At the end of my "couples" seminar the woman who had organized the workshops approached me. After telling me how much she had enjoyed all the workshops presented that day, she said:
"There's something that is never included in these workshops, though. No one ever discusses the divorce rate of couples over a certain age. Many women in long-standing marriages are getting divorced. I think you might have a good topic here for a future seminar Kristen. Think about it."
She went on to tell me that she was sixty-two and had recently filed for divorce herself. The marriage had lasted forty years. When I showed surprise at the fact that after that amount of time, she felt divorce was necessary she laughed and said,
"It's happening more and more. Forty years goes by like nothing. People still have a lot of life to live and if the partnership isn't good for either of you, you owe it to yourself to do what's best for your life. People change and you shouldn't remain stagnant."
Her words piqued my curiosity. After doing some research I was astounded by what I found. In 2009 the divorce rate among Americans over fifty was triple what it had been in the early 1990's. Longevity of marriage was no longer a factor in staying together, nor was age. With both men and women working longer years, changing careers in mid-stream, and pursuing more personal goals, remaining in a marriage that wasn't working ceased to be an option. The odds for staying together dropped significantly especially after children from the marriage had left the family home.
In the 21st century, women are the ones most likely to file for divorce after long marriages of 30 to 40 plus years. Unlike their mothers and grandmothers before them who may well have been in financially dependent positions, they have forged strong careers, have financial success, and are unwilling to remain in unhappy or unfulfilling marriages. With a good 25 to 30 years of healthy active life ahead of them, they are taking a long, hard look at the person with whom they will be spending it. They refuse to spend quality time in a miserable or unfulfilling marriage.
Reaching a "certain age" doesn't mean what it did in the past for women. They are active, working, and vibrant, completely capable of taking care of themselves financially. Remaining in a "marriage of convenience" for security purposes is no longer the case.
Reasons for ending a marriage varied but, unlike younger couples, infidelity had almost nothing to do with the divorce rate among those married 30-plus years. The need for self-fulfillment and lack of connection to their spouses led to the decision to divorce. Friends and associates of Al and Tipper Gore say that their lives had gotten more and more separated and that is a key factor. Separate lives, separate interests, more time spent apart than together.
But why wait 30 or 40 years before you decide that you no longer want to be married? I asked the woman who had first broached the topic of older divorce to me. She answered my question this way:
"We were involved in raising our children, creating careers, and basically, we functioned quite well because we were always busy. Later on we grew apart. He had no interest in my plans for the future and that was no longer tolerable to me. I've become a different person and want to explore new ventures; he doesn't. I want to enjoy the rest of my life and I will not be able to do so with him. It was time to leave. I want a happy life."