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What Your Friend's Divorce Means for Your Marriage

"Could it happen to us?" continued...

That's how Diana, 38, of El Paso, TX, felt when her cousin's 22year marriage came to an end after she learned her husband had been having an affair. "My husband and I were in complete shock," says Diana, who's been married 12 years. "He was the most devoted father and husband. He provided well for them financially, but he was very involved at home, too. When they had parties, he set everything up and he did all the cooking. He coaches his son's baseball team. He always called my cousin during the day from work to see if she needed anything. They argued, but no more than anybody else we knew. After he told her he was having an affair, they tried to work things out — twice. But in the end he's left her for this other woman, who has three kids of her own. My husband and I talk about their divorce — a lot," Diana continues. "It made us both nervous."

When a friend's breakup is precipitated by infidelity (his or hers, it doesn't matter), your anxieties can quickly flare into suspicion and even paranoia about your own partner — and that particularly long time he took at The Home Depot last Saturday afternoon. You don't necessarily suspect your guy of having an affair, but you do suddenly realize how easily he could if he were so inclined: It's not just desperate housewives who get betrayed and dumped — it happens to women just like you.

But there's an upside to all this bystander anxiety: Divorce is a little less scary to talk about in the context of someone else's situation. "Sometimes it's actually easier for your husband to talk about issues in the abstract than directly, because there's less performance anxiety," says Scott Haltzman, M.D., author of The Secrets of Happily Married Men . "There's less concern that he's going to get it 'right' if he talks about another couple." And, though it might seem counterintuitive, talking about divorce — how it happens, how it might happen to you, and how to prevent it — is one of the best ways to avoid it.

This is all the more true when someone you care about has cheated or been cheated on: Their experience can be the sensible opening for a conversation that reestablishes the rules of your own marriage. "Whenever I say to Ned, 'Can you believe he did that?' it's really just my way of saying, 'You can never do that to me — these are my values, and these are my fears,'" says Amy, 37, a mother of one in Pittsburgh. These difficult, even painful, conversations can be a blessing, says Tina Tessina, a psychotherapist and author of How to Be a Couple and Still Be Free . "It's not an entirely bad thing to internalize some of someone else's divorce — you shouldn't jump to conclusions that divorce is never going to happen to you," she notes. "If you have been taking each other for granted, it might motivate you both to pay a little more attention."

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