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
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."