Once upon a time, it was unthinkable for couples to divorce at mid-life and older. Today, for the first time ever, more people over 50 are divorced than widowed. This age group now accounts for one-quarter of all divorces.
Rather than sailing into the twilight years together, many older spouses are deciding "til death do us part" is simply taking too long. These so-called "gray divorces" have doubled since 1990 and, with half our married population being 50 or older, the rate is expected to grow, especially as more and more baby boomers become empty nesters.
Often, couples aren't on the same timeline emotionally when it comes to divorcing, and that can make a gray divorce particularly painful.
I've seen older men and women shell-shocked to be dealing with a spouse who wants out after many years of marriage. Often the "leavee" has been putting off luxuries, working and saving toward a retirement s/he envisions with his/her spouse and can't imagine growing old alone. Or, especially if the leavee has sacrificed his/her career to raise the kids or move frequently for a spouse's career, the sense of betrayal is crushing as his/her image of the treasured "golden years" collapses.
The "leaver", on the other hand, often carries the burden of guilt even if s/he has valid reasons to end the marriage. Two-thirds of gray divorces are initiated by women. Having put their needs aside to raise a family, and tired of a spouse who ignores their pleas for change, these women dread the years ahead in a "dead" marriage. Once the kids are gone, these women choose to end the marriage, opting for a new, more rewarding life and relationships.
Divorce is hard, and complicated, no matter your age. It takes one kind of courage to stay, and another kind of courage to leave. Often, one partner wants to maintain the status quo while the other can't bear to stay unhappily married. Counseling, individual or couples, can be helpful, and there are programs such as PAIRS to help couples rekindle their love and work on relationship skills.
The harsh reality is, it takes two committed adults to sustain a marriage. It breaks my heart each time I work with someone who is willing to do whatever it takes to keep their marriage going - even though their spouse is abusing them or has already moved in with a new love interest.
If this is you, please know I've been privileged to see people of all ages, older as well as younger, walk through the muck and emerge brilliantly, pursuing dreams once lost and finding the happiness they'd abandoned years ago.
It's not easy, but most things worth having are not.