Gray divorce: Reasons and Consequences

People over 50 years of age are the new demographic most often divorcing. Why would anyone want to do this after decades of building a life with another person? this breaking down and breaking apart, alienating one side of a family, upsetting children, now adults themselves, perplexing friends and forcing them to choose sides. At a time in life when one should be feeling comfortable and somewhat settled, who wants to blow it all up for the unknown? Well apparently 1 in 4 new divorces involve the over 50 crowd and the trend does not appear to be slowing anytime soon. Surviving gray divorce emotionally and financially is very different based on your gender.

What are the reasons for a gray divorce?

Building a life together most often entails having a family and raising children. Most people understand the demands of parenting and the fact that it can span a few decades; how it can be an all consuming shift where you put childrens’ needs ahead of your own. A relationship needs tending but if all care and attention is lavished on children, you may neglect your marriage and your partner and you may lose touch and grow apart. Children mature and leave, taking with them the only remaining interest you and your partner shared. So you now have empty nest syndrome as well as the realization that you are living with someone you no longer know, someone with whom you no longer share interests, or laugh with or talk to – or care about. And the question then becomes: are you happy or are you unhappy enough to want to seek out the possibility of happiness again in the time you have remaining on this earth.

Of course there are several other reasons cited in marriage breakdown, one being finances. Marriages are stronger when the husband is the main breadwinner and weaker when the wife takes on that role. Women have become more independent and the stigma of divorce has diminished.

Looking for a shiny new object after one’s partner is no longer engaged with life, fit or healthy, happens. And addictions play a role in marital breakdown: alcohol, drugs, internet or porn can destroy respect and trust in one’s partner. Domestic abuse is another reason people divorce. It doesn’t have to be physical. Abuse can be physical, psychological or financial. Either way, it can wear down the victim until they have no alternative but to escape a toxic relationship.

Retirement can result in relationship issues. A couple faced with being together 24/7 after decades of one or both people working can be an epiphany. Suddenly evening and weekend companionship becomes 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. There is no longer any break or escape from any issues of incompatibilty, no routine to escape to, no office to retreat to, no associates to socialize with. It’s just you and him…and maybe the grandchildren. You look around and ask: is this now all there is…this man sitting in his recliner with a glass of wine waiting for you to prepare and serve dinner…and then clean up…and afterward watch television? Day after day, after day. Stuck in this routine?

No fault divorce has made the process of divorce from beginning to end less messy instead focusing on separating two individuals and applying a fair settlement with the splitting of assets. Now it’s all about business and the balance sheet.

After all is said and done and the ink on the divorce papers is dry, is it worth it?

Studies indicate that men by and large suffer social isolation moreso than do women after gray divorce, telling us that for many men, their wives were indeed their best friends. For women the drawbacks are less social than financial. Women are the most likely to end up with less financial ability to live the same standard of life they had when they were married. Those who have taken time away from the workforce to care for children and act as homemakers are at a disadvantage in that they have a limited time in which to play catch up, both in terms of advancing in any career or setting aside savings for future retirement.

Aside from financial inequities, there is the psychological cost

While both men and women might celebrate their autonomy after divorce, they also complain about loneliness being a constant. It naturally follows if you are in a marriage for a few decades that you have established a life history with your partner, shared ups and downs, good times and bad and your ex-spouse will always be woven into the fabric of your life. Divorcing won’t change that fact, but no longer having someone you know and who knows you so thoroughly can be a lonely realization. It can be similar to two decades of your life disappearing with no one but you witnessing what transpired during that period.

In some marital breakdowns there might be lingering anger but in others there can be profound disappointment, and that disappointment might just be the worst. You might always wonder if you could have done more, or if he had only done more or why “we” didn’t do more. Not all people who divorce harbour negative feelings toward the other. Many tried but just could not make it work.

Looking for love again                                                                                                                                   

Online dating sites proliferate for all ages. Rather than wait for the right person to come along, seniors who do not have the luxury of a long lifespan ahead of them, cut to the chase and venture onto the Internet to find someone compatible, someone to help fill the void, someone to relate to, to laugh with and to share life’s moments. Some sites engage in compatibilty testing, reducing the odds of wasting time with incompatibility issues. Some are hands on and meet their clients in person.

Although some 30% of couples who marry claim to have found their match online, seniors have a different set of priorities when looking for a partner: they are not about to start a family, they don’t want drama and their patterns of behaviour are set. They have a career behind them and retirement ahead or they are already retired. They are financially stable and want to remain that way; they have grown children who might disapprove of mom or dad dating again or feel can get complicated. This is a time for true self examination. Do you even want to attempt to get close to another human being again?

Many apparently do and those seeking friendship and companionship, or love, head to the numerous internet dating sites online to assess what is out there.

Hope does indeed spring eternal, because a life without hope is hardly a life worth living. And we all have a need to love and be loved, no matter our age.

Have you had a late in life separation or divorce? What are your afterthoughts? Do you feel liberated – or alone? In your view, was it worth it?

4 thoughts on “Gray divorce: Reasons and Consequences”

  1. hello, it is a great and nice feeling to know that someone will create a great website like this and also create a write up on an article like this. i have come across situations where the wife is the major bread winner and the marriage is still strong. i will still agree with you as this does not happen often

  2. Thank you Benny. Financial differences are what lead to many divorces, whether the woman is main breadwinner or not. Women today often earn more than their husbands, however those same husbands often compensate and provide other forms of support. In the end it’s all about commitment to the union…

  3. You have hit the nail on the head with this detailed article.  

    As a senior myself,  I can testify to the shock one experiences when the empty nest syndrome sets in! 

    My husband and I raised 8 children,  all of them we are proud of  and they are each successful in their individual fields (mostly medical) but our intense mutual focus upon them cost us a vacuum of grief upon their leaving. 

    This dismay was multiple.  We didn’t know each other any more. I wanted to focus on some personal goals,  whereas he wanted me to be by his side, non-stop which permitted no such opportunities!

    Nevertheless,  it’s been good to reflect and refocus as we each come through this new phase together. 

  4. Amy: Many thanks for the assessment.  If a senior can move past the wrenching experience of separation and divorce, all power to them. I don’t personally think it’s that easy. You keep turning it over and wondering: what if? It may look attractive from the outside but living it is something altogether different. My unsolicited advice would be to try and see life as the cup half full, full of possibility and new experiences and endeavour to remain positive. Senior woman to senior woman, I wish you the best.

Leave a Comment