By now, most people have heard of gray divorce. It’s the term given to a divorce that occurs when the couple is over 50, a phenomenon that is increasingly prevalent during the empty nest years of a marriage. How common is it? During the past 25 years, as the divorce rate among couples 25 to 39 years old decreased 21%, the rate of divorce among adults 50 and older rose 109% (Forbes.com, 2019).
There are several reasons for the rise in gray divorce, but more often than not it occurs after the kids have grown and left the house. Many couples place so much emphasis on raising their kids that they neglect their own marriage. As longevity increases, some question whether they want to spend the remaining years of their life with their spouse. Finally, with more women in the workforce than ever before, fewer women must rely on their husband for income.
The Emotional Challenge
Divorce is never an easy thing to endure, but divorce later in life can be especially traumatic, often leading to depression, anger and loneliness, all of which can also be detrimental to your physical health. Separation is almost always painful, but there are ways to move on with life. Let’s take a look.
- Avoid isolation. This one may be harder for the men, especially if their wife was the social chairman of the marriage. Men also tend to have fewer close friends than their female counterparts. But friends can help ease the pain and stave off loneliness. Find a way to connect with friends over dinner, a game of golf, a shared concert – or whatever gets you out of the house on a daily basis. During COVID, this may not be easy, so look for ways to connect remotely whenever possible. You might also consider adopting a pet, which is a great source of companionship.
- Stay physically active. People who are depressed often struggle to get out of bed or off the couch. But exercise is critical not just for your physical health, but for your mental health as well. With proper exercise, your body releases endorphins, the chemicals that reduce stress and pain. Plus, as you age, exercise helps to lower the risk of several physical conditions, from high blood pressure to obesity and a host of chronic diseases. So commit to a regular exercise program, and keep moving.
- Get to know yourself. This may sound odd, but all too often couples who spend years raising a family don’t stop to examine their own situation or determine what they want out of life. Take some time for self-examination and wrestle with the hard questions of life. This is a big part of getting your new house in order, and it can help you as you embark on life’s next chapter. Above all, try to keep it together and avoid self-pity or wallowing in sorrow. It’s understandable that you’ll be grappling with anger and grief for a while, but recognize when it’s time to move on.
- Keep your kids out of it. It’s easy to assume that divorce only has a negative impact on younger children, but nothing could be further from the truth. Adult children may be stunned to learn about your separation, or they may be relieved that a tumultuous marriage is finally over. Either way, don’t force them to take sides, and don’t expect them to fix your problems.
At the end of the day, ending a decades-long marriage can be traumatic for everyone involved. If you’re having trouble bouncing back, it may be time to seek professional help. It’s important to be able to enjoy life and live it to the fullest – even after a gray divorce.
David Lowenstein, Ph.D. is a psychologist and the clinical director of Lowenstein & Associates, Inc. in Columbus, Ohio. In addition to providing therapeutic services to individuals and families, he offers training and consultation to numerous associations, schools and agencies around the country. Additionally, he is a frequent radio and TV guest and a resource and contributing writer for numerous newspapers and magazines nationwide. Contact Dr. David Lowenstein at 691 South Fifth Street, Columbus, Ohio, 43206, or call 614.443.6155 or 614.444.0432.