Tag Archive: gray divorce phenomenon

Facing a gray divorce? You are not alone.

birch heart

You may not be aware of it but if you are in the throes of a late-life divorce, you are part of what is being called the “grey divorce phenomenon”.  Some of the main reasons for this phenomenon are reflected in the infographic below.

gray divorce phenomenon

Statistics show that gray divorce figures are rising at a time when other divorce figures are dropping.  However, statistics can only give us a general picture and the truth is often more nuanced than the statistics suggest. It is interesting to observe trends but I think that every marriage is unique and so the reasons for divorce may be different in each case too. In many cases, it’s more than just one factor that contributes to a divorce.

We also need to remember that people often marry again after divorce and subsequent marriages appear to have a lower success rate.  The statistics are influenced by the fact that the divorce rate for people over 50 who have been married more than once is higher than for those who have only been married once.

Some research has suggested that late-life divorce is not related to retirement, children leaving home, chronic illness or education. In 2016 researchers from the National Center for Family and Marriage Research (NCFMR) reached these conclusions after studying  more than 5000 couples where one spouse was born before 1960. They also found that wealth, home ownership and the duration and quality of a marriage meant less likelihood of a gray divorce.

No matter what the reason for your gray divorce, perhaps you can take comfort from the fact that you are surrounded by many others experiencing it too. The increase in late-life divorce hasn’t escaped celebrities and they are also divorcing with increasing frequency after decades of marriage.  Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver married in 1986 and divorced in 2011. Mel and Robyn Gibson married in 1980 and divorced in 2011. Al and Tipper Gore married in 1970 and shocked family and friends when they separated in 2010, after forty years of being together.

One fortunate aspect of the media spotlight on the phenomenon has been the increase of resources aimed at those going through a late-life divorce. Here are some of the books I can recommend.

Co-dependent No More By Melody Beattie

This book may not be specifically directed at the over-50s but if, like so many others, you’ve lost sight of your own life in the drama of tending to others, you may be co-dependent and you may find yourself in this book.

The Divorce Survival Guide for Women   By Leslye Kohl

This survival guide is written by a former happy married wife of 23 years who experienced the pitfalls of the divorce process first hand and wants to help others to avoid them.

DIVORCE: Think Financially, Not Emotionally By Jeffrey A. Landers

It is very important to understand the financial implications of your divorce and this book will help you to do this. The financial decisions you make at this time will affect you for the rest of your life so you need to be fully informed before making them.

Gray Divorce Stories: The Truth About Getting Divorced Over 50 From Men and Women Who’ve Done It By Barry Gold

In this book, you will read the stories of those who have been through a late-life divorce in their own words. They describe their good times and bad times, regrets and desires, successes and failures. Reading this book will really help you understand that you are not alone in what you are going through and you can learn from the journeys of others.

Last word

A shift seems to be occurring as more women in their fifties and sixties initiate divorce. This trend seems to indicate that women in this age range are more financially independent than in the past. However, whether the divorce is initiated by the woman or the man, and whether a marriage has ended with a whimper or a bang, it seems that it’s stability in later years has become increasingly critical. I can’t help wondering if gray divorce is here to stay and whether the millenials will experience the same trend.  What do you think?





Why is the over-50 divorce rate rising?

late life divorce

Why are so many couples who have been married for years getting divorced? ‘Gray divorce’ figures are rising at a time when other divorce figures are dropping.  In a survey done by the Office for National Statistics in the UK, it was found that the number of over-50s who separated or divorced had risen by 33% between 2002 and 2013. They were the only group whose divorce figures had increased. Studies in the United States have shown that the same trend is occurring there. The rate is continuing to rise and it is being referred to as “the gray divorce phenomenon.”

Silver Splitters

Those who are part of this phenomenon are referred to as “silver splitters”, a trendy term that does little to describe the impact of a late-life divorce on those going through it. I personally believe that even if you have been the initiator of a late-life divorce, the process of recovery is far from easy. Much untangling has to take place in every area of your life when you have lived together for many years.

The exact reasons for ending a long term marriage are hard to determine. Nobody knows what really goes on within the four walls of a home. However, a factor that seems to be playing a big part in these rising figures is that people are living longer. This means that once the children have left home, a couple may still have many years of life left.

A longer life

The idea of living together in an unhappy marriage for another 20 – 30 years after the children leave home may feel like an unbearable option for some. Perhaps the relationship has been in decline for many years already and it has been rather like a balloon leaking air a bit at a time. At some point it becomes totally flat.

My friend Karen said “We both just felt it was time to go our separate ways. There was no drama or tears.  I think we both realized that our time together was over and we wanted different things out of life in the future. We get along well now that we live apart.”

An empty nest

I envy those couples who love their empty nests because they have more time for one another and for enjoying life together. They often have the opportunity to travel, take up new hobbies and even embark on new business ventures. My ex and I often talked about taking a year off once our children left home. We would buy a caravan and stay for months at a time in caravan parks along the beautiful coastline of South Africa. It was not to be and I have had to find other dreams to take its place.

Some couples manage the transition to an empty nest very well but I have read enough to know that even if you face it as a couple, this does not mean you won’t feel bereft when your children leave home. When you are single or divorced, the impact tends to be more severe, however, because you are often left completely alone.

When you are raising your family, children become the focus of your life. As a couple, you overcome many obstacles together and set aside your differences for the sake of your children.

When you are older and your children leave home, issues that have been buried for years may rise to the surface.  The relationship may have gradually developed cracks over the years that have been hard to see because the children have been around as a buffer. Once the children leave, they become very visible and you may realize that you no longer have the same interests, goals or aspirations.

Divorce is viewed differently

My parent’s generation did not see divorce in the same way as it is seen today – they often stuck it out together, even if they were unhappy. My generation, with the focus on individual happiness, is not willing to do this.  Today many women are able to support themselves financially and no longer feel they need a man in the same way as previous generations of women.

Sue gradually accumulated qualifications over the years and became a very successful career woman. When she eventually asked for a divorce at the age of 65, her husband was horrified.  She says. “He would never have wanted a divorce because we lived together comfortably enough. But I wanted more out of life.”

Sexual problems and Infidelity

Sexual compatibility is also a factor that plays a part in divorces that occur in later life.   Incompatibility between partners can increase in later life for various reasons such as illness or hormonal changes. When one partner has a greater level of sexual desire than the other, it can spell trouble.
In the past, aging men had to accommodate to the changes they experienced due to age-related decreases in testosterone levels.  Now, with products like Viagra, many aging men think and act like men decades younger.  Infidelity often plays a part in a late-life divorce, as it did in mine.

Social Media

Social media has had some influence too. Some long term marriages have broken up as a result of romances that develop online. People may read posts about the lives of others and realize just how unhappy they are in comparison. The possibility of meeting another person online, especially one who is of the right age and with the same interests can be intriguing, especially if a marriage has become completely humdrum.

Last word

Whatever the reason for the decision to divorce in late life and even if it’s mutual, I believe people tend to underestimate the consequences. Issues that arise with any divorce such as loneliness, potential loss of social support networks, financial problems and reactions of family members are usually much worse after a long term marriage. Even if the children are adults, they often still experience much pain, contrary to what may be expected. No matter at what age it occurs, divorce is a tearing apart and when so many more years have gone into a life together, the severing is that much more complex.