3 Shades of Gray Divorce
My 20-something year old daughter is getting married next year. We are currently in the depth of all the wedding preparation flurry and I am reminded of the hope and expectations at the beginning of a marriage – the “until death do us part” – where canaries sing and everything love is just so beautiful.
But as we all know after a few decades of existence, “life” happens.
Statistics show us that more often than not the hope and excitement from the beginning of a marriage fizzles. And many marriages, about 40 to 50%, are faced with the reality of divorce.
The term “Gray Divorce” is used for the demographic trend of an increasing divorce rate for older (“gray-haired”) couples. What makes them so unique?
These are typically long-lasting marriages of 20 years or more. In fact, NPR reported Baby Boomers are now twice as likely to divorce as people of the same age were in the 1980s.
If you’ve been considering a divorce from your long-time partner, consider the three shades of gray divorce:
After the excitement of a wedding, the reality of life sets in. There are children, bills, garbage to take out and the other mundane elements of life not worth mentioning here…like his new cute secretary, or your old flame popping back up.
In many ways we begin to go through the motions of living and settle into the tedium of everyday existence. One of the hallmarks of a grounded marriage is a joint vision of the future.
As life evolves, we come realize that our partner in “until death do us part” doesn’t actually share our vision of the future. And, basically, statistics on Gray Marriages show us that this malcontent typically occurs after years of feeling stuck in an emotional vacuum.
You heard me there, right? Lots of people aren’t happy in their marriages, but are just coexisting until they reach a point where their life has, literally become unbearable. Fix that feeling! Learn more in my ecourse, Kaleidoscope Life, designed for women in transition.
There can also be events that catapult a couple to the divorce brink. The most common are:
- Years of physical or emotional abuse
- Alcoholism in one partners
- Infidelity by one or both parties
- Weariness inherent in the hard work of marriage
- An impending sense of unfulfillment
The life events that often bring the need for a gray divorce to light can be the departure of children, retirement, death of a family member, or another major life change (Um, menopause? Loss of a job? Weight loss or gain?)
So, here we come to the point where there are three possible outcomes:
a) Make the decision to tolerate the status quo and continue in the marriage
b) Make the decision to actively work on the relationship by entering counseling
c) Make the decision to divorce
How scary is that?
After years of marriage with devoted service to husband and children many women are reconnecting with unmet dreams and the expectations of their youth. The fear that life will end without the promise of fulfillment becomes overwhelming.
This fear however is coupled with the uncertainty of the future. The fears about this major life change are wide usually revolve around:
- The prospect of loneliness,
- Finances or financial well-being
- Legalities of the physical divorce
- Feelings of inadequacy
It is so easy to let these fears “second guess” our decisions for a gray divorce and convince us that things really aren’t that bad, or, more commonly, justifications for staying, like, he’s only mean when he’s drunk.
Does that sound familiar to you?
All the fears are realistic. There is no benefit in denying just how scary it is to make a major life transition. But at the same time it is important to not allow the fears to be self-limiting.
The way to work with these fears is to acknowledge them and to connect with a support network that will provide fertile ground in which to plant the seed for a fulfilling future.
And yes, there’s a silver lining to all this.
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For those women who make the decision in midlife to divorce, opening that cage comes with a sense of freedom and an excitement of what is to be yourself again. What do you want out of life?
You no longer need to consider all the stresses of caring for a family and a husband. You might feel like a weight has been lifted off your shoulders and you can finally rediscover your own passions and unmet needs.
This feeling may not be immediate, and it may be a long road to this point, but I can tell you that you will get there, eventually. And the freedom results in the possibility of reinventing your future to become whatever you like for the next 30 years – even if you are a little gray this time around.
Dr. Ines K. Roe, founder of Alta Vista Life Coaching, spent over 20 years counseling women in transition. Earning a doctorate in psychology at age 52, She’s turned her energies to a more gentle coaching approach that allows clients to reexamine, reinvent, and revitalize their future. Join her in Kaleidoscope Life, a self-paced ecourse for women in transition.
I think the whole gray divorce trend is fascinating. I’ve been married to the same man for 33 years and, although we have days where we could definitely kill each other, I feel so lucky that we still want to be together. It takes work, for sure.
It does take work the work!!!!! Yet, despite the work couples can still find that they want different things in life and make that decision. I have a follow up blog planned for the situation when the decision isn’t yours but is thrust upon you
i had been married to my best friend, but I had no sizzle for him. I decided at 53 that I wanted a chance to fall in passionate love again. And no regrets: I did. I just think that for some of us, going the whole distance of a (hopefully) long life is not in the cards. I’m ok with that, too.
I think it takes courage to reinvent one’s life in mid course and take a pivot (a new term I learned today to refer to a change)
Had no sizzle for him — what a great way to put it!
We’ve seen couples divorce when their youngest is in college or out of the house. I guess sometimes couples stay together “for the sake of the kids” but ultimately call it quits.
Yes – staying together for the sake of the children is often what keeps couples together. They begin a pattern of “parallel play” and then find the paths diverging when what held them together isn’t there anymore
A few weeks ago we attended the wedding of good friends who had been living together for 20 years. They are both just shy of 60. It was lovely and refreshing to watch them commit to each other for the rest of their lives.
That sounds lovely.
I think that as we age, sometimes that “shared vision of the future” shifts and, in cases that end in separation, those shifts happen in different directions creating a divide. Retirement is huge pivot point for many people — big shifts and big changes in life’s focus can also create that divide. Yes, the choices you outlined are scary but very real. Great assessment and suggestion!
You are so right – vision of the future can change. What started as joint vision can shift and go in different directions
As I started doing research about the “empty nest” years and the impact it has on couples, I was initially surprised by the fact that there is a spike in divorce rates among those with newly emptied nests. As I read on, it made sense. Often, couples are so busy “making a life” and raising kids, they forget to make a relationship that can curvive when the busyness of life has left them alone.
When like takes over it is often too easy to lose sight of the importance of paying attention to the relationship and it is easier to drift apart until nothing is left to hold together
I am happily divorced and my ex is now happily remarried. Each marriage is a different story, isn’t it?
Wow those statistics make me sad. My life is so different than those examples that I can’t fully imagine any of that.
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