You Have More Impact Than You Know

I want to help others. I suspect that you do too. Did you know that your impact may be greater than you think?

I’ve met with a number of people that want to help their friend’s marriage. Maybe it’s just that one friend or family member that they are concerned about. Others want to serve by helping multiple couples in their church. I think the question in the back of people’s minds is “Can I actually do this? Can I have an impact on someone else?”

The beauty of God’s plan is that He leverages our own experiences to help others. Acting in love, we want to help. God comforts us so that we can comfort others (2 Corinthians 1:4). I suspect God knows that when we comfort one person, that person turns around and comforts someone else. In a perfect world, everyone would pass it on.

Your Impact Is Larger Than You Know

Your impact is larger than you know. Did you know that you regularly influence people that you’ve never met?

There have been some interesting studies on social contagion. Social contagion is the spread of thoughts, emotion and behaviors from person to person. The research looks into how far people’s behavior can spread to others. Research studies have found evidence of contagion in obesity, smoking, alcohol consumption, happiness, loneliness, depression, sleep and cooperative behavior.

The study on divorce and marriage attracted me.

You Influence Your Friends

Did you know that divorce tends to cluster? People turn to their divorced friends to get help. If they receive comments like, “Divorce sounds like your only option”, then people will be more likely to separate.

When someone divorces their spouse, their friends and family are 75% more likely to get a divorce. Interesting, huh? No wonder it moves in clusters. Friends influence their friends.

We are built for relationship. So, we turn to our friends and family for support when we are in doubt or vulnerable. We are often more easily influenced at that point. Your influence can be the difference between the person trying harder or giving up.

My wife and I officiate weddings. I have a message that I like to give the wedding party, usually at the groom’s dinner. I ask the marrying couple if I can say this and they always appreciate it.

I say, “The people in this room are the ones that are most likely to be in this couple’s life in five, ten, fifteen or twenty years. It may never happen, but I want you to promise me something. If either one of these people ever reach out to you and they are having problems in their relationship that you’ll seriously think through what you are going to say.”

“You can say, ‘I knew you shouldn’t have married them. I never knew what you saw in them.”

“Or, you can remember this weekend and the love you have seen here. You can choose to listen and respond with whatever would champion their relationship.”

“Tomorrow in the wedding ceremony, when I ask for the support of their friends and family, I want you to commit to responding in a healthy way that encourages their relationship.”

People in the wedding party often comment on much they appreciated that thought.

You Influence Your Friend’s Friends

Not only are a divorced person’s friends more likely to get a divorce, their friend’s friends are 33% more likely to divorce. In other words, the impact isn’t just to that couple, but to people they may not even know.

I think the converse is also true. If people find support in building a healthy marriage, they are more likely to try harder. If a couple rebuilds their marriage, they can have an impact on people they don’t know!

So, you influence your friends and your friends’ friends.

You Influence Your Friend’s Friend’s Friends

Divorce influence goes to two degrees, but happiness is spread to three degrees. In other words, your friend’s friend’s friends.

A study was done on the influence of happiness. It also found that happiness clusters.

A person is about 15% more likely to be happy if they are directly connected to a happy person. At the second degree, or a friend’s friend, there is 10% more likelihood. The third degree means that there is about a 6% better chance of being happy.

I find that study to be fascinating! Happiness is contagious.

Your influence is significant! You can influence people to have a happy marriage or you can influence them to divorce. When you help one couple, you are helping people to the third degree. In other words, their friend’s friend’s friends.

How cool is that?



Christakis, N and Fowler, J (2009). Connected: How Your Friend’s Friends Friends Affect Everything You Feel, Think and Do. New York, NY: Little, Brown Spark.

Christakis, N. A., Fowler, J. H., & McDermott, R. (2013). Breaking Up Is Hard to Do, Unless Everyone Else Is Doing It Too: Social Network Effects on Divorce in a Longitudinal Sample. Social Forces, 92(2), 491-519. doi:10.1093/sf/sot096