lockdown; another whose husband ended up with her Pilates instructor

“Oh, how I wish I knew someone getting married. Weddings are such fun,” my friend wistfully sighed into her coffee. “Instead, everyone I know is getting divorced!”

And to prove she was only slightly exaggerating, she began listing off couples – mostly friends of her husband – who had split in the last couple of years. Her list just kept going. They were falling like dominos.

But she said there had been an unexpected silver lining to come out of the “mass divorcement” for her own marriage. Although it was difficult (and slightly terrifying) at the start, she and her husband now have much more open conversations about their own relationship. They check in with one another, they appreciate the little things the other does for them and actively make a point of acknowledging those things.

“It went from, ‘Hell, do you want to divorce me too?’ to ‘Okay, how do we make sure our relationship stays strong,’” she tells. “Every Sunday we have a ‘Marriage State of the Nation’ chat!”

But, is her story just a series of coincidences? Is a “mass divorcement” something that often goes on? Can you really “catch” divorce from your friends?

Turns out, it really is contagious.

One scientific study (conducted by McDermott [Brown University], Fowler [UCSD] and Christakis [Harvard]) found that you are 75% more likely to get divorced if you have a close friend who is divorced.

And from there, it only amplifies. If you have several divorced friends in your social network, your odds shoot up to 147% (compared to people who are married and socialise with mostly married friends).

In fact, who you surround yourself with can have a huge impact on your likelihood to divorce and sometimes they’re not even the friends you choose to spend time with! Having a divorced sibling means you are 22% more likely to split yourself – but, interestingly a brother or sister seems to have less influence than your co-workers. If you’re surrounded by people who’ve been through a divorce when you’re at work, your chances increase by a huge 50%.

When I caught up with another friend later in the week, I asked her about her friend group and the rates of divorce. She’s a bit older than me and the first friend I had spoken to – while we’re both in our late 30s, this friend had recently celebrated her 54th birthday. Had she ever seen a “mass divorcement” sweep through her social circle?

She told me of just one close friend who had been through a divorce, plus a divorced brother. “But,” she said, “Facebook tells a different story. There, it seems to be rife! Suddenly a lot of people I went to varsity with or from my old coffee groups have a very glamorous new head shot and are doing Eat, Pray, Love type retreats! People in my age group seem to be divorcing in droves.”

Divorce coach Kimberlee Sweeney says it’s unsurprising and that there are actually three life-stages when we are more likely to divorce.

“The first is in the late 30s/early 40s,” she tells. “Women especially, tend to hit 40 and start to find their voice. They’ve often had their children or the children are getting older and they’re realizing that there’s more to life and want changes. And if those changes don’t happen within the relationship and they can’t grow together as a couple, it’s a stage where they usually grow apart.”

The second most common age for a divorce is then around where my friend is – the 50s. “That can be an age where women are going through menopause and men just don’t cope with it. The kids might be getting a bit older, or heading off for university and the women start to feel like they’re a bit more free to be able to do their own thing.”

Lastly, Kimberlee says there’s what they refer to as the “grey divorce”.

“That’s where you see couples who are coming close to retirement and they just can’t imagine retiring and spending all day, every day with each other. They end up taking their retirement savings and homes and splitting it and starting a new life. Sometimes they’re couples who have the home and the bach, and they’ll take one each.”

But it’s the younger ones who are divorcing in greater numbers – dragging the average age down to 44.4 years in New Zealand for women.

That age has been slowly increasing over the years, as the age that we get married also increases. In 2019 the average age for a Kiwi female to divorce was 44.4 years vs 38.4 years in 1999 while the average age for males was 47 in 2019, vs 41.2 in 1999.

That rise in age also makes sense when you take in that in 2019 the average age women are getting married for the first time is 29.4, vs 27 a decade earlier.

In the coming weeks, we’ll be talking about divorces once a week – when they’re most likely to happen, how to decide whether to stay or go, what to do if you have kids involved, what mistakes most people make… as well as sharing some of your own stories.

So keep an eye out and if you’d like to share your own experiences, tips or advice (we can keep you anonymous if you’d prefer!) please do email me at [email protected]

LAST WEEK – Don’t miss last week’s instalment where we spoke to two divorce coaches, and heard from real Kiwi women about their nightmare experiences – including one who discovered her husband was having an affair during lockdown last year (while she had a little baby, no less!), plus another woman whose husband ended up with her Pilates instructor! Catch up on it here.

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