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Health & Sex

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What Your Friend's Divorce Means for Your Marriage

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

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."

"How strong is our marriage?"

Of course, getting your guy to pay attention to the same questions and worries that plague you is another matter. If you've ever told your husband a friend's getting divorced, you already know that men don't always greet the news with the compassion we might expect. "Men are very detail-oriented. He's not so concerned with, 'Wow, your friend must have been really hurt by that,'" says Haltzman. "He's thinking, I need more pieces to the puzzle here. He may become analytical: 'Was her husband acting that way for a reason? Maybe you don't know the whole story.'"

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