Late-life divorce is the world’s increasingly popular trend, and in the U.S. in particular, according to scholars Bowen and Jensen. It’s also called “gray divorce” when partners separate after reaching 50 years old. Nowadays, one in four couples of the above-mentioned age gets divorced after long years of being married. This trend has become twice as widespread as 30 years ago.
Long-term marriages are no longer as meaningful as half a century ago for several reasons. First, the health of the U.S. population has improved over the recent years, while in the past, spouses used to be the main source of support and care for each other. Increased longevity results from a better quality of life. Today’s retirees live up to 30 years more than their predecessors, which is called a “longevity bonus.” Second, partners simply get tired of living together and prefer singlehood or unmarried relationships with other people without moving in.
Divorce is difficult at any age, but “grey” divorce might feel even more gruesome after so many years of staying together. Thus, you have to take into account every aspect that refers to the realities of late-life divorce. Although it might seem difficult now, you’ll be able to pave your way to a bright future and enjoy your life in a new status, no matter whether or not it was your decision to split up. In fact, your life and well-being depend on the thorough preparation and crucial decisions you’ll make to ensure great life after your marriage is over. Both men and women manage to start from scratch despite their age, so you’ll be able to do it, too!
Did you know that men and women react differently to stress caused by late-life divorce? According to the research provided by the National Services of Families and Households, females are more prone to seeking emotional help during grey divorce than males. Older women are not an exception, although they express their need for emotional support less often than the younger ones. Also, the research shows that older women showed great adjustment skills compared to older men who did not express overall happiness despite the difficulties triggered by late-life divorce.
Risk Factors That Might Lead to Divorce After 50
Although it is extremely hard to predict whether your partner would want a divorce after reaching 50 years old, there are risk factors that can show it. For instance, a recent study reveals that the people whose marital history includes separation are much more likely to divorce later in life. In other words, remarried couples are 2.5 times more likely to separate than the ones in their first marriage.
Short-term marriage partners are also more likely to split up than those in a long-term relationship. At the same time, remarried couples that have been in a relationship for less than 10 years are 10 times more prone to splitting up than the ones married for over 40 years. As you can see, marital history shows the likelihood of separation. At the same time, life transitions, such as, for instance, an empty nest, aren't always the cause for gray divorce.
8 Most Common Reasons Leading to Late-Life Divorce
Grey divorce is no longer perceived as a terrible thing for which it was taken 50 years ago. Social stigma regarding such separation is gradually decreasing, which allows people to enjoy their life after this major transformation in a totally new way.
Let's have a look at celebrities who aren't immune to late-life divorce just like many people in their fifties!
Fortunately, late-life divorce no longer holds the stigma it once kept due to social norms that are no longer relevant. We all know a famous couple, Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis, who split up after being together for 14 years. Moreover, government officials also go through such a thing as grey divorce. For instance, Robert Bentley, the Alabama governor, split up with his spouse, Dianne, after 50 years of marriage. Additionally, Tipper and Al Gore separated after they’ve celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary as a married couple. So what is the fundamental reason for divorcing after so many years of being happy together?
Pepper Schwartz, a professor of Sociology from Seattle, claims that in most cases, long-term marriages aren’t necessarily bad. On the contrary, partners might have enjoyed each other’s company for many years but it turns out that their communication is no longer rewarding. Thus, when many partners, both male and female, turn 50, they ask themselves whether they want 20 or 30 more years of the life they used to have before. In most cases, the answer is “no.” In other words, any marriage can eventually run out of juice.
Women initiate divorce more often than men, according to the American Association of Retired Persons. In fact, wives are the first to express their desire to break free from a marriage in 60% of cases while husbands are likely to make such a radical decision in 40% of cases. This can be partially explained by the fact that women are much more empowered and independent today than they used to be half a century ago. Are you one of those people who would love to break free after a decade or two of married life? Or is your partner thinking about grey divorce? To solve these serious issues, consider 8 most typical reasons why couples split up after they reach 50 and why so many of them are so eager to have a new lease of life.
