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What Your Friend's Divorce Means for Your Marriage

WebMD Feature from "Redbook" Magazine

By Rory Evans

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When Julia met Michelle in the stands at their husbands' softball game, the two women clicked instantly. They quickly became close friends, and together with their husbands, made a tight foursome. Over the next four years, they had double dates at hip restaurants in their San Diego neighborhood, met for movies, and took mini-vacations together to the wine country nearby.

One weekend, Julia and Michelle (whose names, like some of the others in this story, have been changed) and a few other friends were enjoying a long-planned winery tour to celebrate Michelle's husband's 27th birthday. Halfway through the tour, a mutual friend whispered to Julia, "I can't believe Michelle is really leaving Mark!"

A stunned Julia blurted a hasty response. "I know," she lied, as she struggled to process the news. Despite the fact that Michelle and Mark had bickered frequently — something Julia and her husband had talked about in private — their problems hardly seemed insurmountable. But in the ensuing weeks, Julia would learn more from Michelle: that she'd been deeply hurt by Mark's little, public rejections (pushing her away when she tried to hug him, for instance); that Mark had wanted desperately to try marriage counseling, and that Michelle agreed, but after one session she felt it was already too late. Within weeks, Michelle had a new boyfriend. Nine months later, her divorce from Mark was final.

For Julia, 29, it was a heartbreaking end. "These were the people my husband and I did everything with. Selfishly speaking, we were sad for that reason alone," she says. "We eventually came to see that for them, it was for the best. And it's nice to see they're both happy now, separately, after what must have been a fairly painful divorce." Married eight years herself, Julia can't help feeling a little vulnerable, too. "My husband and I trust each other to be honest in our relationship, and I think we're both motivated to make our marriage last," she says. "But when Michelle and Mark divorced, it was just a reminder: You never know what could happen."

"Could it happen to us?"

It's a sad given of modern love: People divorce — and lots of them. Nearly one of every two married couples parts ways. Indeed, many of us looked on as our own parents' marriages dissolved into bitterness, anger, tension, and (after Mom entered the workforce) mushy CrockPot dinners. Even so, when a set of your own friends announces their impending split, it can seem sudden and shocking. "Nobody really thinks divorce is that close to home," says Jane Greer, Ph.D., a marriage and family therapist in New York City and author of How Could You Do This to Me? "Even when married friends behave abrasively or combatively, people assume that's just their way of getting along and working out their differences, until it almost becomes normal." Divorce is especially unnerving, though, when it happens to a couple that seemed genuinely happy together. "To see a friend who you thought had a solid marriage — to see that come apart, you can get frightened and think, If they can't make it, what are the odds for us?" says Greer.

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