If anyone had told me I would be facing an empty nest and divorce together one day, I would not have believed them. The idea of divorce was never on my radar – I may have made threats once or twice over the years but that’s all they were – carelessly spoken threats that I never thought would become a reality. My mother and father were very happily married for over 50 years. I now have the dubious distinction of being the first person to get divorced in the family. As my divorce came after 32 years of marriage and at the same time as my youngest child left the nest, I was forced to dig down really deep, have faith and use all my reserves to survive the transition. So much for slowly evolving into the empty nest phase – I was brutally thrust into it and it was a case of sink or swim.
Apart from the divorce and my empty nest, I was also facing serious financial difficulties. My ex-husband had his own business and I had helped him to run it for many years. We were forced to close the business for various reasons and he had to take up a job far away from home. The distance took its toll on our relationship. Perhaps we had already been drifting apart for years but it was still a severe shock when I realized that my marriage was over. I was left at the age of 59, unemployed and in debt – rather a nightmarish scenario but funnily enough, one that has jolted me into action and forced me to grow as an individual.
Envy of empty nest couples
I envy those couples who are loving 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-husband and I often talked about taking a year off once our children left home. We would buy a caravan and set off, stopping wherever we wanted to along the beautiful coastline of South Africa. Well, that was not to be and I have had to find other dreams to take its place. Now, my dream is to go traveling on my own to many different countries – a dream that is on hold for now as I try to get on my feet financially. However, I have read enough to know that even couples find it difficult to transition into the next phase without experiencing conflicting emotions.
Some couples even throw parties when their children leave home and rejoice in the fact that they have successfully brought them up to be independent adults. There is certainly nothing wrong with that – after all, that is the goal we all have when bringing up our children. However, reactions to an empty nest are unpredictable at best. When you are single or divorced, the impact tends to be more severe because you are left completely alone, without a partner with whom you can share your emotions. Having said this, I also realize that many couples actually choose to divorce once their children leave home.
Increase in Silver Splitters
I only realized when doing some research on the topic that many people today choose to divorce once their children have left home. 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 figures had increased and an empty nest was considered to be one of the main reasons for the increase.
When you are raising your family, your children become the focus of your life. I know that our family of four was a solid unit for many years. We had our inevitable ups and downs as a couple but we overcame many obstacles together and set aside our differences for the sake of our children. I think the fact that we did this so well is one of the reasons why my children have really struggled to come to terms with the divorce, despite the fact that they are now in their twenties.
Reasons for empty nest divorce
Once the children leave the nest, a couple has the chance to rediscover the reasons why they got married in the first place. However, what can also happen is that animosities and issues that have been buried for years rise to the surface. Couples may discover that they are unhappy and they don’t see a reason to stay together any longer. Other couples probably just realize that they have drifted apart and no longer have the same interests, goals or aspirations.
Divorce is seen differently
I think my parent’s generation did not see divorce in the same way as it is seen today – they often stuck it out together, even when they were unhappy. My generation has no such qualms. Perhaps one of the reasons for this is because people are living much longer. You may just have to spend 30 or more years living together once your children have left home. This may be an unbearable option if you are unhappy, especially when you still have the possibility of having a new relationship, making the most out of life and ticking off some of those items on your bucket list.
Social media can also play a part in divorces that occur at this age. People may read posts about the lives of others and realize how unhappy they are in comparison or they might meet another person online.
What has changed for me?
My life changed irrevocably due to circumstances largely beyond my control and I could either crumble and fall apart or make the transition with grace. I rely on God every day and know that He is holding me in the palm of His hand. I have rediscovered parts of myself that have been buried for many years. When you face a situation you don’t think you can endure, and you come through it, all you can feel is thankfulness.
Financially, I am starting to get out of debt. If you are in debt, you need to seriously consider a free debt analysis. Somehow when you see where you stand and realize there is a way to resolve it, you are more able to sleep at night. It is better to face up to the situation and tackle it head on. Hoping and praying it will just go away without taking action is not enough.
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Spiritually, I feel as though I have been in the flames of the furnace for some time. The thing about fire, though, is that it does its work of refining and purifying. Eventually, all the dross is burned away and the pure gold remains. I am not there yet, but I am starting to feel a sense of peace and wholeness that I have not felt for some time. It was easy to forgive my ex-husband. We have always been good friends and I think there is a strong possibility that our friendship will survive.
Mentally, I have begun to understand that I have developed some negative thought patterns over the years and I am working to change them. All in all, I feel I am in a better place mentally than I have been in a while.