1. You Are No Longer Soulmates
Even if you used to have common interests in the past, you might suddenly find out that you've grown apart. One of the partners might be going through a set of different transformations or evolving in a number of ways, while the other one might stay in a place where he or she feels comfortable. Of course, there might be other reasons why a married couple no longer has crucial things in common, but all of them end up destroying the relationship. In case people are no longer soulmates, chances are low that they will stay together, especially if they are seniors.
2. One of You Is Acting Old
Aging itself is not as frightening as acting old because the latter makes another partner feel old. As ugly as it sounds, it is true that if one of the spouses emphasizes the disadvantages of aging, it affects the partner in a negative way. Moreover, such a reminder might be so unpleasant that it may lead to divorce or infidelity. The reason is, one of the spouses might want to build a relationship with someone younger to subconsciously slow down their own aging process. Thus, it is better to avoid complaining too often about your health problems, wrinkles, and other signs of aging if you want to maintain your relationship and keep your marriage safe.
3. You’ve Discovered Huge Lifestyle Differences
This one can be a consequence of the first two. Slight differences in the spouses’ lifestyles might not be as detrimental as significant discrepancies. Even though a couple could share similar interests in the past, their ways might part when they reach their fifties. When one of the partners is active while another one is passive, they might eventually split up.
For instance, if one spouse enjoys rock climbing, kayaking, trekking, and hiking while another one loves staying at home and solving crosswords, it might lead to major dissatisfaction with each other. But why would they divorce in such a case? Well, when the partners’ lifestyles are totally different, chances are high that one of them will need someone special who would share his or her hobbies. After all, people deserve to have a fulfilling life at this age equally to their younger counterparts.
4. One of You Regrets Missed Opportunities
At the age of 50, numerous people go through the stage of regretting their decisions and reflecting upon their missed opportunities. Although many of them considered their spouse to be the best “choice” when they got married, they might be still dealing with a certain degree of disappointment, as some of their expectations might have failed.
No one is perfect, but if the marriage gradually turns into an unhappy union, the reasons for continuing cohabitation should be really solid. Otherwise, there will be late-life divorce because of many mutual regrets. Many people in their fifties pursue missed opportunities, such as seeing someone else or trying to become the person you always wanted to be. After all, many of them realize that they have fewer years ahead of them than behind.
5. Both of You Have Too Many Responsibilities
People in their fifties often have an increased number of responsibilities, such as first, taking care of their teenage children and, second, looking after their elderly parents. There are also cases when they're grown-up children move back in with them because of some hardships in life. They associate these situations with high stress, which causes increased tension.
One partner might run out of energy and leave if the pressure becomes unbearable. A spouse might be subconsciously trying to take care of their own well-being and even health, as too many responsibilities may seriously threaten the latter. Thus, if you are going through similar issues, make sure you don’t treat your spouse as a Duracell battery and give them an opportunity to have some fun and restore their energy. Otherwise, this might end in divorce.
6. You Have Retired at the Same Time
Sometimes, a couple might face the challenges of simultaneous retirement that can drive both of you crazy. The fact is, children might have recently left the parents’ home and an enormous amount of time they suddenly have at their disposal might bedazzle both of the partners.
Many people in their early retirement find it hard to put loads of free time to good use because they don’t know how to spend it. They had been working hard for so many years and might find it challenging to discover new occupations. Also, they even fail to stick to their daily routine and might suddenly feel old and useless.
If some of this is happening to you, it’s time to adapt to the new circumstances. Neuroplasticity will help you rewire your brain and build an entirely new life once you’ve retired. You just have to put in some effort and learn the new ways of socializing and communicating with your partner when he or she is around all the time. Sole and Bischof claim that cognitive training provides durable effects on the people in their fifties. Thus, engage in a totally new activity such as hiking or join a regular Meetup group to meditate, dance, or simply talk to your peers!
