Gray divorce is a term used to describe the increasing rates of divorce among older couples who are above 50 years old and have been married for a significant length of time, maybe 20 years or more. The term “gray or grey” may be a reference to the potential hair colour of older folk. Traditionally, divorce was associated with young people who apparently don’t understand the value of long-term commitment. What’s interesting is research shows that divorce rates among older people are rising despite the fact that overall divorce rates have declined. For those over 65 in particular, the divorce rate has tripled in the last 25 years.
Reasons for gray divorce
There are a number of reasons why divorce rates are rising among older couples who have been married for significant lengths of time.
People drift apart. Nothing relationship-shattering needs to happen. People change as they age and this change may be in ways that no longer serve the relationship or ways that end up making the couple incompatible.
Retirement is a significant life change that can lead to major changes in a couple’s dynamic. It can cause them to reevaluate their relationship. The couple could also have different ideas about how to send their retirement which could pull them in opposite directions, leading to gray divorce. One couple got divorced because their retirement goals were irreconcilable, she wanted to travel and he wanted to enjoy the comforts of staying at home.
Also, having to spend all day every day together proves impossible for many couples. All those unresolved issues you had ignored begin to rear their ugly heads. When you’re working every day and likely spend only the weekends together, you can stand each other, but when you no longer have work to go to work and so spend the majority of your time together, you realize how little you have in common or how bad things really are between you. Hello, gray divorce.
Empty nest syndrome
Most couples don’t realize how much their relationship is anchored on parenting their kids. For many, once their children leave and they are no longer busy actively raising them, they find they have nothing in common and have no idea what to do with themselves and worse each other. Another couple said the spark in their marriage had long been gone but they were so focused on the children, they didn’t realize it until it was just the two of them.
As you grow older, you experience more health problems. This can put a strain on the relationship. It’s worth reminding all of us that couples are more likely to divorce when wives get sick, not husbands.
Financial issues are one of the leading causes of gray divorce. Financial mismanagement becomes harder to ignore after retirement. It’s also interesting that if the man gets an income increase, the marriage becomes stronger but if during the marriage, the woman’s income increases, the marriage is more likely to fail.
Increased life expectancy
Used to be people got married at 15, got to middle age at 30 and were dead by 40. Best case. Now the life expectancy is in the late ’70s to ’80s. You can live with anyone for 20 years, but 40 and 50? Nah, that’s a lot harder. Rather than forcing themselves to stay in relationships that are no longer beneficial or healthy, many people are choosing a gray divorce. Life is too long to stay in a bad situation so people are instead choosing to make the most of their later years and refuse to let their partners hold them back. Thanks to greater access to healthcare and improved living conditions, at 50 you still have a long life ahead of you.
Divorce no longer carries the stigma it used to. Like other breakups, grey divorce is more accepted.
If you are considering a grey divorce, it is important to seek out support and guidance from friends and family. Also consider speaking to professionals like a therapist, attorney and financial advisor who can help you navigate the complex issues involved in a grey divorce.
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