Achoo! That cold you have could be contagious — but could you also be catching divorce? A new study out of Brown University shows that New York residents and others may actually be more likely to go through a divorce if they see a friend or relative experiencing the process.

This trend is known as “social contagion.” Although it does not involve the spread of viruses or bacteria, it does include the dissemination of information, behaviors and attitudes through families and social groupings. Thus, although divorce itself might not actually be contagious, the emotional response to certain marital troubles could certainly spread.

The study shows the danger that can come along with attempting to identify too closely to friends’ and relatives’ experiences. It may be tempting to associate these people’s situations with your own, but that is not always a wise decision. In many cases, emotional responses and connections may be imagined or created, and they are not authentic to the couple who is being influenced.

This study analyzed data for thousands of participants over three decades. Results showed that about three in four participants were more likely to pursue divorce if a friend has already gone through the process. Further, 33 percent were more likely to divorce if a friend of a friend dissolved a marriage.

No matter whether you have “caught” divorce or not, it is important to realize that divorce legal issues can be difficult to manage from an emotional and practical standpoint. Remaining level-headed throughout property division and child custody negotiations may seem impossible, but it is important for your rational senses to prevail. No two divorce cases are alike — make sure that you are not taking specific actions just because your friends set an example. Instead, evaluate your choices to make sure they fit your values and legal needs.

Source: CBS New York, “New Study Says Divorce Can Be Contagious” No author given, Apr. 30, 2014