7. One of You Is Overspending
Although different spending habits are often a solid reason for the divorce between the people under 50, overspending might not be an issue as long as your family receives a steady income. Nevertheless, when you suddenly feel certain financial restrictions, conflicts might arise if one of you is spending too much.
Despite the common belief, wealthy couples face grey divorce less often than the ones dealing with financial constraints. A lack of resources is a poor reason to stay together nowadays when so many opportunities are open in front of the people at any age. Thus, living under the same roof for the sake of survival only increases the probability of divorce. In other words, unhappy couples that fight over financial issues in their fifties are much more prone to breaking their marriage than their wealthier counterparts.
As you can see, retirement brings new challenges such as probable unemployment, so both of you need to be spending the money you’ve saved wisely. So it is essential to establish a limit that will help you avoid conflicts; otherwise, your couple might find itself under the threat of divorce despite all those years spent together.
8. One of You Is Going Through Midlife Crisis
People in their fifties open face a midlife crisis and have to deal with significant inner transformations. Both a wife and a husband might suddenly reveal that their identity is drastically changing, as though they are getting renewed on a very deep level.
For instance, Rebecca, a 53-year-old housewife, says, “I can’t recognize my husband anymore after a midlife crisis struck him. I have an impression that he got possessed by some alien spirit! He started acting differently, and it scares me a lot!” Indeed, going through such a crisis might mean entirely changing your way to dress up and is often associated with radically altering your hairstyle, and finally, having an affair with a younger person.
Such transformations might affect both males and females of the above-mentioned age. Moreover, some of the changes are inevitable, and the consequences might be irrevocable, too. Therefore, psychotherapy is probably the best solution for individuals who are going through a midlife crisis.
First, it will help them stay aware of what’s going on in their lives, which increases the probability of controlling the situation without making costly mistakes. Second, it will help people to accept their new selves once the transformation is over. But no matter whether or not the spouse is seeing a therapist, it’s important to realize that it’s impossible to always control the changes that are taking place.
If it’s your partner who is dealing with a midlife crisis, remember that you can influence his or her decisions only partially. Even if you are eager to help, try to avoid offering it too often because it will automatically provide you with the role of a parent in your relationship which you don’t want to happen. Please remember that there is no sex appeal between partners if one of them sticks with such a role for too long.
If you don’t want the grey divorce to take place, you should maintain your energy on a high level. This means that, instead of getting overwhelmed with your spouse’s issues, direct your attention to your own needs and be sure to fulfill them. In the worst-case scenario (if your partner leaves) you will at least be in good shape, both mentally and physically, which is actually a good return on investment.
Second, it is recommended that you work on fixing minor problems in your marriage. Not being obtrusive with offering your help does not mean ignoring the issues that have been making your spouse unhappy for so long. There’s a story of Sarah and Pete who were married for 20 years that shows how important it is to address “chronic” issues in a marriage.
When Pete noticed that Sarah started acting weird (buying unusual clothes and texting someone late at night), he realized that he would lose her if he didn’t fix the things she hated (those things are completely different, depending on the couple!) In their case, Sarah didn’t always feel understood as Pete used to say that she was “overreacting.” Fortunately, he managed to change his attitude and his wife stayed with him. And even if this story ended in divorce, conscious changes that Pete introduced in his behavioral patterns would help him build a new relationship in the future.
What to Do If Grey Divorce Is Inevitable: 11 Steps
If late-life divorce is inevitable for one or several reasons mentioned above, then the following steps will help you to secure yourself from major emotional and financial losses.
1. Prepare for the Changes in Taxation
Please keep in mind that your and your spouse’s taxes will change once you get divorced. Thus, make all the preparations beforehand as your filing status will be different. To be precise, your regular deduction will be reduced by half when you’re no longer a family, but make sure that you don’t end up in a higher tax bracket.
