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Health & Sex

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What Your Friend's Divorce Means for Your Marriage

"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.

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.

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