Yes Really – Divorces Are Contagious

Here's why (and how) marriage breakups spread.
Amy Sussman via Getty Images

If (like me) you love love, gossip, and women with legendary hair, the last couple of days have probably been pretty rough for you.

First came the news that Ariana Grande is splitting from her husband of two years, Dalton Gomez. Then, another blow; Sofia Vergara and Joe Manganiello are separating after seven years of marriage.

This comes mere weeks after the (thankfully false) divorce rumours about Kyle Richards and husband Mauricio Umansky. Other celeb divorces in 2023 include Ricky Martin and Jwan Yosef, Kevin Costner and Christine Baumgartner, and Shannon Doherty and Kurt Iswarienko.

In other words, Hollywood is a tough place to be a married couple right now. But if you’re wondering, like I am; why so many divorces? And why all at the same time? Does my tender heart deserve no rest?, we might have an answer.

It turns out that divorce can be contagious (yes, really). We thought we’d share how the splits spread – and what it means.

You’re much, much more likely to get a divorce if your friends have had one

A study from Brown University showed that “the divorce of a friend or close relative dramatically increases the chances that you too will divorce.” In fact, “clusters of divorces extend to two degrees of separation in the network,” the study found.

To be specific, you’re 75% more likely to divorce your partner if your friend has divorced theirs, and you could even be 33% more separation-happy if your friend of a friend has split from their beau.

To be clear, that’s 75% and 33% more likely (over the overall divorce rate) to divorce – you don’t have a 75% chance of breaking up if your friend has. Still, those are some pretty shocking stats.

The phenomenon doesn’t just extend to divorce

The fact that divorce seems to spread around like flu is part of a phenomenon called social contagion, or “the subtle and sometimes unwitting spread of emotions or behaviors from one individual to others.”

The study also references other examples of the occurrence; for instance, pregnancy is also contagious.

In the study, the researchers suggest a few reasons why divorce might “spread” between groups. “One possibility is that people who get divorced promote divorce in others by demonstrating that it is personally beneficial (or at least tolerable) or by providing support that allows an individual to contemplate and endure a rupture in their primary relationship,” they shared.

They add that having lots of divorced friends in a single group could be an example of “homophily, whereby people with the same divorce status choose one another as friends and become connected (i.e., the tendency of like to attract like).”

In other words, seeing a friend leave an unfulfilling marriage without the world ending – and perhaps even with a significant boost to their quality of life – could spark divorces among friend groups. And once split, people who have been divorced may go on to seek one another out.

Much as I’m in agony over the Sofia Vergara/Joe Manganiello breakup, even I have to admit that that’s not as terrifying as it first sounded, right?