2. Consider All Aspects of Alimony
Did you know that some couples unintentionally get each other in trouble with grey divorce due to the lack of awareness? For instance, Sally and Mike got divorced in their fifties, and Sally couldn’t make it alone without alimony while Mike could not cover most of his expenses while paying it.
If you have children, please make sure that you are aware of your financial situation and your spouse’s income after divorce. This will help you to figure out whether you are going to face any issues with the court that are associated with alimony.
To find out what alimony you're going to pay (or receive), consider such factors as travel perks, pension funds, ownership stakes, restricted stock units, car allowances, and bonuses. Moreover, if one of the partners used to sacrifice their career for the sake of helping another one to become a professional, it will also be taken into account by the government officials.
3. Seek Help from a Professional Financial Adviser
A financial expert that focuses on retirement issues will be of great help to you. The thing is, if you address a financial adviser, you won’t have to make all those boring calculations alone. Moreover, there are lower chances that you’ll make a costly mistake while figuring out your financial future. Finally, such an expert will make sure that you won’t miss anything important. Facing the consequences of being too careless regarding your money is not only tiresome but also dangerous as it might get you into debt in the long run.
A professional financial adviser will also help you to plan for the future to make it bright and optimistic. In other words, this person will help you to find out what resources you’ll need to ensure a high quality of life for yourself. After all, the pain will go, but the bills will have to be paid anyway, so it’s better to secure yourself and get what you truly want.
4. Don’t Neglect Life Insurance Issues
Although your life insurance might not be the first thing on your to-do list when you divorce, do your best to solve all the issues that are associated with it beforehand.
Be precise on figuring out who owns life insurance policies because it actually determines the result of your settlement. The fact is, the cash value can only be accessed by the owner of the permanent life insurance policy who is also the only person to alter beneficiary designations.
In case you earn less than your spouse, you might want to become the owner of a life insurance policy of the higher earner. It’s possible that you’ll be able to keep this income stream after the gray divorce. Anyway, no matter what your life insurance issues are, you'll feel much more confident if you study all the information that concerns them beforehand.
5. Take Care of the Division of Assets
Dividing assets during a divorce is probably the most unpleasant thing that can happen to the partners. However, just like in the cases mentioned above, it would be wise to think ahead. The fact is, it's much more difficult to divide assets in a long-term marriage because spouses usually possess lots of things they’ve purchased together. Moreover, it's especially challenging to separate non-marital assets from the marital ones. Valuing retirement funds is also very difficult in a long-term marital relationship.
Please consider that the value of the assets is not always determined by their price but also by the role they are going to play in your future life. In fact, you might be able to put some assets to better use than your spouse. Thus, think beforehand what things you need most and try to figure this out with your partner.
6. Revise Your Retirement Plans
If you are going through a late-life divorce, you have to divide your retirement plans, which can get rather complicated. Firstly, it's emotionally charging because you have to accept the fact that you and your spouse won't share numerous things you were dreaming of for a long time. Second, there is a lot of paperwork required to revise your retirement plans.
You can revise your retirement plans on your own, but it’s recommended to hire a lawyer not to miss anything important. The expert will help you figure out if you can receive survivor benefits after divorce in case your partner dies. You’ll also realize the instances when it’s possible to get distributions while avoiding tax penalties. You should also pay attention to contributions to your mutual retirement plan once you’ve set yourself free. The lawyer will also let you know whether a hardship withdrawal will be possible in case you need one.
7. Calculate Your Future Social Security Benefits
Did you know that Social Security benefits are calculated according to your income after divorce? Although those benefits aren’t something that the court can divide for you, this aspect of your marriage will be strictly reviewed to keep everything is fair.
For instance, if you’ve been married for 10 years plus and you are over 61 years old, you’ll be able to make use of your former partner’s retirement benefits using his or her Social Security record (which does not automatically mean reducing those benefits!) So do a little research on those rules - the Social Security Administration’s website contains comprehensive information regarding these matters. When you’ve figured out your Social Security benefits, also think about the pension plans as they are community property.
