The ‘Gray Divorce’ Trend: As The Gates Split Shows, More Older Couples Are Getting Divorced. Here’s Why. by J. Duffy
These news items seem cyclical. I just blogged on this a few years ago – there were headlines out about how Baby Boomers (people then in their what, mid to late 50s – they’d be older now) were divorcing in record numbers, and other articles said they were not re-marrying, nor were they interested in getting remarried
by John Duffy
….One might think that, if any of these issues suggested incompatibility, a marriage would end long before a couple was in their 50s or 60s.
That’s not the case anymore.
In my current work with couples, I have noticed a discernible difference in older couples in long-standing marriages.
Years ago, the vast majority of my client couples who weren’t happy in their relationship chose to remain married out of convenience or routine, or even a sense of familiarity.
Over the past few years, many are deliberately choosing to part ways. My client base mirrors the divorce rate for Americans 50 and over, which has doubled since 1990.
…Couples aren’t simply “drifting apart” over time anymore. One or both people in the marriage are making an overt choice to change course for the time they have left. And recognizing that life is short and precious, one or both partners choose what they feel is the most fulfilling path.
They tend to believe that, if a marriage is not working for them, it really isn’t working for their spouse either. So, they afford themselves the space to gain, or regain, happiness and fulfillment.
What’s changed in long-term marriage and divorce
There are a number of reasons for the more deliberate splits. I find that traditional models of marriage do not work uniformly for all couples, especially those in middle age. These people no longer assume their marriage is necessarily a lifetime commitment if it no longer works for one or both partners.
People re-evaluate their relationships in real time. This, in my experience, is relatively new. We have historically been tight-lipped around any dissatisfaction in marriage, often following the trope of complaining to same-sex friends about the problems in relationships: the lack of sex or connection, the boredom with the everyday, the annoying habits, the tightwad or the overspending spouse.
In the past few years, more and more couples are talking with one another or with me, their therapist, openly, about their dissatisfaction in their relationships. Couples are now likely to talk through the nature of their relationships and determine whether they want to work to sustain their marriages or part ways.
Taboos are less prominent
I’ve also noticed that the taboo surrounding such re-evaluation, and even the notions of separation and divorce in the wake of a long marriage, is rapidly diminishing.
As we live longer lives, many people, like the soon-to-be divorced woman, are seeing their lives in chapters. And the marriage that carries them from their 20s to their 50s or 60s is a most important chapter, one in which they encounter financial hardships, establish careers and raise children.
A New Chapter in a Longer Life
…I’ve worked with some people in their 70s and even 80s who regret not taking that opportunity for themselves, remaining in a marriage that too often feels lifeless, stale or filled with conflict.
Why Men And Women Leave
….Women who initiate breakups, on the other hand, are often looking to change their lives. Many have described to me that they still feel quite young in their 50s and 60s and that their husbands seem older and less energetic.
They tend to be the spouses seeking new careers, new adventures and new opportunities. They may start a business or get in shape, or move to another part of the world.
For the divorcing middle-aged women I’ve worked with, the reasons seem to be more experiential. Some of them are not even picturing future relationships.
…Are these trends healthy or damaging?
Some couples have chosen to stay together for decades, until their 50s or 60s, in order to provide a stable, consistent and loving environment for themselves and, most especially, their children.
I’ve worked with several who have suffered for many years with loneliness and isolation, loveless marriages, and sometimes carry ever-growing disdain and resentment for their spouse.