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Never in a million years did you think you’d be a candidate for a divorce later in life ! After spending so much time and so many years as a couple, no one expects to be going their separate ways and starting over. 

Yet, marital breakdown is on the rise for the baby boomer generation.

To avoid gray divorce, couples must openly communicate and resolve their issues. This requires commitment, kindness to each other and taking action to revitalize their relationship.

This phenomenon refers to the increasing divorce rate for older couples in long-lasting marriages. According to PEW Research, the rate among Americans 50 and older has doubled since the 1990s.

The most common reason cited is the couple simply “grew apart”. From all outward appearances, they appeared to have a decent marriage. Until, one day they announce their separation and desire to find happiness.

Part of the problem is our modern society. It’s easier to discard the old and buy something new. When it comes to relationships, many couples are unwilling or unable to work through their differences. 

And, there’s no guarantee they’ll be any happier with someone new.

Reasons Behind Gray Divorce

The world was shocked to learn Bill and Melinda Gates filed for divorce after 27 years of marriage! They were among the rich and famous, appearing to have everything. Yet, they chose to go their separate ways.

This might be partly explained by the fact each of us has grown and evolved over the past thirty or so years. None of us are quite the same person we were when we were twenty-something.

In the past, it was enough to be a good provider or homemaker. Oddly, once we reach our 50s or 60s, our spousal expectations seem to change. The next 20 to 30 years of retirement don’t look so rosy.

Growing Distant From Each Other

Successful couples grew together dealing with life’s many challenges. Raising children, career moves/changes or building financial security to name a few.

This required open communication, understanding, compromise and commitment to each other. It strengthened and deepened their relationships.

On the other hand, less successful couples grew distant. Perhaps their lives were busy and they let things slide to avoid conflict.

Or, arguments were left unresolved with simmering resentments. In our post, most common marriage problems after retirement, we expand upon these issues.

Child raising might’ve been the common bond uniting them. Now that the kids have grown up (and, hopefully, left home) everything feels strained. One or both of the partners might feel unfulfilled or resentful.

Even sitting across the table with their morning coffee, conversations are polite and largely superficial. Idle chit chat about the weather or something equally meaningless. All this leads to a growing feeling of disconnection and dissatisfaction.

They might begin avoiding each other. Why make the effort when you have so little in common? Likely, neither understands their partner’s hopes and dreams in retirement. 

When contemplating the next 20-30 years, it doesn’t bode well for a vibrant time together.

Divorce Is More Socially Acceptable

Getting divorced used to have a much greater stigma. Previous generations, typically, stayed together through thick and thin. Baby boomers, on the other hand, once again broke social norms. We have the highest rates of any age group.

Statistically, about half of all marriages in the US end in divorce. The breakdown includes:

  • 40% of first-time marriages will fail.
  • The failure rate of second marriages is 67%.
  • This increases to 74% the third time around.

By becoming more socially acceptable, it’s easier to walk away from an unhappy or unsatisfying relationship. As sad as it sounds, it’s almost like upgrading to a newer car. For some folks, they’d just as soon leave than try saving their relationship.

We're Living Longer Lives

Life expectancy has increased. The average American male will live to 75.1 with females living to 80.5. Compared to 1960, men lived to 66.6 and women to 73.1.

Also, people 50+ are leading more active lives than ever before. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle has become increasingly important. As such, there’s a much greater emphasis to keep in good shape to enjoy our later years.

This, also, means a greater focus on relationships. In our post, secret to lasting happiness in retirement, shares how quality of relationships improves health and even extend our lives. It really is the people in life which matter most.

Higher Financial Security For Working Females

In the past, the majority of women were wholly dependent upon their spouse’s income. Traditionally, they stayed at home raising the children.

Today, more females are working than ever before. With more women entering professional careers, they’re earning more and achieving greater financial security. In fact, some women earn more than their husbands.

Instead of putting up with an unfulfilling relationship, they have the flexibility to leave. This is particularly true when there’s mental and/or physical abuse.

