Most people associate divorce with young couples whose marriages, for one reason or another, just don’t work out. But this isn’t always the case. Over the past 20 years, the U.S. divorce rate for those over 50 has risen, despite the fact that divorce overall has declined. This demographic trend has come to be known as “gray divorce,” and it encompasses the increase in divorce for couples who are not only older but have also been married for a long time.
5 Reasons Behind Gray Divorce
If a couple is considering gray divorce, chances are that one of the following issues is at play.
1. Drifting Apart
Sometimes, divorce isn’t the result of one single relationship-shattering cause, but rather what many people might call “growing” or “drifting apart.” People change as they age, and changing in ways that your partner appreciates isn’t guaranteed.
Empty nest syndrome — the feeling of having an empty nest after a couple’s last child has left the home — often contributes to older couples drifting apart. Once a couple is no longer busy raising their kids, they are left wondering what to do with themselves — and each other.
Retirement can have the same effect. Prior to retirement, most couples are kept from home during the week, leaving only evenings, weekends, and holidays to be spent together. Forced to spend all their time together, many couples realize that they no longer really know one another.
Financial issues are one of the leading causes of gray divorce. Couples who frequently argue about money or struggle with debt often end up separating. Problems arise when one partner is the sole breadwinner and takes ownership of all financial decisions, or when one partner has difficulty managing their finances without overspending.
Financial mismanagement becomes harder to ignore after retirement. With a regular source of income, overlooking the overspending and somehow taking care of bills is easier. Once a couple is limited to a fixed income and savings, the misspending can no longer be ignored, and fights ensue.
However, finances may cause issues well before retirement, particularly if the wife makes more money than her husband. Research shows that when the husband sees an increase in income, the marriage becomes stronger; but when the wife’s income increases, the marriage is more likely to fail.
Infidelity continues to be an issue as couples get older; cheating still plays a major role in gray divorce. Baby boomers’ strong sense of individualism may be one reason behind this, as this generation tends to place their happiness and needs before those of others.
Another reason is that cheating is no longer stigmatized the way it once was. Dating sites make it easy to form emotional connections with people online, and those connections can easily lead to sexual relationships. Additionally, many people start finding younger men and women attractive as they get older, and are tempted into straying from their aging spouses.
Cheating isn’t the only way to derail a divorce: Addiction is another way of being unfaithful to your spouse. When people become addicted to alcohol, drugs, pornography, gambling, and the like, they put these things above the needs of their families. These habits often grow worse over time, and at some point, the spouse may decide that they can no longer be in a relationship that revolves around addiction.
This decision is frequently the result of the addicted person hitting rock bottoms, such as a gambler losing all of his and his wife’s savings. The emotional and financial damage that ensues is too much for the family to overcome.
5. Increased Life Expectancy
Life expectancy and general health have improved a lot and, unlike previous generations, baby boomers know that reaching 50 isn’t nearing the end of the road. With many years still ahead of them, they have time to decide what’s going to make them happy in the long run.
Greater health care access and programs and organizations designed to keep older adults physically, mentally, and emotionally fit and healthy encourage people to stay active even when their partners have failed to do so. Rather than let their partners hold them back, people are choosing to make the most of their later years, even if that means getting a divorce.
Fortunately, many older couples that decide to divorce can benefit from collaboration or mediation to avoid the messiness of going to trial, allowing them to focus instead on moving forward in life.