8. Take Care of Your Mental Health
Late-life divorce might be detrimental to your mental health, especially if you didn’t expect drastic life changes. Thus, it is better to be prepared for worse than to neglect self-help and psychotherapy altogether.
Abby, a 55-year-old nurse, claims that although it was she who initiated the divorce with her husband, she missed family rituals. When the couple was married, they used to celebrate every holiday together with their children, but now it’s all gone. “I feel slightly cut out from life,” Aby says, “I feel especially lonely during Christmas.”
Bill, a 52year-old bank worker, says that he totally focused on his work after his wife left, which resulted in severe burnout. He started dealing with insomnia and as a result; he started to gain extra weight.
As you can see, ignoring the stress caused by grey divorce has bad consequences. Thus, it’s better to address mental health issues early, but it may not be enough. It’s also crucial to prevent them from happening. Later life’s counselor can provide you with immense help and guide you through painful transformations caused by divorce. However, even if you aren’t planning to hire a therapist, you’ll definitely benefit from these simple steps to reduce anxiety and prevent depression.
7 Simple Steps to Keep You on Track During Grey Divorce
- Meditate every day in the morning when you wake up and, in the evening, when you go to sleep.
- Practice yoga at least twice per week.
- Do the jogging or find other sports activities that will get you in the mood and keep you in good shape.
- Talk to close people who will understand and support you whenever you need it.
- Get rid or hide the things that remind you of your family life if you're the one to stay in the house.
- Don't neglect your children and try to see them more often.
- Deliberately plan the activities for a week so that you don't end up at home feeling alone.
9. Process Your Feelings
You should pay particular attention to dealing with your hard feelings, especially if you were the one to leave the family. In this case, you might be trying to cope with guilt which is devastating. Nevertheless, remember that no one is supposed to suffer in a loveless marriage agreeing to a miserable existence.
Gina, 54, claims that she had to deal with the feeling of guilt for almost a year after she filed for divorce. Her husband was extremely unhappy with her decision, so she blamed herself for his resentment. Nevertheless, in a year, she managed to overcome guilt and realized that the opportunities her single life offered were worth it. “I finally got the freedom I wanted so bad and I'm happy that I no longer have to be obsessed with cooking and cleaning instead of having the time of my life,” Gina says.
10. Get Prepared for Living Alone
Women often feel enormous relief when they realize that they will no longer have to perform the housewife’s duties, while numerous men start panicking when they think about all those house chores. Although gender roles have significantly changed over recent decades, separation is still difficult for many men because of the hardships of living alone.
It doesn’t matter whether you are male or female when it comes to maintaining a house and cooking for yourself. Thus, it’s essential to think all those new rituals through and prepare well to perform them after divorce. Otherwise, you might find yourself stuck in the middle of the pile of unwashed clothes before an important meeting.
11. Consider Starting a New Relationship
After so many years of marriage, regarding other opportunities might seem a little challenging. A good deal of ex-partners feel the lack of confidence after a difficult divorce that resulted from an imperfect relationship. For instance, Nick, 51, found it really hard to feel wanted again after feeling unappreciated and neglected for the last 5 years of marriage. “Honestly, my ex-spouse and I lost the spark long ago and stayed together for the sake of children. However, they grew up, and we separated. I wanted to pursue a new relationship, but it took me almost a year to overcome the fear that I am no longer an attractive partner,” Nick said.
Indeed, an unfulfilling relationship between the spouses that no longer appreciate each other’s company might be very traumatic. Most people realize how aggravating the consequences of such interaction are only after divorcing their partner. If it worries you that you’ve lost dating skills, it’s only a matter of time to restore them. The main thing is to stay optimistic and build a new, interesting life so you have something to share with someone special. After all, love knows no age so take your chance to become happy again!