Are Break-Ups Catching?

With two royal divorces within weeks of Megxit, can one person's bid for freedom really be contagious?

Are Break-Ups Catching?

by Rhiannon Evans |
Updated on

It was the stuff of social media speculation and bad-natured ‘lols’ – just weeks after Prince Harry and Meghan Markle essentially divorced themselves from the royal family, two couples in the royal family announced their actual divorces.

First, the Queen’s grandson Peter Phillips and his wife Autumn announced their divorce after 12 years. Days later it was the turn of David Armstrong-Jones, the second Earl of Snowdon and the Queen’s nephew, and his wife Serena.

With little or no understanding of whether the couples had any connections, there was talk of (kind of) three being a trend. ‘ANOTHER royal divorce’ cried the headlines.

But can one friend or family member splitting up actually be catching?

‘Divorce is indeed known to happen in clusters, often amongst groups of friends and sometimes within extended families,’ confirms Counselling Directory member and psychotherapist Lucy Fuller. ‘When a couple decides that the only way forward is to end their marriage, each person will often get the support they need for the difficult emotional and practical stages of separation from their friends and family who are around them. It can often give them the confidence, strength and know-how they need to start their own process of separation.’

She adds: ‘If a close friend is navigating this path and sharing their experience of the practicalities and difficulties with you, it can become more of a known change rather than a fantasy and can give people the courage to pull the plug.’

As well as giving courage to people who might already be in that place, Lucy says it can actively encourage others, when they see how their friends are experiencing a different life.

‘There is also a knock-on effect from seeing a friend out in the world enjoying life,’ she says. ‘Newfound freedom can often look like a regression to a life when you were much younger. Going out, dressing up and partying, dating and generally what looks like carefree fun. Who wouldn’t want to go back and have a bit of that? Again, this can cause a knock-on effect, as not only could you also enjoy some of that freedom, but you would have a friend to do it with.’

I think watching someone go through a break-up, coming out the other end happier and healthier, gives you food for thought.

Rosie* says Lucy’s words ring at least partly true for her and her friends, who all ended long-term relationships with partners with whom they owned homes, within six months.

‘I don't think it's that you see singledom as appealing, but I think you see your friends articulate their reasoning and it may make you think about your relationship,’ she says. ‘I was the first to split with my partner of seven years. We were both really unhappy and have since moved on and met other people. About six months later, my close friend broke up with her boyfriend of seven years. She was actually in two minds about doing it, but she was so unhappy, and she did see me doing it, and me being happier and I do think that spurred her slightly. And our other friend split with her partner of 10 years a couple of weeks ago. It has been really hard for her, and we haven't spoken much, but I remember discussing how happy I was out of my old relationship and seeing something in her eyes.

‘I definitely think you have to be unhappy in your relationship to do it, and it would have to be because of that and not just because you want to be single “and have fun with your friends". But I definitely think it's strange three of us have split from our long-term relationships all around the same time as each other, citing exactly the same reasons.

‘Divorcing and ending long-term relationships isn't something people do lightly. Technically yes, I guess you can say it's "catching", but I think more than anything it just offers others a chance to reflect on their own relationship.’

June* says three of her friendship group all ended relationships within weeks of each other, earlier this year. ‘We started calling it break-up season because it all happened so close to each other,’ she tells me. ‘I do think there was an element of them all taking the leap together, but there were other factors too. It all happened in January, so it could just be a coincidence and more to do with the time of year – lots of people tend to break up around that time.’

In the end, Rosie concludes, ‘I don't think the influence is necessarily a bad thing. I think watching someone go through a break-up, coming out the other end happier and healthier, gives you food for thought.’

Fuller also urges caution in getting swept away with a friend’s break-up. ‘Divorce is a serious matter and I would always recommend thinking very carefully and taking time to consider the divorce option. Seeing a couples therapist is a good way to check with each other what the difficulties are within your marriage and whether these can be resolved. Couples therapy can give you the space to really listen to each other and talk about what you need from your relationship in a supportive and non-judgemental space. This can help you both decide whether to part on an agreement that divorce is the right and proper solution, and that separation is inevitable for future happiness.’

*Names have been changed.

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