Social Media, The Internet and Infidelity

It’s never been easier to date and meet new people. Thanks to internet dating apps and sites, it really is all at your fingertips. This is fantastic for single people hoping to meet others.

The flip side is it creates temptations some can’t resist. Some married men (and women) are on these sites. Perhaps they view their partner as boring or desire validation of being with someone younger.

Most of the time their partners are oblivious to their activity. When they’re discovered, this destroys trust, especially when infidelity occurs. Seldom do couples recover without counselling and commitment to repair the damage.

Also, some prefer spending time on pornographic websites. If this becomes more important than their relationship, it’s going to further strain and erode it.

How to Avoid Gray Divorce

Continually working at growing together and remaining connected is the best way to sidestep a break up. Communication and negotiation are key to making the relationship happy and healthy.

Our post, retirement proof your relationship, outlines additional strategies on growing closer and to navigate change.

Recall What Made You Fall in Love in The First Place

After so many years of marriage, there’s a tendency to overlook the positives of your partner and why you’re together. Try to remember what’s so appealing, intriguing or attractive about him/her and why you got married in the first place.

Continue working at building your friendship. This is the glue that’ll hold everything together. In retirement, you’ll be spending more time together. 

My husband and I are best friends. We share the good times as well as our struggles while we work through things together.

Kindness to Your Partner and Yourself

We all know we’re our own worst critics and beat ourselves up over the most trivial of details. Almost everyone suffers from a self-limiting belief to some degree. Some of the most common ones include:

  • No one loves me
  • I’m not good enough
  • I’m not smart enough
  • I’m not pretty enough
  • No one cares about me

Kindness to yourself requires combatting that inner voice. More often than not, these self-limiting beliefs will negatively impact a relationship. 

After all, if you don’t believe in yourself, why would anyone else? Further, these destructive thoughts can become self-fulfilling.

Ironically, we’re often kinder to strangers than those most important to us. For some bizarre reason, we tend to overlook and take our loved ones for granted. In effect, we’ve become comfortable and complacent.

As a general rule, actions are considered stronger than words. Thus, grandiose gestures such as a romantic dinner or evening out is a wonderful thing. Yet, a kind word works magic.

For instance, be cheerful and complimentary to your spouse. This reinforces their feelings of value and they do matter. Sharing your appreciation for them being in your life or something they did further creates good feelings. 

Kindness is expressing you care about them.

Talk with Each Other

While it sounds like a simple thing, when was the last time you had a really good conversation with your spouse? Something stimulating and got you both thinking. 

As an example, my husband and I discussed for hours our post on advantages of retiring in Portugal. For ourselves, we were fascinated with the thought of retiring abroad.

Especially after learning we could stretch our dollar further, the incredible healthcare system and the friendliness of the Portuguese. This may or may not be of interest to you, but what topic could the two of you discuss?

Another aspect to consider is active listening. They always say we have two ears and one mouth. All too often we don’t really listen to what’s being said.

Instead, we’re formatting a response before they’ve even finished speaking. Even worse is interrupting and jumping in with our own opinion.

I don’t always agree with everything my husband says. However, I show him the courtesy of letting him speak. If I don’t agree or understand his perspective, I might probe into why he feels the way he does.

Both of us strive to be respectful and open our minds to different viewpoints. It's an excellent way to avoid gray divorce.

New and Exciting Experiences

We can all get stuck in a rut, doing the same things day in and day out. Not only does life get boring, but there’s not much to look forward to. So, try something new and exciting. Life’s about creating new memories and experiences.

Think back to some of your favorite memories together. What most excited you and made it

Another thought could be signing up for a dance class or other activity. Or doing something wild and crazy like a hot air balloon ride. Something that’s out of the norm which adds some zip back into the relationship.

Is Your Marriage Worth Saving?

Unless you’re in an abusive relationship, you owe it to your spouse and yourself to discuss the matter. It won’t be easy and needs to done in a very open non-confrontational manner.

