Gray divorce: “the demographic trend of an increasing divorce rate
for older (“grey-haired”) couples in long-lasting marriages.”
You are over 50 – maybe over 60. Presumably you are old enough to know that people “your age” are not supposed to get divorced.
Yet, here you are: stuck in a marriage that feels dead and wondering whether it’s still possible for you to find happiness.
Of course, you know your options. Yet, none of them are good.
On the one hand, you and your spouse share so much history together. You’ve raised kids. You have grandkids. You have lived together through good and bad, thick and thin, for longer than you care to admit.
The two of you have been together for so long that it’s almost impossible to think of yourself as being apart. The very thought of separating, of living alone, of starting over, is terrifying.
At the same time, the thought of the freedom you would have is exhilarating!
Just thinking about what you could do if you were on your own makes your heart sing! Even if you didn’t do anything “big,” it would still be glorious to be able to do what you wanted, when you wanted, and with whom you wanted. You wouldn’t have to answer to anyone!
But, you can’t do what you want while you are married … at least not to your current spouse!
The Gray Divorce Dilemma
Feeling stuck in a bad marriage is not unique to older couples. Plenty of people in their 20s, 30s and 40s struggle with bad marriages too. What makes couples in their 50s and 60s different is time.
People often assume that long term marriages are (or should be) more stable. They wonder why couples would divorce after 20 years of marriage (or more!). After all, if you have managed to stay married for more than 20 years, presumably you are able to put up with each other!
But, that is exactly the problem: do you want to spend the last 10 or 20 years of your life “putting up with” a marriage that is, at best, mediocre, and, at worst, soul-crushing? Or, do you want to plunge head first into the unknown and start a brand new life, without any guarantees about how it will end up?
It’s not an easy choice.
What Makes Gray Divorce Different?
While divorce at any age is difficult, divorcing at 50 and beyond is qualitatively different than divorcing earlier in life.
Why? What makes gray divorces so much different than other divorces?
While there are a lot of things that are different about divorce after 50, all of the differences boil down to the same thing: finite resources.
You have a limited amount of time, money, and energy.
When you get divorced in your 60’s, or even in middle age, you no longer have a lifetime to rebuild your finances. Your income is unlikely to go up in any serious way. Your assets are fairly fixed and your employment opportunities are limited.
You may be retired, or were hoping to actually be able to retire someday. All of that makes the financial consequences of divorce significantly more damaging for older divorcing couples than for those who divorce at a younger age.
You also know that you are on the back side of your time on the planet. Consequently, you are much less interested in spending years in a long, drawn out divorce … at least, not if you can help it. (Of course, there are always exceptions. Some people insist on fighting for years no matter how old they are!)
What People Don’t Understand About Divorce After 50
In spite of the many differences between getting divorced later in life versus getting divorced when you are younger, one thing is true no matter when you get divorced: Your divorce will be unique to you. Every divorce is different.
That’s what so many people don’t understand.
Divorce lawyers and the media love to talk about the “Grey Divorce Revolution.” But, divorce isn’t “a revolution” (although it may feel like it if it is happening to you!). No one is taking to the streets to protest in support of divorce among the senior set.
Divorce happens to individuals. It happens to couples. Grey divorce is no exception.
There is no “one size fits all” typical gray divorce.
The Different Shades of Grey Divorce
Some older divorcing couples have been married since they were in their 20s. Over the years, they grew apart. Once their kids were grown and gone they may have realized that they had little left in common except the past. So they divorce.
Other couples may have been miserable together for decades. One spouse may have become an alcoholic, or had an affair – or a series of affairs! Finally, the other spouse gets to the point where s/he has had enough. So they divorce.
There are gray divorces that involve no children, adult children, or minor children. (Yes. It happens.) There are gray divorces from first marriages, and from second, or third marriages.
Some older couples are well off. Others are not. Some have saved amply for their retirement and are in a solid financial position. Others have lived beyond their means for years, and find themselves deeply in debt.
In short, there are as many different “kinds” of gray divorces as there are gray divorcees. Assuming that all gray divorces as the same just because the people who are getting divorced have been alive longer than their younger counterparts is an enormous mistake.
What Do You Do if You or Someone You Love is Facing a Gray Divorce
If gray divorce is, or may be, something that you have to deal with – regardless of whether it is happening to you or to someone you love – the first thing you need to remember is that, young or old, you are human!
Your divorce is going to suck!
All divorces suck. Gray divorces are no exception.
Unless you are a highly evolved zen master (in which case you are probably not married anyway) when you go through a divorce, you are going to lose it for a while. You are going to feel every emotion that anyone going through a divorce feels.
Just like any divorcing person, you are going to be mad, sad, upset and angry. You are going to be frustrated, aggravated, and, at times, a little bit crazy. You are going to feel like the ground beneath your feet has suddenly dropped away and you don’t know where, or even who, you are anymore.
All of that is part of getting divorced … for everyone.
But, because you are older and because your resources are limited, you are also going to have to pay special attention to the issues that will apply in your divorce.
Issues that are More Important in Gray Divorce
When you are getting divorced later in life you have less time to recoup from the financial devastation that divorce can cause. That means you will have to make sure you really understand your finances BEFORE you finalize your divorce. You will also need to have a clear picture about what you will have left AFTER your divorce for your retirement.
You will also have to understand how your health insurance will work after your divorce, and what your insurance will cost. Based on your personal health history, you may also need to budget more for your uncovered medical expenses.
You may have to get a job, or put off your retirement for years so that you can pay your bills. You may have to downsize your home, or your lifestyle, for longer than a younger person, or maybe even forever. (Sorry.)
You may also have to find new activities and even work on establishing a new identity for yourself as a single person. Chances are, you will have to learn to make new friends again because, like everyone else, you will lose some old ones in the divorce.
You will also have to learn to get comfortable being alone. (Yes, you can do it. It’s really not that bad!)
Most of all, you have to understand that, when you are facing divorce, you have a choice. You may not have a choice about whether you are going to get divorced. Your spouse may have made that choice for you. But, regardless of whose choice the divorce was, you can still choose how you will react to it.
It’s All About You
You can choose how you will handle your divorce, and how you will move forward into your new life (or not). You can choose what you will tell yourself about your divorce, and what your divorce will mean to you.
If you choose to tell yourself that your life is over because you are old, broke, and divorced, then you can expect the rest of your life to be fairly miserable.
If you choose to tell yourself that, even though you may not have expected to be divorced over 50, now that you are both divorced and over 50, you are going to make the best of your situation, then you may actually find that you will enjoy the rest of your life.
In the end, no matter how old you are, you are the only one living your life. What you choose to do with it is up to you.