It is interesting to speculate about why the over-50s divorce rate has increased so much over the past 10 years. Is it because people are living longer? Do they think they can re-enter the dating game and find a more suitable partner? Is it because there is no longer such a stigma attached to divorce as there was in the past? I don’t know the answer to this. I would be very interested to hear your comments.
5 thoughts on “How an empty nest and divorce has changed my life”
I am in the exact same spot at 49. It is a long and painful story and maybe I’ll be able to write about it one day. Until then, I am fighting to come to grips of what it is. I regret the day I met him, but then again, a beautiful 19 year old girl would not be here. My biggest emotion is anger. When I married him, he had three small children that I helped raise, and I gave him 24 years. My oldest is my son who is 30. I seriously do not know how I’m doing this. Today is our 20 year anniversary (Yes Valentines Day…never get married on this day trust me) and I havent heard a word from him. There is a small part of me that is somehow okay with this. My anger is still the major player.
I pray all the time. I think He hears me.
Don’t want to feel like I’m on auto-pilot for the rest of my life….
I know exactly what you mean when you say you feel like you are on auto-pilot. It’s so hard to move on, especially when you have invested so much into a relationship. I also pray all the time and I believe that gives me the strength to do what feels impossible at times. Anger definitely plays a part in the whole process of coming to a point of healing. But, you do have to find a way through it and let go of it for your own sake. I believe you will find a way – writing about it is a good idea and may just help!
I am 10 years post divorce. The children were just leaving home when we divorced; me having to escape after I refused to give up for a few years. I was in utter shock and disbelief. This was in the middle of the last financial downturn, and I lost my job twice. I became homeless (short term) twice also. I could not pay expenses. I tried to take my meager share of our split and invest in a home. I didn’t earn enough! Slowly, that dwindled away as I embarked on further education.
My previous work no longer benefited me, as the next generation flooded the workforce. My “certificate” level was worth nothing any longer, and my years as social worker (earned with many hours of training, not in the classroom), was not paying enough to pay the basic expenses. I was alone, in fear and struggled through a health crisis at the same time. It was crazy!
Now, I have a degree, but apparently not enough, as I am in competition with so many others who studied the same. I am older in my field of study, and at my workplace. Our values and way of doing things are so different, that we often clash. My background taught me the value of being thorough, for example, and my boss only cares about how fast it can get done. This always leads to being not accurate on reporting or spending time to redo, or “put out fires”. What if we did it thoroughly the first time? But everyone excuses her, because she is young.
I only reveal the last scenario because it shows how frustrated I am. I feel like I am lost; I have no place or comfort zone in the world. I am older, my parents gone, kids doing so well they barely call or come over. I am fighting back after waiting too long to file bankruptcy. Those who did the analysis said I was budgeting very tight, no room to give, as was correct. 10 grand was all, but I had no options. File early, so you can still, at least, borrow a small amount to get you through.
Defeated. Yes, I feel defeated often. My question to a friend today was “when will I find my place in this world again?”
Sorry that’s all over the place. I do want to say my faith has seen me through. Many days and evenings walking the stations or sitting in front of the alter, as the anxiety was too much by myself. I would say my best takeaway has been tremendous growth in my faith, during his time.
Blessings over all of you brave folks who are walking this journey. Think of the poem “Footprints”; He surely sees us through.
You have really been through the mill and I am glad you have found your faith has grown stronger through all of it. I experienced the same.
I was married for 25 years to the man of my dreams. We have two boys, now 22 and 20. Three days ago he told me he doesn’t love me any more and wants a divorce. We have had our ups and downs–he has been unemployed three times over the years, moved out 8 years ago for 6 months, has gone through serious depression and PTSD (combat veteran), there have been two other women that I know of, and he was abused as a child. So there is a lot. I had a pretty chaotic childhood and we talked so much about how we were going to stop the cycle and make a stable good family. This year I took on a really hard job and am finishing my second masters degree, so I am very busy and barely home. Last week he told me I am anxious and depressed, he feels tolerated but not loved, and I am never home so he has found someone else who can give him attention. So apparently Jennifer, twice divorced mom of two young teens who does not have custody of them, has more time for him than I do. My heart is shattered. He joined a softball team three years ago and they are all single. So of course they all have time to do fun things all weekend. He wants to live like a fun single guy again–they have been kayaking, to the batting cages, golfing, hiking–never expressed any interest in any of that stuff with me. I hope they will be there at Thanksgiving and Christmas, or if his PTSD or depression comes back. Pretty sure an actual family who has loved you for 25 years circles up for things like that more than a random group of single buddies you have known for like 15 minutes, but what do I know.
My heart is breaking in a million pieces. I have stood by him through all of his crap and this has been an incredibly difficult year for me and he bails. Feels very unfair and like I wasted my best years on him.