Focus on understanding how they feel, their thoughts and what they want.

Retirement can be a stressful time, especially when struggling with loss of identity or sense of purpose. Sadly, your spouse may be completely oblivious. Alternatively, they might be equally miserable and unsure what to do.

Many individuals assume splitting up is the best answer without really considering the consequences. Deep down, almost everyone views it as a failure (especially after so many years together) and are hopeful to avoid gray divorce.

Basically, there are three options:

  • Both partners are in agreement and want to save their marriage. After investing so many years together, they’ve decided it’s worth the effort to turn things around.
  • Remaining friends to minimize financial and emotional impacts. They might choose to co-exist as roommates and later determine if their relationship is salvageable. This alleviates making a rash decision they might later regret.
  • The final option, separation and/or divorce. Many couple have simply grown too far apart with unresolved issues. An unhealthy or bad relationship is actually far worse than becoming single.

Consequences of Gray Divorce

One of the greatest consequences will be financial. However, relationships with other family members may also be affected. In addition, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the fence. Finding the right partner isn’t always easy.

Financial Considerations

Nobody wins in a divorce except for the lawyers! Even straight forward ones can drag out for months and cost thousands of dollars. It can be financially devastating.

The security of a comfortable retirement becomes at risk after retirement savings, pensions and the matrimonial property are divided up.

For more facts, see our post, baby boomer facts. Instead of enjoying their golden years, many divorcees will be forced back to work in order to make ends meet.

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Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

Relationship Change

Even in the most amicable of separations, relationships will suffer. Adult children might take sides or become resentful. Family holidays such as Thanksgiving/Christmas are likely to be strained, especially if a new partner arrives. 

Friends and other couples that you used to get together with become elusive. They knew both of you and may be uncomfortable with the situation. Especially if they feel they need to choose a side.

And, crazy as it sounds, some folks perceive marital break ups to be like a contagious disease.

New Partner or Remain Single

A decision needs to be made on how you’ll move forward in your life. Online dating sites and social media have made it easier than ever before to meet other singles. 

The downfall, it can be almost overwhelming sifting through the sheer mass of single people. There are genuine people out there. However, there are, also, lots with unresolved issues and immaturity. It’s definitely not as easy as it sounds!

Even in the most abusive relationships, expect to go through a grieving process after the break up. Loneliness and self-doubts will creep in. Starting over can be very difficult and some choose to remain single.

Closing Thoughts

The rising rate of gray divorce is a reflection of societal change. Much of the stigma has been erased and for many, splitting up seems the easiest option. However, this isn’t always the path to happiness.

While it seems daunting, being able to openly discuss matters with your spouse is critical. Only then, is there an opportunity to salvage all those years together. It’s going to take commitment, kindness and ongoing efforts to rekindle the marriage.

  • i saw this happen to a sixty something coworker of mine. he was about to retire and boom, wife is leaving after about 35 years of marriage. i knew them both and saw the wife socially at some events. the man was the main breadwinner and ended up having to work a couple of extra years. gotta be engaged and nice to your spouse.

    • It’s so sad to see this happen especially after that many years. Fortunately, your co-worker only had to work a couple of extra years. For lots of people, they’re financially destroyed. Too many people take their spouse for granted and aren’t nice. Even just acknowledging their contributions, being nice really does matter. Thanks, Freddy!!! Debbie

  • I know it is never too late but the secret to staying happily married needs to start early in the marriage. I think it takes more than conversation, it takes shared activities. My spouse and I are in our 44th year of marriage and we play tennis, pickleball, fish, hike, bushwhack, offroad trail ride, cook, take road trips, travel and ski together. We also do those things individually with our friends but even then we share the experiences because we both understand the details of those hobbies. You have to be best friends doing a variety of things or that growing apart is inevitable. I’ve seen too many lose their marriages because they weren’t their partner’s best friend any more.

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