7 Key Facts About Divorce After Long Marriages
Not long after a lifelong friend of mine left his wife of more than 40 years, a mutual friend was quick with assumptions and questions. “Are you going through a belated midlife crazy?” he asked. “Is there another woman? Are you getting a red sports car?” And he laughed uneasily, amazed that our friend, a devoted family man, would do such a radical thing on the verge of turning 70.
There is a long list of things that people supposedly know about gray divorce: that the rate of those over 50 who are divorcing has doubled in less than 30 years, that such divorces happen in the wake of midlife craziness or after the nest has emptied or that only those rich enough to start over are willing to risk divorce later in life.
But according to some recent studies, the facts about gray divorce are somewhat different.
1. The gray divorce rate has doubled since 1990, but is still less common than divorce among those under 50.
2. The biggest risk factor for gray divorce is not a life transition (like an empty nest), but one’s marital past. According to a recent study, those who have been divorced before are more likely to divorce again, and those in marriages of shorter duration are more likely to divorce.
3. Relative wealth can be a protective factor against gray divorce. This goes against a long-held belief that a lack of resources keeps many unhappy couples together. While many of us have seen couples who can’t afford to divorce or even to live apart, studies of gray divorce show that those who divorce are less likely to have college degrees or to be working.
4. When a long marriage ends, the seeds of the marital failure may have been sown decades before.
5. Kids struggle with the reality of a parental divorce, whatever their ages. While many couples stay together until the children are grown, divorce is tough on kids of any age and can negatively impact parent and adult child relationships. One study found, for example, that adult daughters may tend to blame fathers for a gray divorce, and that changing family dynamics — like newly divorced mothers becoming more dependent on their children — also can negatively impact parent and adult child relationships.
6. Grief can linger long after a marriage ends, even when both agree that it’s better to part. After an older divorcee begins to get past some of the anger that propelled him or her out of the marriage, that person still may grieve what was good — even if there’s no inclination to go back.
7. There can be positive outcomes to late-in-life heartbreak. Sometimes improved health and happiness in a new and different life is the positive ending. Sometimes the relief and peace of ending a tumultuous relationship is its own reward. And sometimes finding love again is the positive result of a painful process.
Susan L. Brown, et.al. Age variations in the divorce rate: 1990-2010. Family Profiles, NCFMR, FD. 12-05.
Lin, I-F, Brown, S.L., Wright, M.R. Antecedents of gray divorce: a life course perspective. Journals of Gerontology 13, Psychological Services and Social Services: 1022-1031. August 14, 2018.
Brown, S.L. and Lin, I-F. The gray divorce revolution: rising divorce among middle-aged and older adults 1990-2010. Journals of Gerontology, Series B, Psychological Services and Social Services, 67, No. 6: 731-741. October 9, 2012.