Is Divorce Contagious? How You Can Beat the Bug

Scientist says one couples' divorce is often followed closely by friends.

ByABC News via GMA logo
July 19, 2010, 1:18 PM

July 20, 2010 — -- For more than three decades, Dan Trimble thought he had a picture-perfect marriage. He and his wife, Grada, had two daughters and what he considered a life of adventure.

But he said everything changed two years ago when Trimble's oldest daughter got divorced and the idea spread -- like a "disease" according to Trimble -- to his wife, who dissolved their own marriage.

While it may sound like hyperbole, experts say divorce can become "contagious" in close social groups.

"Think of this 'idea' of getting divorced, this 'option' of getting divorced like a virus, because it spreads more or less the same way," University of California, San Diego professor James Fowler told "Good Morning America."

"When one person experiences divorce, it gives the people around them information about what that's like," he said.

According to new research done by Fowler, along with professors Nicholas Christakis and Rose McDermott, being friends with someone who gets divorced makes someone 147 percent more likely to get divorced themselves. A person who has a sibling who gets divorced is 22 percent more likely to also split from his spouse, the researchers say.

CLICK HERE to get Terry Real's tips on what you can do if your relationship is threatened by another couple's divorce.

Fowler said someone does not necessarily have to get divorced himself to change the way divorce is viewed in a social group.

"You might have a friend, for example, who gets divorced, and that changes your mind about whether or not this is an appropriate option. And then you go and talk to a different friend about whether or not they should get divorced. And so one person's divorce can travel through the network even though the person in the middle isn't really affected," Fowler said.

"The 32 years we were married, for the most part, were very good years," Trimble told "Good Morning America." "We had a lot of memories. I was active duty Air Force. We were traveling all over the world."